- New Iranian president pledges "to stand by" the Syrian regime
- Arab media outlets blast Hezbollah for trying "to divert attention" from Syria by demonizing Israel
- Underscoring frayed ties, Egypt nixes Turkey PM Hamas-boosting Gaza visit
- Iran supreme leader appoints Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad to top government body
What we’re watching today:
- Recently inaugurated Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pledged this week to "stand by [the Bashar al-Assad regime] in facing all challenges," adding fuel to a fiery debate raging in the foreign policy community over the degree to which the revolutionary cleric is willing or able to alter Iran's confrontational posture toward the West. Mark Dubowitz and Tony Badran - respectively the executive director of, and a researcher at, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies - emphasized that Rouhani's policy toward Syria "may be the real test of whether or not [he] has different intentions than his predecessor, as well as his capacity to implement a significant shift in Iranian foreign and national-security policy." The President's public statements of support for the Assad regime suggest, according to the two, that he is "closely aligned with [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei" and that he harbors "a conspiratorial, anti-American, and anti-Israel worldview." Tehran is believed to have supplied Damascus with billions of dollars since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. It has also supplied weapons and troops, both directly from Iran and through its Lebanese Hezbollah proxy. Last month, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari declared that his country has "neither the deterrent means, nor the air defenses and fighter jets to prevent... arms shipments" from Iran to Syria that travel through Iraqi airspace.
- Hezbollah's intervention into Syria on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime has triggered a severe deterioration in the group's stature in the Middle East, to the point where the anti-Israel rhetoric that has traditionally rallied support to the group is falling flat in the Arab world. Shiite Hezbollah has proven critical in allowing the Assad regime to erode years of gains by largely Sunni rebel groups, triggering outrage across Sunni states. The Times of Israel reports on regional responses to a recent speech by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in which the secretary general referred to Israel as a "cancerous growth." The Saudi-owned news site Elaph ran a blunt headline declaring "Hezbollah’s secretary general tries to divert attention from his intervention in Syria," a theme broadly echoed by other Arab media outlets. Meanwhile Gulf states formally began leveling sanctions against Hezbollah in response to the group's campaigns in Syria.
- Egyptian authorities will prevent Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan from going through with a plan that would have seen the Islamist official travel to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip through Egypt, according to sources who spoke to Egyptian media outlets. The development is the result of multiple Middle East dynamics. The Egyptian military has long been locked in a kind of media cold war - which occasionally erupts into direct action - with the Palestinian terror group. Egyptian authorities blame Hamas for violence in the country stretching back to the 2011 Arab Spring, and more recently for a series of spectacular attacks against Egyptian troops and infrastructure in the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt's interim government, which took over last month after the Egyptian military stripped then-president Mohammed Morsi of power, has also been directly at odds with the Erdogan government in Turkey, which had been an early and strong supporter of Morsi. Ankara initially reacted to Morsi’s removal with outrage. Last month Cairo voiced "strong resentment" at comments made by Erdogan insisting that Morsi was Egypt's legitimate ruler, slamming the prime minister for intervening "in internal Egyptian politics.”
- Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has named Hassan Rouhani’s predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iran's Expediency Council, a top arbitration body that has supervisory and arbitration powers over other parts of the Iranian government, including the country's powerful Council of Guardians. The move comes after Khamenei had already appointed new members to the Guardian Council, which among other things is responsible for vetting and purging candidates from Iranian elections. Khamenei praised Ahmadinejad's "worthy efforts" as president, a few weeks after Ahmadinejad himself described his top achievement as having been the mainstreaming of Holocaust denial.
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