Friday, October 11, 2013

The Daily TIP: White House decision to reduce Egypt assistance blasted by Middle East allies, Congress‏

  • White House decision to reduce Egypt assistance blasted by Middle East allies, Congress
  • Top Lebanon leader: Hezbollah trying to spark "another front with Israel" by generating maritime drilling crisis
  • Iran dissident group: Iran moving nuke infrastructure to secure locations
  • Iran telecom chief doubles down on social media ban, after Foreign Minister laughs off hypocrisy charges What we’re watching today: 

    • White House officials announced Wednesday night that the Obama administration will substantially curtail assistance to Egypt - among other things by withholding delivery on high-priority military items such as F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, M1 tanks, and Harpoon missiles - but that they aspired, according to the Washington Post, "to maintain a robust military and diplomatic partnership with Egypt." Analysts and diplomats are divided on the degree to which Washington would be able to limit be able to contain the political and diplomatic fallout from the decision, which CNN described as "a dramatic shift toward a major Arab ally." The Wall Street Journal described frustration and anger across the Arab world, both within Egypt - where officials noted that the U.S.'s critical, preferential access to the Suez Canal may have to be "adjusted" - and more broadly among the U.S.'s Arab allies. A diplomat "from an Arab country closely allied with Washington" was described a new regional reality in which "more and more voices which say America is no longer someone you can rely on, or someone who really counts in the Middle East." Arab concerns that the U.S. was endangering its relationship with a critical ally, and that Washington was more generally withdrawing from the Middle East, were echoed by Israeli officials. The New York Times quoted one official as worrying that the move will be seen "as the United States dropping a friend." The National Journal chronicled a range of broad, bipartisan anger in the United States under the headline "Congress slams Obama team on Egypt aid decision." Washington Institute fellow and Egypt expert Eric Trager described the decision, which came after months of White House discomfort at the Egyptian army's move to remove the country's former Muslim Brotherhood-linked president Mohammed Morsi from power, as based on "a fundamental misunderstanding of what transpired in Egypt this past summer."
    • A top Lebanese leader today slammed Hezbollah for trying to create "another front with Israel" by escalating tensions revolving around underwater energy resources near the country's coast. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea blasted the Iran-backed terror group for using the "oil portfolio... to give a legal justification to the existence of [its] illegal weapons." Caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, a politician from the Hezbollah-allied Free Patriotic Movement, has pushed to allow energy companies to bid on exploring contested maritime 'blocks' near the Israeli-Lebanese border. The move is a de facto claim of sovereignty over the contested territory, and - per the Israeli daily financial newspaper Globes - "international law experts say that Israeli is liable to lose territory if it does not object to the Lebanese acts in court, or even militarily." Observers in Lebanon fear that Hezbollah is seeking to provoke a violent confrontation with Israel so as to restore its brand as a "resistance" organization battling the Jewish state. That image of Hezbollah - which was echoed for decades by Tehran and in certain corners of the Western foreign policy community - has been shattered by the group's fighting on behalf of Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Hezbollah seems to be setting up a narrative, in the context of off-shore drilling, that would allow it to claim it is defending Lebanese territory against the Jewish state's intrusions. Today it warned that Lebanon's oil and gas sector was "becoming vulnerable to Israeli piracy" by the "deliberate obstruction of issuing licenses."
    • An Iranian dissident group is accusing Tehran of moving nuclear infrastructure to new facilities in order to avoid detection, just days before Tehran is scheduled to meet with Western powers in a bid to resolve a decades-long crisis over the opacity of its nuclear program. The Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which Reuters describes as having "exposed Iran's uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water [plutonium] facility at Arak," said that infrastructure from a nuclear weaponization research and planning center that it dubs SPND are being moved to nearby defense ministry complex. The accusation will refocus attention on what both the American intelligence community and the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog believe to be perhaps more than a dozen undisclosed nuclear facilities scattered around Iran. The amount and sophistication of centrifuges at Tehran's disposal are critical variables in debates over what concessions Iran must make in order to meet the half-dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on the country to verifiably halt its nuclear weapons program. U.S. lawmakers and analysts have called on Iran to among other things halt all uranium enrichment and plutonium-related activity, and to export all enriched material oversees. Iran is expected to arrive at the upcoming October 15 talks in Geneva with a basket of concessions that would allow the regime to continue enriching material up to 3.5%, and to remove known material already enriched to 20% from the country. Analysts have consistently outlined, however, that permitting Iran to retain 3.5% enriched material would still allow it to dash across the nuclear finish line. These scenarios would require Iran to use only existing, known facilities. That Iran is broadly suspected of possessing additional unknown facilities further complicates any deal that would allow Tehran to retain any enriched material or enrichment capacity. Top State Department officials have repeatedly said in the context of Iran negotiations that "no deal is better than a bad deal."
    • AFP reports that Iran's Telecommunications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi rejected this week "any official plans to legalise Facebook and Twitter," and - when asked why some Iranian officials maintain accounts on the social media networks - tersely responded that "you should ask them." Vaezi's statement came just weeks after what Iranian authorities described as a technical "glitch" briefly gave Iranian citizens access to banned sites, and which was hailed by Western journalists as potentially "the start of a more tolerant attitude towards social media by the government" and "Iran’s Berlin Wall of internet censorship crumbling down." The ban was reimposed within a day. Last month Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif – who maintains a verified Twitter account as well as a Facebook page – laughed off David Keyes, executive director of Advancing Human Rights, when Keyes pushed him on whether he thought it was ironic that he enjoys posting on Facebook while his government bans the website in Iran. Writing in the Daily Beast, Keyes describes Zarif as responding "Ha! Ha!... That’s life."
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