Europe Set to Cut Iran Oil Purchases by One-Third (Ynet News)
On Jan. 23, the EU formally adopted an oil embargo against Iran that is set to commence in July, but Tehran's European customers say they will reduce purchases in March by more than a third - or over 300,000 barrels daily.
In addition, China, India and Japan, the top three buyers of Iranian oil, are planning cuts of at least 10%.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the move can only "make one smile," adding that the Islamic Republic is "very imaginative" in provoking other nations.
Thai Police Question Another Iranian in Bomb Probe (Reuters)
Thai police said on Monday they were questioning another Iranian, Madani Seyed Mehrded, 33, in connection with explosions in Bangkok this month.
Thai police discovered call logs showing Mehrded regularly communicating with two of the other Iranian suspects, Saeid Moradi and Mohammad Khazaei.
Police also said Mehrded had been waiting in front of the building housing the Israeli embassy on the day of the blasts.
Why Nobody Will Help the Syrian People - Josef Joffe (New Republic)
With the recent Sino-Russian veto of a mild motion of censure of the Assad regime by the Security Council, both sides in Syria will now fight to the finish. Harsher sanctions by the West will follow, but they will be undermined by Moscow and Beijing.
Meanwhile, arms flows will quicken - to both sides. The insurgency will escalate into a full-blown civil war. And the winners will take horrible revenge on the losers.
Libya was no precedent for Syria. Remember the rule: We bomb only where the campaign promises to be short, cheap and decisive. And where the target - like Gaddafi - has no allies. Assad does: Russia, China, and Iran.
The writer, editor of Die Zeit, is a Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.
Raul Castro: Alan Gross "Was No Spy" (JTA)
Jailed American Jewish contractor Alan Gross "was no spy," Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in a meeting in Havana on Feb. 23 with two visiting U.S. senators, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).
Leahy had earlier met with Gross, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence in a military prison in Havana.
Gross was arrested in December 2009 for distributing laptop computers and connecting Cuban Jews to the Internet under a USAID contract to help the country's 1,500 Jews communicate with other Jewish communities.
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- Report: 135 People Dead in Syria
The Local Coordination Committees, a Syrian activist group, said Monday that 135 people have been killed across the country. The group said 64 of those who died were trying to flee shelling in the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr when they were killed at a security checkpoint in the city's Abil area.
- U.S. Considers New Message on Iran - Carol E. Lee and Jay Solomon
Complaints from Israel about the U.S.'s public engagement with Iran have pushed the White House to consider more forcefully outlining potential military actions, and the "red lines" Iran must not cross, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Israeli officials have been fuming over what they perceive as deliberate attempts by the Obama administration to undermine the deterrent effect of the Jewish state's threat to use force against Tehran by publicly questioning the utility and timing of such strikes.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu recently conveyed his concern that comments by senior U.S. officials have cast Israel as the problem, not Iran, and only encouraged Tehran to press ahead with its nuclear program by casting doubt over the West's willingness to use force. "The Israelis are unnerved," said Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), one of five U.S. senators who had lunch with Mr. Netanyahu last Tuesday in Jerusalem. "They think the administration is sending the wrong signal, and I do too."
President Obama and Mr. Netanyahu will meet in Washington on March 5. (Wall Street Journal)
- Iran Hosts Lebanese Defense Minister - Nasser Karimi
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Lebanon's visiting Lebanese Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn
on Sunday, telling him that Beirut and Tehran should work toward unity to confront the West and Israel.
Ghosn is a member of the Christian political party Marada, which is allied with Tehran's main partner in Lebanon, the Shiite Hizbullah movement.
Iran's defense minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi said, "Strengthening the Lebanese army is among the strategic policies of Iran." In return Ghosn said, "Right now there is complete coordination between the army and the resistance," a term often used by Hizbullah to refer to itself.
Iran also recently hosted leaders from the Palestinian militant movement Hamas. (AP)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- U.S. Policy Aimed at "Buying Time" with Iran - Chemi Shalev
U.S. policy on Iran is aimed at "buying time and continuing to move this problem into the future, and if you can do that - strange things can happen in the interim," Anthony Blinken, National Security Adviser to Vice President Biden and Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, said on Monday.
Blinken told Ha'aretz that the assessments of Israel and the U.S. on Iran are "very close" to each other, "but because we are in different places, even physically, there may be tactical differences between the two countries - but the fundamental strategic position is the same."
Blinken said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems "more interested" in defusing tensions with the West than Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, whose "raison d'etre is confrontation with the U.S." At the same time,
Blinken admitted that the U.S. has "extraordinarily imperfect information" about the situation inside Iran's feuding ruling circles.
- IDF Kills Smuggler on Israel-Egypt Border - Gili Cohen
A smuggler was killed in a gun battle on Tuesday as an Israel Defense Forces patrol thwarted an attempt by 15 smugglers to cross the Israel-Egypt border.
- Palestinians Protest Israeli Medical Visit - Khaled Abu Toameh
A tour of the Palestine Medical Compound in Ramallah last Thursday by Israeli physicians, who were accompanied by PA Health Minister Fathi Abu Mughli, triggered a wave of protests. Workers at the medical compound accused the PA of engaging in "normalization" with Israel. Abu Mughli told the PA's Voice of Palestine radio that his ministry did not object to such visits and noted that Palestinian patients were being transferred to Israeli hospitals on a regular basis.
- U.S.-Egypt Alliance Put to the Test - Editorial
The prosecution of Americans for promoting democracy in Egypt has been a tale of deceit and false promises by the country's ruling military council. Time and again the generals have told senior U.S. officials that the offices of U.S. NGOs would be allowed to reopen; that they would be registered to work in Egypt; and that the seven Americans banned from leaving the country would be allowed to leave. None of those pledges have been fulfilled.
Gen. Tantawi has been told by a parade of U.S. visitors that U.S. aid to Egypt will be jeopardized if the prosecutions go forward. That they have not stopped the cases suggests either that they are prepared to accept a suspension of aid or that they believe the Obama administration and Congress will blink - and turn over the money to avoid a rupture in relations.
Preserving ties with Egypt is an important U.S. interest - and Egypt has little hope of reviving its stricken economy without U.S. and other Western support. Yet if the prosecutions go forward, the aid must be suspended.
- Hizbullah Is in Trouble - Guy Bechor
With Assad sinking, Hizbullah is also going down. The Shiite organization has become the most hated in the Arab world. The economic oxygen from Iran that kept Hizbullah alive is drying up. Iran faces the economic threat of paralyzing sanctions and it has no money for adventures on the Lebanese front. This means that Hizbullah has no money to pay salaries and fund projects.
Still, Hizbullah's control in southern Lebanon is convenient for Israel. It prevents Sunni groups such as al-Qaeda and Global Jihad from operating there, and also prevents Palestinian terror groups from reaching the border with Israel. (Ynet News)
- Is the Iranian Regime Rational? - Harold Rhode
Recently, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, said that the Iranian regime is rational. It is rational - but within its own Iranian context - not ours.
The current leaders of Iran, according to the late Ayatollah Khomeini, are dangerous. When he ruled Iran, he did his best to keep them out of government: he knew Iran's current rulers believe that by provoking a conflagration, they would try to make their Mahdi - their messiah - return.
Destruction, for Iran's rulers, is an inducement, not a deterrent. From the point of view of Iran's rulers, provoking a conflagration is eminently rational.
The writer joined the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense in 1982 as an advisor on Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. From 1994 until 2010 he served in the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment.
Hamas Faces Serious Rift - Ehud Yaari (Times of Israel)
- A bitter public controversy has erupted between Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal versus his own deputy head of the Political Bureau, Moussa Abu Marzouk, and the top leaders in Gaza.
In the wake of the uprising in Syria, the "external leadership" of Hamas abandoned their secure base in Damascus without being able to obtain an alternative safe haven. Mashaal is no longer in sole control of the movement's purse strings since contributions from Tehran were reduced. He no longer enjoys the recognition of Syria, Iran and Hizbullah of his supremacy within Hamas.
- On Feb. 6 in Doha, Mashaal signed an agreement with the PA's Mahmoud Abbas to form a temporary unity government. A chorus of protests by the Gaza leaders immediately erupted, accusing Mashaal of deviating from the adopted policies.
- Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, embarked on a tour of several Arab countries avoiding any hint of support for the Doha Agreement. Then he ignored warnings by the Gulf states and the Muslim Brotherhood and paid a widely publicized visit to Iran, kissing and hugging Supreme Leader Khamenei, and asking for direct financial assistance to Gaza.
- So now, the ever-negotiated reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah is again bogged down. The majority of Hamas leaders demand "amendments" to the Doha agreement.
See also Hamas Out of Syria, Leader Says - Mohammed Daraghmeh
The Hamas leadership has left its longtime base in Syria because of the regime's crackdown on opponents there, Moussa Abu Marzouk, the no. 2 in the Islamic militant movement, said in an interview Sunday in Cairo. He said Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal
and his aides have moved to Doha, Qatar. Another Hamas official said this week that Mashaal twice turned down recent requests to meet with Assad and eventually decided to leave Syria.
"Our position on Syria is that we are not with the regime in its security solution, and we respect the will of the people," Abu Marzouk said.
"The Iranians are not happy with our position on Syria, and when they are not happy they don't deal with you in the same old way," he said, referring to a drop in Iranian aid to Hamas. (AP)
See also Hamas Leader Wanted in U.S. on Terror Charge Moves to Egypt - Josh Gerstein
Moussa Abu Marzouk, who is under indictment in the U.S. on terrorism charges, has reportedly moved to Egypt from Syria.
Abu Marzouk was indicted on a terror-related racketeering conspiracy charge in 2003 by a federal grand jury in Chicago, although he was not in the U.S. at the time.
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