Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Israel Project

  • National Journal: Top senators optimistic on Iran sanctions progress>
  • Palestinian reconciliation rumors trigger fears of peace process backsliding
  • Saudi doubles down on criticism of U.S.-Iran negotiations
  • Attack on Hezbollah position deepens fears of Syria spillover What we’re watching today: 

    • National Journal this evening reported that progress is being made on advancing bipartisan Senate legislation that would impose sanctions on Iran if the Islamic republic fails to dismantle its nuclear program during an upcoming negotiation period. The outlet specifically quoted Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) evaluating that he and others seeking to pass such legislation are "in pretty good shape" on the issue. Kirk indicated that he is working closely with fellow senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who has also in recent months expressed pointed concerns over Iran's nuclear drive and the efficacy of current negotiations. Lawmakers from both parties are known to be concerned that U.S. concessions made in the context of the recent Geneva agreement extend beyond the $7 billion price tag that the administration has publicly acknowledged, and that a variety of factors from simple undercounting to the stabilization of market expectations has substantially eroded Western leverage heading into negotiations over a comprehensive agreement.
    • Palestinian media outlet Ma'an reported this morning that Hamas is close to creating a single Palestinian government with its rival Fatah faction, laying the groundwork for upcoming West Bank and Gaza Strip elections that would see a unified leadership elected to govern both territories. If confirmed the move may reignite worries that mainstream Palestinian entities with which Israel has for years negotiated - and to which Jerusalem has made functionally irreversible diplomatic and territorial concessions - may be preparing to vitiate assurances and concessions. The Palestinian Authority is publicly committed to seeking a two-state solution with Israel, while Hamas remains committed to the Jewish state's destruction. The two positions have proved difficult to reconcile, and previous reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah have floundered over among other things that difficulty. Ra'fat Murra, Hamas's representative in Lebanon, this morning again emphasized that Hamas is unwilling to give up its claims to territory it reserves for a Palestinian state, including the entirety of Israel. Measuring broader Palestinian sentiment on this issue is notoriously difficult, though Ma'an reported this morning on a new poll indicating that a majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip oppose continued negotiations with Israel.
    • Washington is seeking to downplay tensions with Riyadh over the West's recent diplomacy with Iran, after Saudi Arabian Prince Turki al-Faisal was quoted by the Wall Street Journal this weekend highlighting deep skepticism inside Kingdom and within other Gulf countries regarding a deal announced last month between the P5+1 global powers and Tehran over the latter's nuclear program. Faisal had according to the Journal "echoed concerns raised by Israel and members of the U.S. Congress that the interim nuclear accord with Iran didn’t go far enough' and had 'accused the White House of blindsiding Riyadh with its overtures to Iran." The Washington Times yesterday quoted Marie Harf, the State Department’s deputy spokesman, responding to Faisal's statements by emphasizing that "the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have a long and close strategic partnership" and that "one of the hallmarks of a good partnership is the ability to have quite frank conversations." Harf also pointed out that Faisal is "not even a government official." This morning Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz, the current Saudi Ambassador to Britain, published an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, headlined "Saudi Arabia Will Go It Alone," in which he declared that Riyadh "believe[s] that many of the West's policies on both Iran and Syria risk the stability and security of the Middle East."
    • A car bomb detonated early this morning near a Hezbollah base in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley has deepened concerns that sectarian tensions generated by the Iran-backed terror group's participation in Syria's nearly three-year-old conflict are spilling over into Lebanon. Shiite Hezbollah has provided critical support to the Bashar al-Assad regime, allowing it to steadily erode grains made over previous months and years by the largely Sunni opposition, but triggering a wave of blowback that has seen Sunni fighters from within and beyond the region target Lebanese territory in retaliation. This morning's car bomb targeted a Hezbollah position and, according to early reports broadcast by Lebanon's state-run National News Agency, injured both Hezbollah members and civilians. Hezbollah's Al Manar station reported that the targeted post was - per reports conveyed by The New York Times - "a rotation point for Hezbollah fighters coming and going from Syria." The steady stream of Syria-linked violence targeting Hezbollah inside Lebanon has substantially eroded the group's image as a group seeking to protect Lebanese territory from Israel, and has instead triggered criticism across the Arab world that Hezbollah is willing to endanger Lebanese stability in order to promote Iranian interests. Analysts now fear that the group may attempt to bolster its old brand by provoking an incident with Jerusalem that would provide it with a pretext to battle the Jewish state.
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