- Reports: Congress moves to reassert voice in Iran deliberations, amid new evidence of sanctions-busting
- After overtures from new Egyptian president, State Dept. pushed by reporters on ongoing Apache helicopter delays
The Wall Street Journal late Wednesday criticized the Obama administration for agreeing to fund the recently announced Palestinian unity government - agreed to by the rival Fatah and Hamas factions, and unveiled earlier this week - with the outlet pointing out that the new cabinet's refusal to dismantle Hamas's military infrastructure was difficult to square with White House assurances that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is living up to past treaties signed with Israel. Hamas has at least 10,000 fighters and maintains an arsenal of thousands of missiles and rockets, all of which are explicitly prohibited [PDF] by the 1995 Oslo II Accords. The Journal noted that the subsequent 1998 Wye Memorandum went even further, obligating the PA to "establish and vigorously and continuously implement a systematic program for the collection and appropriate handling of" illegal weapons in areas under its jurisdiction. The unity pact between Fatah and Hamas forgoes any efforts to take control of Hamas's illegal forces and weapons, potentially running afoul of blackletter U.S. legislation conditioning American assistance on the PA fulfilling previously signed agreements. Top administration officials have been publicly saying that they intend to watch the new government "very closely... to absolutely ensure that it upholds each of those things it has talked about" and privately complaining that the Israelis are being hypocritical because Jerusalem is continuing to cooperate with Palestinian security forces. It is not clear how either of those responses could address what seems to be a straightforward violation of multiple core commitments, any and all of which the PA is treaty-bound to implement lest it risk losing U.S. aid.
Al-Monitor late Wednesday rounded up announcements made earlier in the day by the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) revealed that they would soon be holding a series of hearings to evaluate Iran's compliance with its nuclear obligations, a few days after the Washington Free Beacon broke the news that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was potentially gearing up to back legislation aimed at increasing U.S. leverage going into upcoming talks with Iran. The currently stalled Kirk-Menendez bill would impose sanctions against the Islamic republic should it cheat on its obligations during talks or, at the end of those talks, refuse to put its nuclear program verifiably beyond use for weaponization. Both the Free Beacon and Al-Monitor contextualized their stories amid what the latter outlet described as "growing signs that lawmakers are fast running out of patience." Analysis has emerged in recent weeks that Iran is now mathematically certain to have busted through the caps on energy exports set by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA), which had eroded the sanctions regime, despite months of promises and ongoing declarations from administration officials insisting that violations of the remaining sanctions would not be tolerated. Reuters on Wednesday conveyed leaks indicating that the P5+1 global powers and Iran were unlikely to conclude negotiations by the end of the JPA's six-month negotiation period. The wire noted that "President Barack Obama would need to secure Congress' consent at a time of fraught relations between the administration and lawmakers," though nonetheless "to avoid an open conflict with Congress, Obama would want U.S. lawmakers' approval to extend that sanctions relief." A somewhat strange Dow Jones report appeared Wednesday afternoon implying that Iran and the U.S. had reached some kind of extension agreement. It is not clear that the report was entirely accurate.
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf was pressed at Wednesday's press briefing over reports - published a day earlier by Al-Monitor's insidery Congress Pulse - that the Obama administration has continued to delay the shipment of 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt despite having announced in April that it would release the aircraft, which Cairo regularly dispatches in conducting anti-terror campaigns in the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptians had in fact already paid for the helicopters in 2009 specifically in the context of an agreement aimed at providing the army with resources for fighting militants in the Sinai. Al-Monitor had noted that the delays risked "angering newly elected President Abdel Fattah [el-Sisi]," and Harf was asked on Wednesday about the contrast between the delay, on the one hand, and White House statements expressing appreciation for Washington's "strategic relation" with Egypt, on the other. Harf replied that she didn't "know the details on that" but would be "happy to check." The controversy over the Apaches specifically - and over a partial freeze in American security assistance to Egypt more generally - has been ongoing since the Obama administration took the decision to withhold some aid last October. The decision came a few months after Sisi, in a rare public interview, accused Americans of having "turned [their] back on the Egyptians... [who] won't forget that." It was met with withering criticism from domestic analysts, U.S. lawmakers, and Washington's traditional Arab and Israeli allies. Sisi's recent landslide election victory was broadly seen as an opportunity to refresh U.S.-Egyptian ties. Al-Monitor's Wednesday report conveyed renewed frustration from the Egyptians. One official had told reporters "what we have been trying to say for the past couple of months or more, is that there is a dire need for the Apaches for the operation in the Sinai... [e]verybody in the region is saying it. The Israelis, the Emiratis, the Saudis.
The Jerusalem Post on Monday conveyed reports from Lebanese media outlets describing a series of lengthy meetings recently held between top Hezbollah and Hamas figures, the latest in what has become a steady stream of indicators that the Sunni terror group may be returning to the Iranian orbit after a period of estrangement due to the Syrian conflict. Hamas efforts aimed at achieving reconciliation with Hezbollah and Iran emerged months ago, amid increasingly desperate efforts by the Palestinian group to cope with ongoing Egyptian campaigns designed to isolate its Gaza Strip stronghold. Some observers had expressed hopes that a recently announced unity pact between the rival Fatah and Hamas factions would check the latter's drift toward Iran by providing it with diplomatic and financial alternatives. That analysis has not proven particularly robust. Hamas does indeed seem to have been given a lifeline by the deal, halting what had been a year-long downward spiral, but meetings with Hezbollah and Iranian officials have if anything picked up pace. At least one of the meetings in Lebanon had included Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. The end of May saw Iranian and Hamas leaders meeting publicly for the first time in three years. Meanwhile Jerusalem Post national security reporter Yaakov Lappin on Tuesday quoted Israeli security sources revealing that Hamas has substantially bolstered its indigenous weapons production programs, and that it "creates its own weapons, and is responsible for most of its own training." The group is widely thought to have medium-range rockets capable of putting roughly 70 percent of Israel's civilians in range.
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