Week in Review: Aleppo’s Anguish; Hamas’ Hubris; North Korea and Iran’s Nuclear Ties

The Catastrophe of Aleppo

Two major editorials on Thursday called attention to Iran’s role in the destruction of the last rebel stronghold in Aleppo, Syria. The New York Times observed that “Hezbollah, backed by Iran with arms and money, has … been a vital asset for the Assad regime, reportedly deploying at least 5,000 fighters in Syria.” The Washington Post condemned the “utter disrespect for the laws of war by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its Russian and Iranian allies. These forces systematically destroyed hospitals, including pediatric facilities; decimated civilian housing with bunker-buster bombs and chlorine gas; and refused to allow food or humanitarian aid of any kind into the besieged districts of the city.”

Earlier in the week, when reports emerged that pro-Assad forces had summarily executed at least 82 civilians during the Aleppo offensive, the United Nations said the city was witnessing a “complete meltdown of humanity.”

The scale of death and destruction in Aleppo didn’t seem to bother top Iranian officials. Gen. Rahim Safavi, a close advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that the Assad regime’s impending victory signaled that “Americans have realized that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the top player in southwest Asia.” President Hassan Rouhani phoned Assad to personally congratulate him on the “great victory” in Aleppo, once again defying efforts to characterize him as a moderate Iranian leader.

Syrian rebels also claimed this week that a recent Israeli air raid in Syria destroyed a shipment of chemical weapons en route to Hezbollah, underscoring the dangers of allowing Iran to establish itself on Israel’s northern border.

Nuke Deal Unraveling

Last year’s nuclear deal with Iran was supposed to have curbed Tehran’s nuclear program. While the accord appears to have temporarily limited parts of Iran’s program inside its own borders, investigative journalist Claudia Rosett questioned whether the Islamic Republic might be continuing its nuclear research through its partnership with North Korea. Rosett noted that Iran and North Korea have collaborated on weapons research in the past, particularly in the realm of ballistic missile development. Moreover, as Iran publicly scaled back parts of its nuclear program in the past year, North Korea increased the frequency of its own activities, detonating its four and fifth nuclear devices since 2006. “If there has been any such nuclear teamwork between Tehran and rogue, nuclear-testing Pyongyang, that would be a violation by Iran” of the nuclear deal, Rosett wrote.

But Iran might not be waiting too long to breach the deal on its own soil, again. This week, President Rouhani ordered his government to start preparing to develop nuclear powered naval vessels, which would require Iran to enrich uranium to a higher level of purity than allowed by the deal. Rouhani also falsely claimed that the extension of the Iran Sanctions Act, which was approved overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress and became law this week, constituted a violation of the nuclear accord.

The American Interest observed that Rouhani’s blatant call to violate the deal shows that the accord “appears to be unraveling under Obama,” while the “widespread bipartisan support” that the sanctions legislation received shows “how tenuous Obama’s achievement was, and what shaky foundations it rests upon.”

Hamas’ Hubris

The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas is now describing itself as a leading missile manufacturer. While Hamas has failed to build enough houses for Gazan civilians, it claims to possess an abundance of rockets that it is prepared to sell and deliver “to Arab armies so as to fight the Zionist entity,” Fathi Hammad, a spokesman for the terrorist group, said this week.

Also this week, Hamas concluded a series of celebrations marking its 29th anniversary. Pictures from the festivities showed children dressed in fatigues and carrying firearms, providing yet another indication that Hamas is passing on its murderous ideology to a new generation.

Not to be confused with child’s play, Hamas is taking espionage against Israel to new heights by flying camera-equipped kites and drones near the Gaza border. IDF officials believe Hamas is gathering intelligence on Israeli border communities so that it may launch kidnapping attacks there if another war breaks out.

Meanwhile, Sinai Province, an Islamic State affiliate based in the Sinai Peninsula, announced this week that its liaison to Hamas was killed, though it did not specify how. Both Egyptian and Israeli officials have warned that the Islamist groups are collaborating extensively, including on weapons smuggling, explosives manufacturing, and logistics.

Whether by building its missile arsenal, indoctrinating the young, spying on Israel, or forging alliances with other fundamentalist terrorist groups, Hamas seems as determined as ever to uphold its violent ethos. As Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, formerly the head of the research division of Israeli military intelligence and later the director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said earlier this year: “They definitely invest a lot in making the necessary preparations so that in the next round, when they decide to start it, they will be able to inflict the heaviest damage on Israel.”

Feature: The Iranian Empire Is Almost Complete

The Assad regime’s bloody, Iran-backed assault on Aleppo was the latest step to fulfilling Iran’s ultimate goal, which Hanin Ghaddar described as “spreading Shi’ite Islamic revolution and identity throughout Shi’ite communities in the Middle East in order to become the regional hegemon.” Through its regional proxies, including the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi’ite militias, Iran wields an effective “pan-Shi’ite army” that aims “to consolidate Iranian control over the region.”

By exercising control over three Arab capitals — Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut — Iran has secured “a Shi’ite Arab territory that physically links Iran to southern Lebanon via Iraq and Syria.”

However, Iran may not have the resources necessary to sustain its hegemonic ambitions — so even if it achieves its coveted “Shiite corridor,” it will not necessarily “be the end of the story,” Ghaddar observed.

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Three Big Questions

Bilal Saab, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, tweeted that the planned appointment of David Friedman as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel has caused “Neither outrage nor jubilation in Arab capitals …  This is not your 1990s Middle East.” Is this further proof of the improved relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referenced on his historic state visit to Muslim-majority Kazakhstan earlier this week?

While in Kazakhstan, Netanyahu also asked President Nursultan Nazarbayev to back Israel’s bid for a rotating seat on the UN Security Council. (Kazakhstan is slated to begin a two-year stint on the council next year.) If Israel’s petition is successful, will we start seeing attitudes soften towards it at the UN?

The United Kingdom issued new guidelines restricting the disbursement of foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority, following reports that British taxpayer money was being used to pay salaries to terrorists and their families. Notably, aid recipients will now be vetted by the European Union’s PEGASE mechanism (Palestinian-European Socio-Economic Management Assistance Mechanism). Will other European nations follow suit and similarly try to prevent the PA from using foreign aid to reward killers?

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