Reports: Top Senators brush off Obama administration

  • Reports: Top Senators brush off Obama administration calls to delay Iran sanctions push
  • Secretary of State to visit Egypt this weekend, amid reports of Cairo pivot to Russia
  • Five Israeli soldiers injured in Hamas attack on anti-tunnel operation
  • Experts: Hamas claims around shut down power plant "insane"

 

What we’re watching today: 

 

  • Meetings held yesterday between Obama administration officials and a range of Senators failed to persuade top Senate figures to delay a push for new sanctions against Iran, according to statements and analysis published this morning by Bloomberg. New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez bluntly stated that he'd "have to hear something far more substantive" to back off a push for legislation aimed at pressuring the Islamic republic, while Illinois Republican Mark Kirk described upcoming talks with Iran over its nuclear program - which the White House argues would be endangered by heightened economic pressure - as "a long rope-a-dope." Kirk also declared that "sanctions are the only way to prevent a war," echoing an pushback increasingly made in recent days by lawmakers, analysts, and journalists: inasmuch as the administration believes that Iran has been coerced into entering negotiations because of economic pressure, it is unclear how more economic pressure will cause Tehran to walk away from the table. Kirk and others have also pointed out that Iran is continuing to strengthen its hand by installing new nuclear technology and enriching more material, and that it would be difficult for the Iranians to claim that the U.S. doing the same constitutes a deal-breaker.

 

  • Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Egypt this weekend amid new reports that the Obama administration's posture toward the army-backed interim government is risking a pivot by Cairo toward the U.S.'s geopolitical rivals. Washington has among other things frozen the delivery of military assistance, including Apache helicopters of the type used by Egypt's military in ongoing anti-terror campaigns. Last Thursday an Egyptian good will delegation went to Moscow to "show [Egypt's] gratitude for the cautious and objective positioning of Russia," and there have been subsequent trips by both Egyptian and Russian intelligence figures surrounding what media reports describe as a $15 billion deal to purchase Russian-made MiG-29 planes and other equipment. Tom Nichols and John R. Schindler, foreign policy scholars who emphasize that they rarely agree on policy prescriptions, had already in September co-published an article criticizing the administration for undermining "nearly seven decades" of bipartisan American efforts aimed at "limiting Moscow's influence" in the Middle East. Voice of America reported today that Kerry's trip to Cairo "would only last several hours."

 

  • Five Israeli soldiers were wounded when Hamas fighters bombed an operation to destroy a tunnel likely built by the terror group to facilitate a spectacular upcoming attack. The soldiers, one of whom was seriously injured, were evacuated to Israel's Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. Israeli military forces responded to the attack, killing one gunman, and Israeli pilots subsequently struck another Hamas tunnel, killing three more Palestinian fighters. All four were claimed by Hamas, which declared through spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri that the Israelis had been taught a "painful lesson." Analysts have been issuing increasingly pointed warning that Hamas is seeking to stage large-scale attacks in an effort to restore the terror group's crumbling domestic and regional position, the result of a series of failed diplomatic gambles that saw the Palestinian faction align itself with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey. Cairo's post-Brotherhood government has in recent months actively moved to isolate Hamas, and a senior official from the organization recently complained that the group had been "sentenced to death" by Egypt.

 

  • Hamas is lashing out against Egypt and the Palestinian Authority (PA) - the latter controlled by the rival Palestinian Fatah faction - in the aftermath of power outages that gripped the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Friday. Energy authority deputy chairman Fathi el-Sheikh Khalil told journalists that Gaza's power plant had been shut off due to lack of fuel, the result of what he insisted where prohibitive taxes levied by the PA and anti-smuggling actions taken by Egypt. Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, called the Hamas accusations "insane," noting that "the PA pays for [fuel] with donor funds, Hamas bills Gazans for it, and then pockets the cash." This is not the first time that Hamas has been criticized for manufacturing a humanitarian crisis by shutting down Gaza's power plant. In 2008 the terror group made a similar move, plunging Gaza into darkness and claiming that Israel was preventing sufficient fuel from reaching the territory. Israeli officials pointed out that electricity was still getting into the territory from Israeli plants and that Hamas deliberately causing the blackout. The organization has in the past also been criticized for deliberately risking humanitarian crises by refusing fuel shipments and stealing fuel for its terror operations, including from hospitals.


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