- Observers worry over another "sucker's deal" as foreign ministers rush to Geneva for likely Iran deal
- Saudi Arabia: U.S. Middle East allies have "no confidence in the Obama administration doing the right thing with Iran"
- Advanced Hamas surveillance techniques stoke worries of spectacular terror campaign
- Talk of widening Israeli governing coalition after opposition Labor party elects new leader
What we’re watching today:
- The State Department announced late Friday that Secretary of State John Kerry would be traveling to Geneva overnight to attend talks between the global powers and Iran, adding about an hour later that Kerry would be pursuing "the goal of continuing to help narrow the differences and move closer to an agreement" over Tehran's nuclear program. News quickly followed that the other P5+1 foreign ministers not already in Geneva were also en route. Washington Institute Executive Director Robert Satloff noted that the flurry of activity means an interim deal - widely expected to be for a six-month period - is overwhelmingly likely to be secured in this round of talks. Observers will be watching for changes from a previous draft agreement that was almost agreed to two weeks ago, and which the French blasted as a "sucker's deal." That deal had reportedly allowed Iran to continue making progress on developing its Arak plutonium-breeding facility, which once activated will be able to produce between one and two bombs' worth of nuclear material per year. Reports had the West conceding to continued development of the facility in exchange for an Iranian promise not to activate the facility's nuclear reactor for six months - something Iran had already announced it did not intend to do anyway. Regarding Iran's uranium track, analysts will especially focus on whether Tehran will be permitted to continue constructing centrifuges. Such a concession would give Iran the option of installing those centrifuges at the end of the six-month interim period, increasing its enrichment capacity and quickly swamping whatever material had been ceded under the initial deal. Weeks ago David Albright, director of the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), had already explained that a deal that dealt only with Iran's existing stock of 20% enriched uranium would be “nowhere near enough” since Iran would “emerge if the deal fell apart with several thousand IR-1s and IR-2Ms to be deployed rapidly in Natanz, and possibly even a third centrifuge plant.”
- Iran's neighbors throughout the region have "no confidence in the Obama administration doing the right thing with Iran," according to Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, with "Israel, Saudi Arabia, [and] the Middle East countries" being among the traditional U.S. allies who believe that Washington is being woefully outflanked by Iranian negotiators. Bloomberg View columnist Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed bin Talal and described him as believing that "Iran, in its ongoing negotiations with the world’s major powers, will pocket whatever sanctions relief it gets without committing to ending its nuclear program." Goldberg specifically quoted the Saudi prince as advocating that the U.S. "keep the [sanctions] pressure on" inasmuch as "sanctions are what brought about the negotiations to begin with." Bin Talal's analysis echoes that of Patrick Clawson and Mehdi Khalaji, respectively the director of research and a senior fellow at the Washington Institute, who recently warned that "Khamenei has been laying the groundwork to walk away from any deal by warning that the West is untrustworthy and will not deliver on its promises." Under this scenario Iran would use the billions of dollars it received to stabilize its economy, bolster its nuclear program, and fund its global terror infrastructure - and would hope that the initial erosion of the sanctions regime would trigger a downward spiral as global powers sought to preempt each other by rushing into the newly reopened Iranian market. Brookings Institute fellow Michael Doran today pointed to evidence that such a downward spiral was already beginning, with Paris looking to reopen a trade-related attache office in Tehran next year.
A senior Israeli army officer yesterday told [Hebrew] the country's Channel 2 that Hamas had developed new surveillance infrastructure - including cameras mounted to balloons - for collecting intelligence deep inside of Israel. The statements are likely to fuel already growing fears that Hamas - having seen both its regional and domestic
position erode after a series of geopolitical missteps - is looking to restore its stature via spectacular attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers. The group is known to have attempted spectacular terror attacks in the West Bank, and it was recently caught having constructed attack tunnels underneath the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, of the kind but more advanced than those used in previous operations. Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has suggested that the West and its allies have a narrow window - while Hamas is still struggling to regain its balance - in which it can take financial action to strike a death blow to the terror organization.
- Veteran Israeli lawmaker Isaac Herzog was yesterday elected the new leader of Israel's Labor Party, currently the country's main opposition party, wining a landslide 58.5% to 41.5% victory over previous leader Shelly Yachimovich and setting the stage for a potential re-configuring of Israel's governing coalition. Israeli outlet Yediot Aharonot pointedly noted that while Herzog used his acceptance speech to attack the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - especially in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process - he had also regularly criticized Yachimovich for staying out of that government during her two-year tenure. Herzog also used his speech to flatly declare that "fates are now being sealed" regarding the trajectory of Iran and its nuclear program. The Associated Press tersely evaluated that Herzog's victory could make Labor "more amenable to joining Netanyahu’s coalition should nascent peace talks with the Palestinians gather steam."
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