Reuters reported Wednesday that Iran's crude exports to China in April had more than doubled from where they were a year ago - the final number constituting an all-time record high - and that the amount when added to South Korean and Indian numbers meant that Tehran had busted through export limits set by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) for what would be the sixth month in a row. The dynamic has been explicitly documented month by month, but Obama administration officials had expressed themselves unconcerned. White House and State Department spokespeople had emphasized their belief that Iran would slip underneath the JPA's export cap any month now, and that the total over the agreement's six-month period would average to the allowed 1 million barrels per day (bpd) level. The new figures come as analysts are expressing increasingly pointed worries that the administration has allowed the JPA's erosion in sanctions to slip out of control. Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, worried on Thursday in the National Interest that a robust deal putting Iran's nuclear program beyond use for weaponization may become unreachable "if American negotiators continue to insist upon weakening their leverage." Dubowitz more specifically worried that the JPA's erosion in coercive financial pressure had triggered a "too rapid... shift from fear to greed in the international business community, and from despair to hope in the Iranian market," the result being that the effectiveness of sanctions had been blunted. The article specifically cited new models and analysis - co-developed by FDD and Roubini Global Economics - suggesting that economic optimism in Iran was trading off with leverage that Western negotiators intend to lean on.
NOW Media reported Thursday that the Lebanese parliament had failed for the fifth time in a row to successfully elect a president, after Hezbollah-linked parliamentary blocs again boycotted the relevant session and prevented a quorum from forming. The months-long crisis - which has seen the Iran-backed terror group leverage its political power to consistently stymie efforts aimed at achieving political stability - has been blasted by top Lebanese lawmakers, including Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, for undermining objective Lebanese interests. It has also deepened criticism of foreign policy analysts who had suggested that Hezbollah was an indigenous Lebanese organization seeking to preserve Lebanon's sovereignty, to the point where some observers have approached borderline ridicule of the idea. Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), on Thursday unpacked a range of ongoing dynamics under the headline "Hezbollah's foreign origins." Badran among other things conveyed recent remarks from Naim Qassem - Hezbollah's second-in-command - declaring that "the [Israeli] invasion was not the reason [Hezbollah] was formed," a statement that Badran read alongside his own long-repeated argument that Hezbollah's creation was "related to the network of Iranian revolutionary cadres, especially those loyal to Imam Ruhollah Khomeini, who were operating in Lebanon in the 1970s." Lebanon's s-called March 14 camp has become increasingly vocal in declaring that Hezbollah's fighting in Syria is being done at Iran's behest and to the detriment of Lebanese interests, and even Lebanese Shiite clerics have called on the group to extricate itself from Syria. Badran tersely noted that Qassem's statements, especially understood in light of domestic opposition, "undermine the conventional narrative about the group’s genesis," which link Hezbollah's existence to Israeli military actions.
Reuters on Thursday flatly assessed that "Syria has made no progress in relinquishing a last batch of chemical weapons [CWs]," noting that the Bashar al-Assad regime is using claims of nearby fighting to excuse the "increasingly likely" scenario under which it would fail to meet a final deadline set for it to dismantle its CWs. Recent months have seen consistent statements and analysis suggesting that Damascus would fall short of meeting the terms of a September 2013 agreement - under which Syria ascended to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and committed to handing over parts of its nonconventional arsenal in exchange for the West standing down from impending military strikes - even before Damascus began publicly declaring that the failure was linked to the proximity of rebel forces. The news comes amid reports that Syria is also violating the terms of the agreement by ignoring CWC prohibitions against the battlefield deployment of chlorine-based CWs. Reuters reported on Tuesday that a rebel-held village had been bombed by Assad-loyal forces, and that part of the bombardment had included chlorine bombs which killed at least one teenager. The wire noted that the attack was "the sixth alleged poison gas attack [in Kfar Zeita] in two months." The Guardian noted Thursday that efforts to hold the regime accountable via multilateral institutions were showing little progress. Most specifically, the outlet reported that Russia and China had vetoed a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution that would have referred Syria to the International Criminal Court. Guardian Middle East Editor Ian Black juxtaposed a statement by Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin - that the vote was a "publicity stunt" - with the manifest fact that there "no peace negotiations are currently taking place."
Bloomberg's Tel Aviv-based reporter Jonathan Ferziger this week conveyed assessments indicating that a recently inked unity deal between the Palestinian Fatah faction and the rival Hamas organization - which is aimed at paving the way for a single government agreed to by both sides - may trigger the financial collapse of the Palestinian Authority (PA) as blackletter U.S. laws and European Union disenchantment lead to cutbacks in aid. The report is one in a long line of similar write-ups, but it was particularly blunt in specifying the amounts at stake: over $2 billion total, divided between $440 million in American funds, $584 million in European funds, and $1.2 billion in Israeli transfers. The outlet also quoted Ahmed Awad, a political scientist at Al-Quds Open University in Gaza City, noting simply that "we all know that the PA survives only through foreign donations and without them, it could collapse." Hopes that financial sanctions might be avoided if Hamas could be dragged toward the center have been stymied by repeated statements from the group's leaders rejecting any possibility that they might cease pursuing the eradication of the Jewish state. Moreover, several data points indicate that the terror group may be planning attacks against Israeli targets. Israel Hayom reported Monday that a Hamas operative had been intercepted carrying videos documenting the patterns of Israeli passenger train lines that run close to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.