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The Takeaway: Republicans vow to hinder Biden on Iran 

Netanyahu and Pegasus; Ukraine and Turkey; Idlib; Gaza’s Sufis; Egypt’s pickled mummy fetus; and more…in less than 1,100 words!
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill on Feb. 9, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Hot take: Congress could complicate — but not derail — Biden’s efforts to resurrect Iran nuclear accord


The nuclear deal’s opponents in Congress are mostly powerless to prevent the administration from rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But Senate Republicans are demanding input, warning they have a “full range of options and leverage available” to block implementation if Biden dismisses their oversight role. 

The latest: In a letter to the president led by Texas Senator Ted Cruz on Monday, 33 Republicans senators cite the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (INARA), which requires a congressional review of “any agreement related to the nuclear program with Iran.” 

Why it matters: Congress could then pass a joint resolution of disapproval but would need a two-thirds majority to counter a presidential veto. Republicans, who in 2015 commanded both chambers, tried this but lacked the necessary Senate votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster on a procedural vote. 

Once again this time, the deal is sure to survive Congress; even with some Democrats opposed to a nuclear deal, the numbers would not make a two-thirds majority. But as the Cruz-led letter indicates, Republicans are prepared for a fight that will “underscore the lack of political consensus for Biden's deal and heighten fears in Iran that the United States is going to walk away again,” writes former Bush administration official Stephen Rademaker

For the record: There’s some question over whether a return to the JCPOA without modifications would even trigger an INARA-mandated review. 

State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters on Tuesday that the administration is “committed to ensuring the requirements of INARA are satisfied.” But she declined to say whether the administration would submit a potential deal for lawmakers to approve. 
“If all we’re talking about is a return to the original agreement, that already went through Congressional review,” said Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council. “I don’t see that Congress gets a bite at it.”

“The real threat comes in 2024 if a Democrat is not elected, and you get someone in who thinks it would be a brilliant idea to walk out of the deal again,” Slavin said.

What’s next: The issue of congressional oversight surely came up in US Special Envoy Rob Malley's closed-door briefing on Wednesday with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including Chairman Bob Menendez, a Democrat and JCPOA skeptic. Malley’s briefing comes as negotiators have returned to Vienna for what appears to be the final phase of nuclear talks. 


From our regional correspondents:


1. Latest Pegasus scandal a gift to Netanyahu 

Israel’s notorious Pegasus spyware has made headlines once again. A bombshell new report claims Israeli police deployed the hacking tool to spy on several close associates of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including key figures in his ongoing corruption trial. 

The revelations play into Netanyahu’s narrative that the charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust were rigged against him. Despite no evidence suggesting the spyware had been used in his prosecution, “Netanyahu can boast of yet another victory in his campaign to delegitimize state institutions and office holders,” writes Ben Caspit


2. Erdogan’s Russia-Ukraine balancing act 

A looming war in Ukraine has put Turkey in a difficult position. Should Russia invade the former Soviet state, Turkey will face pressure from its Western allies to sanction one of its top trading partners. And as Amberin Zaman explains, war in Ukraine could have crippling consequences for Turkey’s battered economy. 

It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has offered to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, the latter of which has purchased combat drones and other military equipment from Turkey. Erdogan has accused Western governments of fueling the crisis, using rhetoric that analysts say appears designed to assuage Moscow’s concerns over the weapons sales to Ukraine.


3.  Idlib residents wary after IS operation

Civilians in Idlib province are still reeling from the US raid that killed Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. Residents near Syria’s border with Turkey told Mouneb Taim they fear an IS resurgence in the region where al-Qurayshi sought safety. The Pentagon, however, is calling al-Qurayshi’s death a setback for the terrorist group’s attempts to reconstitute. 

Several violent extremist groups hold sway in Syria’s remaining rebel stronghold. Sultan al-Kanj reports that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the US-designated terrorist group that controls much of Idlib, has recently stepped up its arrest campaign against a rival group, al-Qaeda-affiliated Hurras al-Din.


4.  Gaza’s Sufis accuse Hamas of discrimination 

Hadeel Al Gherbawi examines life for Sufi Muslims under Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip. Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, traces its roots in Palestine to the 13th-16th century Mamluk era. When Hamas took control of the enclave in 2006, the militant group shut many Sufi zawiyas (meeting places), claiming they posed a threat to society. Today, many Sufis fear more repercussions

Meanwhile, Hamas is distancing itself from recent protests held in Gaza against Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Rasha Abou Jalal explains that Hamas is fearful of losing Arab support for the Palestinian cause. 


5.  Egypt’s ‘pickled’ mummy fetus stirs debate 

Egyptian researchers are casting doubt on a Polish archeological team’s claim that it uncovered a fetus inside one of Egypt’s 2,000-year-old mummies. The Warsaw Mummy Project said the mummy belongs to a high-status woman who died between 20 and 30 years old and was 26-30 weeks pregnant. But a radiologist at Cairo University told Rasha Mahmoud the supposed fetus inside the mummy's abdominal cavity is “nothing but rolls of embalming material.” Keep reading for more on why Polish archeologists claim it’s a “pickled fetus.”  


Multimedia this week: Gulf climate goals, Idlib’s hospitals and UAE under threat


Listen: Ben Caspit and Assaf Orion, the senior research fellow at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, discuss the US response to attacks on the United Arab Emirates by Iran and its proxies.  

Watch: Find out why hospitals in northwest Syria are closing or limiting services at an alarming rate.
Listen: Andrew Parasiliti interviews Amy Myers Jaffe, the managing director of the Climate Policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, about climate initiatives in the Gulf region.  

Watch: Gilles Kepel talks with former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud about his new book, “The Afghanistan File.”