- Reports: Gulf nations to take action against Hezbollah, “more comprehensive than the European Union decision”
- Bipartisan Iran sanctions bill set to overwhelmingly pass House of Representatives this week
- After Israeli concessions, focus shifts toward Palestinian intentions during peace talks
- More than 50 killed as sectarian violence rocks Iraq
What we’re watching today:
- Gulf nations will impose harsh sanctions on Hezbollah, with diplomats making a point of telling journalists that their approach will be “more comprehensive than the European Union decision” made earlier this month to blacklist the so-called military wing of the Iran-backed terror group. The E.U.’s distinction between the group’s political and military wings has been rejected by, among others, Hezbollah officials. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council had already taken steps against Hezbollah, with Saudi Arabia deporting the group’s supporters and Bahrain in April blacklisting the organization in its entirety. Meanwhile Bulgarian media reported that the operatives behind the July 2012 bombing of an Israeli tourist bus in Burgas, Bulgaria – which Bulgarian investigators had linked to Hezbollah, a declaration that was in large part responsible for the E.U.’s blacklisting decision – had been smuggled into Bulgaria from Poland.
- The House of Representatives is set to overwhelmingly pass legislation this week that would significantly ratchet up sanctions against Iran, specifically with an eye on impacting the Islamic republic’s oil industry.The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act is co-sponsored by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), respectively the chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and will broaden economic sanctions against Tehran and enhance the enforcement of existing ones. An expanded blacklist would apply to foreign individuals or firms conducting trade with Iran’s Central Bank, and would impose measures to restrict Iran’s options for leveraging its hard currency, most of which is kept in Euros. Other key sections target Iranian regime figures suspected of gross human rights violations. It also adds Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to the official list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Roughly parallel legislation is being prepared in the Senate, where it will likely be voted on after the August recess.
- Israel is set to release more than 104 jailed Palestinian terrorists ahead of the resumption of peace talks in Washington this week, as part of a goodwill gesture toward Palestinian diplomats who have been demanding the concession as a condition for returning to talks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also sought to fast-track legislation for a referendum on any agreement, and reports indicate he has also expressed a willingness to cede huge portions of the West Bank. Israeli cabinet officils moved to dampen blowback over the release, which is drawn largely from those convicted for murdering Israelis. Meanwhile, the Facebook profile of one of two key Palestinian diplomats sent to Washington for negotiations was noted by a journalist from The Tower for having a cover photo showing a map that erases all of Israel and replaces it – according to the Arabic emblazoned on the picture – with “Filastin” (Palestine). The news is likely to deepen skepticism of Palestinian intentions regarding a final status agreement with Israel.
- A surge of violence in Iraq, including as many as 15 car bombings, has left more than 50 people dead. Iraqi police officers said that many of the bombs went off in largely Shiite neighborhoods, heightening concerns that the sectarian conflict in Syria may spill over into a full-blown sectarian war across the region. Sunni jihadists based in Iraq have escalated their campaigns against Shiites, targeting both civilians and government institutions, and Al Qaeda-linked groups are believed to be behind the Monday attacks. Al Qaeda is also taking credit for two prison breaks that freed approximately 500 prisoners. The Daily Beast described the spectacular assaults as a “counterterrorism nightmare,” with one intelligence analyst bluntly stating that “we just lost track of everyone we didn’t kill who was in al Qaeda during the surge.” Analysts have speculated that, in addition to exacting retribution against domestic opponents, many of the escaped jihadists would travel to Syria to join the increasingly Islamist-dominated opposition in seeking to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad regime.
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