- Reports: Iran sanctions bill crosses veto-proof threshold in Senate
- Reuters: Newly revealed Russia-Iran oil deal "would enable Iran to lift oil exports substantially, undermining Western sanctions"
- Top Israeli military official: Hamas's West Bank terror campaign being directed via Turkey
- Arrest sweeps may complicate Palestinian reconciliation effort
What we’re watching today:
- BuzzFeed reported today that the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act - Senate legislation that would impose sanctions on Tehran should negotiations over its nuclear program fail - had secured a veto-proof majority and was in fact "well above 67 [votes]," per a Senate aide who spoke to the outlet. CNN's Jim Sciutto had earlier cited a Senate source pegging the number of supporters at 77, a figure just one less than the number of known Republican supporters plus the number of reported Democratic supporters (forty four and thirty four, respectively). The Washington Post noted however that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) does not seem to have plans "to allow a vote on any proposal in the near future." On Friday Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) - the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the authors of the legislation - described the bill as a "diplomatic insurance policy." Menendez cataloged Iranian behavior since the announcement of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), which was designed to freeze Iran's program: continued Iranian progress on its plutonium production facility, continued Iranian progress on its next-generation uranium enrichment centrifuges, and continued Iranian progress on its ballistic missile program. Menendez also noted that Iranian negotiators had already once walked out of negotiations since the JPA was announced. Addressing administration assurances that sanctions could be quickly be reimposed on Iran if necessary, the New Jersey Democratic emphasized that the legislative process is cumbersome and unwieldy, and that short-term legislation was necessary to codify potential future sanctions.
- Empirical evidence is emerging on what had long been a central theoretical disagreement in the debate over the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), with multiple data points suggesting that the Obama administration has been over-optimistic in assuming that sanctions against Iran would largely hold in the aftermath of the JPA's limited sanctions relief. Analysts had immediately raised concerns that the limited relief provided by the agreement would trigger a feeding frenzy, as countries and companies scrambled to avoid being left behind in the rush back into Iran. The scenario was dismissed as "fanciful" by analysts with links to the White House, and administration officials repeatedly emphasized that no one should treat Iran as open for business. Nonetheless several countries, including Russia and China, are indeed scrambling to secure access to Iran's energy resources. Reuters today revealed that Tehran and Moscow are close to inking an oil-for-goods deal "that would enable Iran to lift oil exports substantially, undermining Western sanctions." The news comes after similar stories that had the UAE rushing to launch new energy co-development projects with Iran and had China pursuing a deal that would boost its imports from the Islamic republic "to levels not seen since tough Western sanctions were imposed in 2012. Meanwhile a recent analysis by Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, demonstrated that "even before the Geneva interim agreement comes into effect, Iran’s economy is now on a more positive trajectory" than in 2012 or 2013. The policy stakes are relatively straightforward: the administration claims that sanctions remain sufficiently robust for the West to successfully pressure Iran into making substantial concessions on its atomic program, while a majority of lawmakers in both chambers of Congress support new sanctions to strengthen Western negotiators' positions. Evidence that the international sanctions regime is crumbling is in tension with the administration's position.
- Israel Hayom today published an interview with Israeli General Tamir Yadai, the commander of the Israeli military's West Bank forces, in which the general confirms that Hamas's terror attempts have increased in tempo and that the group's campaign is being "directed from Gaza via Turkey." Both dynamics had long been suspected, and to a great extent documented, but the blunt assessment may carry with it diplomatic consequences. Hamas's domestic and regional credibility has been in freefall, and the terror group is widely suspected of trying to use a spectacular terror attack to rebuild its credibility. Israeli and Egyptian measures have largely prevented attacks from the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, leaving the West Bank as the only viable location from which to launch terror operations. Hamas's increasingly reckless gambits may fuel growing calls for the U.S. to impose potentially terminal pressure on the faction. Regarding the link to Turkey, Jonathan Schanzer - vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies - had already last September extensively outlined how Saleh al-Arouri, the founder of Hamas's armed wing in the West Bank, was helping to direct operations while living in Turkey. Combined with recent revelations that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have assisted a suspected Al Qaeda financier in moving through the country, it may become difficult for Western countries - including the United States - to treat Ankara as a reliable counter-terrorism partner.
- Efforts to achieve reconciliation between the two largest Palestinian factions, which had been accelerating in recent days, may again be at risk of faltering. Hamas had made a series of goodwill gestures toward its Fatah rivals in recent days, and Fatah officials had announced that they would be traveling to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for reconciliation talks. Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces in the Fatah-controlled West Bank subsequently arrested scores of Hamas members in the Fatah-controlled West Bank, causing Hamas to cancel planned celebrations in the area. It is unclear how the incident will effect unity efforts, which Hamas is widely thought to badly need. The two factions have been openly at odds since at least 2007, when Hamas fighters violently seized Gaza's government institutions from Fatah officials, expelling and killing many Fatah-linked figures in the process. Rapprochement talks since then have consistently failed, in no small part because of ongoing enmity and distrust between members on both sides. Unity efforts have also been complicated by Hamas's continued commitment to the eradication of Israel, which has made reconciliation into a kind of catch-22 for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. On one hand, a single Fatah-Hamas unity government is widely viewed as a prerequisite for the creation of a successful Palestinian state: Palestinians claim both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank for a future state, and a single state ruled by rival governments is almost by definition a failed one. On the other hand, the Palestinian government - into which Hamas would be reintegrated under a unity deal - is committed by treaty to the recognition of Israel, an acknowledgement that Hamas refuses to make. Should the Palestinian Authority abandon its treaty commitments in order to placate Hamas, the move would be taken as confirming the fundamental skeptical concern regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: that the Palestinians will abandon the largely symbolic concessions they're expected to make, such as recognition of Israel, while pocketing Israel's functionally irreversible territorial concessions.
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