- Reports: Senators closing in on new sanctions legislation amid deepening bipartisan skepticism toward Iran
- Senior PLO official: Kerry proposal to address Israeli security concerns means "total failure" of peace talks
- Backed by Hezbollah, Syrian army on the verge of consolidating control over Lebanon border region
- Turkish FM survives opposition censure motion over mishandling foreign policy, aligning Turkey with Muslim Brotherhood
What we’re watching today:
- Reuters this afternoon reported on accelerating efforts in the Senate to pass legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if progress in dismantling the country's atomic program stalls over a coming six-month interim period, during which global powers are to negotiate with Tehran over what is widely believed to be Iran's drive to develop nuclear weapons. Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the latter being the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are reportedly set to agree on measures that "would target Iran's remaining oil exports, foreign exchange reserves and strategic industries." The news comes amid widening skepticism on the Hill that the U.S. has sufficient leverage to coerce Iran to meaningfully limit its nuclear program, in the aftermath of language in the Geneva deal that has undermined the international sanctions regime while allowing Tehran to continue progressing on its uranium and plutonium programs. On the House side, Republican Rep. Mike McCaul and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff both expressed skepticism on Sunday that the interim deal will be successful, with Schiff criticizing the administration for already having made critical concessions regarding Iranian enrichment. The Iranians, for their part, have not gone out of their way to signal that Tehran is willing to adopt a less bellicose posture. In recent days Iranian officials have announced that they are pushing ahead with next-generation enrichment technology and that they have installed laser systems improving the accuracy of their ballistic missiles by fully two orders of magnitude, from 200 meters to 2 meters.
- Palestinian leaders today doubled down on weekend declarations in which they categorically rejected U.S. bridging proposals designed to balance Israeli security needs - including Jerusalem's concerns about a security vacuum that might emerge in the strategically important Jordan Valley in the context of a comprehensive peace deal - with Palestinian demands for autonomy over the West Bank. Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official, told Agence France-Presse that security arrangements suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry would lead to the "total failure" of the U.S.-backed peace talks. Jordanian officials, in contrast, have reportedly sided with the U.S. and Israel in endorsing Jerusalem's continued presence along the border. Veteran Israeli military correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai had last week outlined at length the basis for Israel's insistence that it be allowed to maintain a security presence in the Jordan Valley. Ben-Yishai described how "Israeli control over the border crossings between the West Bank and Jordan has it been possible to prevent a massive spillover of al-Qaeda activists and explosive devices into the West Bank and Israel" and emphasized that "even more important is thwarting terror in the West Bank by collecting intelligence and conducting arrests" of terrorists who threaten both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
- Hezbollah and Syrian army forces battling on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime are close to seizing the town of Nabuk, one of the last areas in the Lebanon-adjacent Qalamoun region still controlled by opposition forces, amid renewed concerns from Lebanese officials that blowback generated by Hezbollah's participation in Syria's nearly three-year war will trigger violence inside their own country. Agence France-Presse (AFP) today assessed that taking control of Nabuk - where Al Qaeda-linked rebels have a large presence, and which the Syrian army and its Hezbollah allies have been attacking for two weeks - "would cement regime control of territory linking Damascus province with Homs province in central Syria." The gains would be the latest since the Syrian army, with critical backing from Hezbollah, launched a sustained offensive last summer with an eye toward eroding years of opposition gains. Several Hezbollah figures including Ali Bazzi, a senior commander, have reportedly been killed in recent days fighting in Syria. Meanwhile Lebanese media this weekend reported on comments made by the country's Interior Minister, Marwan Charbel, in which Charbel worried that Al Qaeda was seeking to consolidate its presence inside Lebanon after several attacks on Hezbollah and Iranian interests. Ya Libnon conveyed quotes from Sirajuddin Zureiqat, the head of the Lebanese branch of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades, committing his group to conducting continued "operations" inside Lebanon "until two things are achieved: withdrawing the members of Iran's Party [i.e. Hezbollah] from Syria, and releasing our prisoners from the prisons of oppression in Lebanon."
- English-language Turkish media reported this afternoon that the country's parliament, which the Daily News described as "dominated by deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)," rejected an opposition-filed censure motion filed against AKP Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu over his role in generating the recent precipitous decline in Turkey's regional stature. The motion cited among other things souring relations between Ankara and Cairo, which collapsed after Egypt's army removed from power the country's Muslim Brotherhood-linked then-president Mohammed Morsi in the wake of mass anti-government protests. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan subsequently and repeatedly lashed out against Cairo's army-backed government, accusing the army of acting against the Brotherhood as part of a Jewish plot - a statement defended by Davutoglu - and pledging to continue supporting Morsi. The posture was part of a broader policy that saw the AKP aligning Turkey with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, in opposition to a bloc of more moderate Sunni states and Israel, and with both opposing a Shiite camp anchored by Iran and including its Syrian client and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. The Republican People's Party (CHP) gestured toward the dynamic, declaring in its censure motion that "the international public almost identifies [Turkey's] Justice and Development Party government with the Muslim Brotherhood." The Asia Times theorized this morning that Davutoglu is looking to "partner up" with his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in order to break Turkey out of its growing isolation.
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