The Taskmaster in Tehran

Happy Friday! A hearty congratulations to Grazer, a mama brown bear in Alaska’s Katmai National Park who won the park’s ninth-annual Fat Bear Week, beating out Chunk in the finals by more than 80,000 votes. Happy hibernating! 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) late Thursday night issued an evacuation order for the some 1.1 million people living in the northern half of the Gaza Strip in apparent preparation for an operation against terrorist infrastructure in and around Gaza City. In an alert to Gaza residents, the IDF urged civilians to move south and distance themselves “from Hamas terrorists who are using you as human shields.” Hamas, meanwhile, has dismissed the order as part of a “psychological war” and told residents to stay put. Some Gazans have even reported being forced to remain in their homes by Hamas after trying to evacuate.
  • Law enforcement officials in the United States and around the world are tightening security in areas with large Jewish populations—including New York City—in anticipation of potential antisemitic violence, and multiple Jewish schools are planning on closing for the day or keeping their students indoors. A former Hamas leader called for a global “Day of Rage” on Friday to demonstrate against Israel and in support of Hamas. An Israeli diplomat was stabbed in Beijing Friday morning in what authorities are investigating as a targeted terrorist attack.
  • The Biden administration reportedly blocked the release of the $6 billion in Iranian oil funds that were unfrozen as part of a deal the White House brokered with Iran this summer to secure the release of five imprisoned Americans. The Treasury Department reached a “quiet understanding” with the Qatari government to halt Iran’s access to the money. The move came after Republicans—and several Democrats—criticized the administration for the transaction in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel. While these specific funds had yet to reach Iran when the attack occurred, the country had historically provided military training, funding, and weapons to the terror group.
  • The Consumer Price Index rose 0.4 percent month-over-month and 3.7 percent annually in September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Thursday, compared to 0.6 and 3.7 percent in August, higher than economists’ expectations. While the overall month-over-month number is down slightly, core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, remained the same at 0.3 percent and only edged down annually from 4.3 to 4.1 percent. The data—combined with a strong jobs report earlier this month—could complicate the Federal Reserve’s decision on whether to increase interest rates at its meeting in a few weeks.
  • Republican Majority Leader Steve Scalise withdrew his name from the speaker’s race on Thursday night, after winning a GOP conference vote but failing to whip enough support for a successful floor vote. “Nobody’s going to use me as an excuse to hold back our ability to get the House opened again,” Scalise said. Several supporters of Rep. Jim Jordan continued to push for the Ohioan who lost to Scalise in Wednesday’s conference vote, but Jordan also faces opposition from multiple Republican lawmakers—and can only afford to lose four as long as Democrats remain unified behind Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
  • The Justice Department on Thursday issued a superseding indictment against Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey accusing him of acting as a foreign agent of Egypt—in addition to the previous charges filed last month alleging he accepted bribes from several New Jersey businessmen. The indictment accused Menendez and his wife, Nadine, of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires those acting as “an agent of a foreign principal” to declare themselves to the U.S. government. Federal prosecutors said Menendez “promised to take and took a series of acts on behalf of Egypt, including on behalf of Egyptian military and intelligence officials” between January 2018 and June 2022. A trial date is set for May. 
  • The USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, arrived in South Korea on Thursday after participating in joint exercises with South Korean and Japanese forces. In a show of force aimed at North Korea, the ship will remain in Busan until Monday as part of an agreement to increase “regular visibility” of the U.S. military in the region.

Iran’s Long Shadow

A giant anti-Israel billboard designed and implemented by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), symbolizing Iran's support for the Palestinian Al-Aqsa storm missile attack on Israel, is hanged on a state building in downtown Tehran, October 12, 2023. (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A giant anti-Israel billboard designed and implemented by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), symbolizing Iran's support for the Palestinian Al-Aqsa storm missile attack on Israel, is hanged on a state building in downtown Tehran, October 12, 2023. (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Last month, the Biden administration announced the release of five American hostages from Iran’s captivity, agreeing to unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian funds in exchange for their freedom. While all were happy to see the hostages return home, a number of regional analysts were highly critical of the move, arguing the money would be used for nefarious purposes—chiefly the funding of terrorism. The Biden administration was adamant that their negotiations were sound and the funds would be used solely for humanitarian aid, despite Iran’s long history of abusing such carve-outs.

Weeks later, with more than 1,300 Israelis killed in an attack reportedly aided by funding and training from Iran, the Biden administration—in partnership with Qatar—refroze Iran’s access to the $6 billion after calls to do so had grown increasingly bipartisan

This reversal was the latest step taken by the Biden administration to punish Iran—a designated state sponsor of terrorism known for its financial support to proxies across the Middle East—for its role in the deadliest attack on Israel in decades. Israel is preparing a ground invasion to eliminate the threat posed by Hamas, but the move could provoke Hezbollah—a Lebanese terrorist organization also funded by Iran—to launch its own attack on Israel from the north. In another win for Iran, the war has also put normalization talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel on hold

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