Al-Qaeda's ISIS Takes Two Syrian Cities, Executes Scores of Rivals - Mitchell Prothero (McClatchy-Miami Herald)
Al-Qaeda-linked militants, forced last week from many of their strongholds in northern and eastern Syria, have launched a fierce counterattack, retaking control of the capital of Raqqa province, seizing another city that's a key border crossing with Turkey, and executing hundreds of prisoners, witnesses and activists reported Monday.
The resurgence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) suggested that last week's predictions that moderate factions were retaking control of the rebellion against President Assad were premature.
IAEA Gains More Iran Access, But Not Enough for Bomb Probe - Fredrik Dahl (Reuters)
The International Atomic Energy Agency's increased access in Iran to monitor an agreement with world powers still falls short of what it says it needs to investigate suspicions that Tehran may have worked on designing an atomic bomb.
Western diplomats and nuclear experts say the IAEA needs to carry out its long-stalled inquiry into tests by Iran that could be used for nuclear arms development, partly to make sure that any such work has ceased.
U.S. Concerned about Iran-Russia Oil Deal - Roberta Rampton (Reuters)
The White House said on Monday it was concerned about a recent report that Iran and Russia are negotiating an oil-for-goods swap worth $1.5 billion a month that would significantly boost Iran's oil exports.
Russian and Iranian sources said the deal could see Russia buy as much as 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian oil in exchange for Russian equipment and goods.
"If the reports are true, such a deal would raise serious concerns as it would be inconsistent with the terms of the P5+1 agreement with Iran and could potentially trigger U.S. sanctions,"
said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.
With Muslim Brotherhood Crushed, Egypt Sets Sights on Hamas - Yasmine Saleh (Reuters)
After crushing the Muslim Brotherhood at home, Egypt's military rulers plan to undermine the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which runs neighboring Gaza.
The aim, which could take years to pull off, includes working with Hamas' political rival Fatah and supporting popular anti-Hamas activities in Gaza, four security and diplomatic officials said.
"Gaza is next," said one senior security official. "We cannot get liberated from the terrorism of the Brotherhood in Egypt without ending it in Gaza, which lies on our borders."
"We know that Hamas is powerful and armed, but we also know that there are other armed groups in Gaza that are not on good terms with Hamas and they could be used to face Hamas," another Egyptian security source said.
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- U.S.: Iran Permitted to Continue Advanced Centrifuge Work
The White House confirmed on Monday that Iran would be permitted to continue developing advanced nuclear centrifuges that will enable it to more quickly enrich uranium under the interim nuclear deal reached over the weekend, according to senior Obama administration officials.
(Washington Free Beacon)
See also World Powers Agree with Iran Installing New Generation Centrifuges
World powers have voiced consent to the installation of a new generation of centrifuges for research purposes by Iran, senior Iranian parliamentary officials announced on Monday. "The new generation of centrifuges for research purposes was the most important remaining issue in the talks between Iran and the P5+1 in recent months," said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission. "At last, the P5+1 accepted yesterday that Iran's operating a new generation of centrifuges for research does not run counter to the Geneva agreement." (Fars-Iran)
- Biden Assures Israel about Core Sanctions on Iran - Matt Spetalnick
Vice President Joe Biden assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday that the U.S. is committed to enforcing its "sanctions architecture" against Iran even as world powers provide it with some relief in pursuit of a final nuclear deal. In four hours of talks during Biden's visit to Israel for the funeral of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Biden briefed Netanyahu on the interim agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program and sought his views on efforts to reach a broader accord, a senior U.S. official said.
"The issue of ensuring the continued enforcement of the sanctions architecture is an important priority for us, is an important priority for Israel and was a subject of conversation," the official said. "They spoke about Iran's...destabilizing activities and support for terror, as well as the important implications of the election of President Rouhani and the activities of other actors in the Iranian system, and how the United States and Israel need to cooperate together to confront the variety of threats posed by Iran," the official said.
- Egyptians Vote on Draft Constitution
Egyptians began two days of voting Tuesday on a new draft constitution that deals a heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood's campaign for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and paves the way for a likely presidential run by the nation's top general, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
A comfortable "yes" vote and a respectable turnout would bestow legitimacy on the overthrow of the nation's Islamist president in a popularly backed coup last July.
In the days running up to the vote, hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards exhorted Egyptians to vote "yes." Posters - and campaigns - urging a "no" vote have led to arrests.
The new charter, drafted by a liberal-dominated committee appointed by the military-backed government, would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians. It also allows the military to select its own candidate for defense minister for the next eight years and empowers it to bring civilians before military tribunals.
- Al-Qaeda Sees Golan Heights as Staging Ground for Attacks on Israel - Amos Harel
According to a new comprehensive study on al-Qaeda by
Yoram Schweitzer and Aviv Oreg, published through the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University,
al-Qaeda did not suffer an irreversible blow after bin Laden's death in May 2011 and is nowhere near defeat.
Al-Qaeda has recovered from the U.S. assassinations of its senior leaders, including Osama bin Laden, and begun to reestablish itself, while concentrating most of its power and efforts in the Syrian civil war. Its leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, considers the Syria-Israel border in the Golan Heights a staging ground for Jihadist activity against Israeli targets - activity that is expected to increase if al-Qaeda and groups affiliated with it win in Syria.
In a video released last May, Zawahri claimed that Jihad against Israel is a commandment that every Muslim must fulfill. In order to free Palestine, Zawahri stated, Muslims must go to Syria and use it as a staging ground for Jihad activity against Israel. As soon as Assad falls, Syria will have the optimal conditions for founding an Islamic state, which will attract lots of Muslims looking to practice Jihad against Israel.
- Serving with Arik Sharon - Barbara Opall-Rome
Thirty years ago, my husband Zvi joined Sayeret Shaked, an anti-terror commando force personally designed by Arik Sharon, then commander of Israel's Southern Command, and commanded by Benjamin "Fuad" Ben-Eliezer, now a veteran lawmaker and former defense minister. The unit was steeped in Sharon's doctrine of proactive, probing operations deep in enemy territory; never stopping until the mission was complete; yet never leaving anyone behind.
From their base near Beersheba, the unit made nightly raids into Jordan, ambushing PLO fighters backed by Saudi forces who repeatedly attempted infiltrations and mortar strikes against civilian and industrial targets on the Israeli side of the Dead Sea until 1970, when the Hashemite Kingdom reasserted control over its shared border with Israel.
Redeploying to Gaza, in less than a year Sayeret Shaked arrested or killed all but eight of the 308 terrorists on their mission list in Sharon's counter-terror clean-up campaign there. (Times of Israel)
- Common Traits Bind Jews and Chinese - Spengler
There is no greater compliment to any culture than to be admired by the Chinese, who with some justification regard their civilization as the world's most ancient. The high regard that the Chinese have for Jews should be a source of pride. Jew-hatred is entirely absent in the world's largest country. To the extent that Chinese people know something of the Jews, their response to us is instinctively sympathetic.
Family, learning, respect for tradition, business acumen: these are Jewish traits that the Chinese also consider to be their virtues. A Jew visiting China senses an affinity with Chinese people, more than can be explained by the commonality of traits. There is a common attitude towards life, and especially toward adversity.
(Asia Times-Hong Kong)
The U.S. Needs a Deal with Iran, Not Detente - Ray Takeyh (Washington Post)
- The U.S. has always insisted on sanctifying its negotiating partners, conjuring up moderates and searching for common ground. The challenge for Washington today is to defy its history and reach a nuclear agreement with Iran while negating the Islamic Republic's regional ambitions.
- On the surface, the chimera of bringing Iran in from the cold could prove alluring. Perhaps once the two sides have agreed on the nuclear file, they could move toward a larger canvass of cooperation.
- The guardians of Iranian theocracy are far less sentimental than Americans about their diplomacy. Whatever confidence-building measures Iranian diplomats may be negotiating in Geneva, supreme leader Ali Khamenei insisted as recently as late November that Iran is "challenging the influence of America in the region and is extending its own influence."
- In Khamenei's telling, the U.S. is a crestfallen imperial power unable to impose discipline on a recalcitrant Middle East. It is not his burden to salvage the wreckage of the U.S. but merely to fill the vacuums left by its abdication.
- The key actors defining Iran's regional policy are not its urbane diplomats mingling with their Western counterparts in Geneva but the Revolutionary Guard Corps, particularly the famed Quds Force.
- At the core this conflict is ideological: Iran does not want us to succeed, and we should not want Tehran to prevail. The first step toward a sensible Iran policy is to dispense with the illusion of detente.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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