- Iranian president-elect vows support for Assad and Hezbollah, lauds them for confronting "enemies in the region, especially the Zionist regime"
- Reports: Fears over Morsi giving "free hand to Islamic militants" fueled tensions with army
- Palestinian factions reject Kerry peace talks proposal despite Israel prisoner release offer
- White House nominee for U.N. ambassador: U.N. Syria stance a "disgrace that history will judge harshly"
What we’re watching today:
- Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani this week pledged support for the embattled regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, praising the Iranian proxies for confronting "enemies in the region, especially the Zionist regime." For their parts Assad and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had celebrated Rouhani's election victory, with both leaders emphasizing unity between Damascus, Tehran, and Hezbollah. Iranian assistance, both in the form of direct lethal aid and via deployment of Hezbollah troops into Syria, has been critical in allowing the Assad regime to slowly roll back two years of rebel gains and reassert control over large parts of Syria. A note from Rouhani to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah reaffirmed the Islamic state’s support for the “steadfast nation” of Lebanon and the Palestinians, a reference to the Gaza-based Palestinian terror group Hamas, which also receives support from Tehran. Rouhani's declarations are likely to reinforce increasing skepticism regarding early declarations that a Rouhani administration would chart a moderate foreign policy course.
- Creeping insecurity in the Sinai Peninsula punctuated by spectacular attacks had generated months of tension between the Egyptian army and the Muslim Brotherhood-linked government of then-President Mohammed Morsi. A report by the Associated Press cites numerous interviews describing concerns by the military in genereral, and the country's military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to the effect that "Morsi was leading the country into turmoil" and that "Morsi was giving a free hand to Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula, ordering el-Sissi to stop crackdowns on jihadis who had killed Egyptian soldiers and were escalating a campaign of violence." The Muslim Brotherhood's ties to Hamas, which the military blames for violence in Egypt stretching back to the 2011 overthrow of then-President Hosni Mubarak, generated additional tension. One top army commander this week claimed that Hamas is continuing to supply heavy weapons to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt for use against Egyptian soldiers and civilians. Major General Osama Askar gestured toward the recent interception of 19 Grad rockets, of the same brand used by Hamas's Al-Qassam Brigades in Gaza, en route to Cairo. The interception comes amid a months-long campaign by the army to demolish the underground smuggling tunnels between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Egyptian-controlled Sinai.
- Reported progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process stalled this afternoon after Palestinians announced a delay in their response to a peace initiative being pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry, with reports emerging that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas had failed to win backing for renewing talks, despite a raft of Israeli concessions including the release of hundreds of security prisoners. The morning saw reports that Kerry would be able to announce renewed talks around his initiative on Friday, but it was quickly shot down by the State Department. Israeli officials up to and including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have repeatedly called on Palestinian counterparts to return to the negotiating table and embrace Kerry's efforts. The Palestinians have thus far refused, triggering bouts of open tension with the State Department. A Palestinian official quoted by the Jerusalem Post bluntly asserted that until Israel accepts Palestinian preconditions, "there will be no return to the negotiations."
- Samantha Power, the Obama administration’s nominee to be the U.S.'s next ambassador to the United Nations, slammed the global body during Senate hearings yesterday, describing the U.N.'s posture toward the Syrian conflict as a "disgrace that history will judge harshly." Some 100,000 people have been killed in the violence, which now threatens to escalate into a sectarian conflict stretching from the eastern Mediterranean into the middle of Iraq. The U.N.'s inaction on Syria has been contrasted by critics with the body's vociferous and institutionalized criticism of Israel, a topic that similarly emerged during Power's hearing. She emphasized that as ambassador to the U.N. she would leverage U.S. diplomatic resources to prevent attacks against the Jewish state, noting that "the United States has no greater friend in the world than the state of Israel."
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