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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 4, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Iran's Warning to Israel Heightens Tensions

Iran said Israel would regret its air strike (Reuters) against Syria last week, coming short of spelling out whether Iran or its ally planned any military response. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has accused Israel of trying to destabilize Syria (al-Jazeera) by attacking a military research base outside Damascus last week, reportedly hitting weapons destined for Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed group backed by Syria and Iran. Assad's accusations came as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave the first hint (AP) of Israeli involvement in the air attack during his appearance at a conference in Munich.


"Israel's policy towards Syria has, for two years, consisted of keeping its distance and sending warnings to Assad. As the Syrian state weakens and, at the same time, it has less and less to lose, Israel will find it increasingly difficult to insulate itself from events next door. If air strikes recur, this policy is going to fall apart," writes Shashank Joshi for The Telegraph.

"Why would a regime, struggling to crush a popular, militarized revolution and hell-bent on maintaining power at all costs, give away its advanced weapons? In light of its attempts to thwart direct foreign intervention by threatening to use such arms against external aggressors, it would not make sense for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to transfer them to his allies," writes Sharif Nashashibi for al-Arabiya.

"Syria has been covertly arming Hezbollah for many years. Hezbollah, along with Iran, is among the few friends the Syrian leadership has left. President Assad may be slowly losing his fight for survival in Syria but the demise of his regime is not yet a foregone conclusion. He may believe that something will survive and having a well-armed ally in Lebanon may suit his longer-term strategic goals, if indeed there is 'a longer-term' for the Assad regime," writes Jonathan Marcus for the BBC.



South Korea, U.S. Hold Drills

The United States and South Korea held a joint naval exercise (Yonhap) Monday involving a U.S. nuclear submarine. Although South Korean officials stressed the drill was scheduled before North Korea made its nuclear test threat, the submarine has been seen as a warning to Pyongyang.

Victor Cha discusses North Korea's nuclear needs in this CFR interview.

CHINA: In The People's Daily, China denied responsibility (AFP) for the hacking attacks of American media outlets including the New York Times and the Washington Post.



Karzai Questions Western Intervention

Afghan President Hamid Karzai questioned whether Western troops were "fighting in the wrong place" during their decade-long presence in the country (Guardian), saying security was better in southern Helmand province before the arrival of British forces.

This CFR interactive timeline traces the history of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

INDIA: India's president approved on Sunday an ordinance strengthening sexual-assault laws (WSJ), which could now include the death penalty as punishment for rape cases.

CFR's Isobel Coleman outlines three things to know about violence against women in India in this video.



Israel Arrests Hamas Lawmakers in West Bank

Israel on Monday arrested twenty-five Palestinians in the West Bank, including top Hamas activists and Palestinian Legislative Council members (Haaretz). Hamas and human rights agencies said the arrest campaign aims to undermine Palestinian reconciliation efforts with Fatah.



Islamist Leaders Arrested In Mali

Two high profile Islamist militants, one of whom was part of a group that controlled Timbuktu until last week, have been arrested (France24) by a rival armed group believed to be either the Tuareg separatist movement Azawad National Liberation Movement, or an Ansar Dine splinter group.

RWANDA: A UN-backed court overturned genocide convictions (BBC) of two former Rwandan ministers and ordered their immediate release, a move analysts say will likely anger Rwanda's government.



Spain's Rajoy Faces Mounting Pressure

Protestors demonstrated in Madrid over the scandal involving alleged secret payments to senior members of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's center-right Popular party, which has seen its popularity plummet in the wake of the allegations (FT).

EUROPEAN UNION: French President Francois Hollande said on Sunday France was keen to agree to the European Union's 2014 to 2020 budget (Reuters) at a summit in Brussels next week, although he said there was still more work to be done.



Paraguayan Presidential Candidate Dies

Paraguayan presidential candidate Lino Oviedo, a former army chief who led a failed coup in 1996, died in a helicopter accident (Bloomberg). Oviedo was running with the opposition Unace Party in April's presidential vote, which was called after Congress ousted Fernando Lugo from the presidency in June.

ARGENTINA: Argentina's central bank reported it had reserves totaling $42.65 billion at the end of January, the lowest figure (MercoPress) since President Cristina Fernandez took office in December 2007.



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