The Middle East Channel

Israel and Gaza see reignited violence over the weekend

Violence has flared over the weekend between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip for the second time in less than a month. Hamas affiliated militants from the Popular Resistance Committees fired a rocket into Israel Saturday hitting an Israeli patrol jeep and injuring up to four Israeli soldiers. Israel quickly retaliated with air strikes reportedly killing up to six Palestinians and wounding over 20 more people. Since Saturday night, over 50 rockets were fired from Gaza toward the Israeli border, according to Israeli sources. Israeli officials are debating an operation into Gaza and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned a meeting for Monday with foreign ambassadors. Egypt stepped in Sunday night in efforts to broker a truce -- however, Israel reported nine more rockets were fired into Southern Israel on Monday morning.

Syria

Syria's fractious opposition signed a tentative agreement in Doha, Qatar on Sunday to form a new opposition umbrella group, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. The agreement came after days of tense negotiations spurred from western and regional pressure aimed at creating a unified body for international financial and possibly military aid, as well as to serve as a future transition government if President Bashar al-Assad is removed from power. The new assembly unanimously elected Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, a well-respected figure amongst Syrians and former Imam of the historic Umayyad mosque in Damascus, as president. The previous main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, will hold 22 of the 60 seats on the new coalition's leadership council. Meanwhile, Israel fired into Syria for the first time since 1973 after a stray mortar shell hit an Israeli army post in the disputed territory of the Golan Heights. Israel's army called the missile fire into Syria a "warning" as fighting in Syria has been spreading closer to the Israeli border with several recent errant munitions falling into Israeli-held territory. Additionally, a Syrian jet has bombed the opposition held town of Ras al-Ain near the Turkish border on Monday. Witness accounts have cited up to 15 people died in the attack, and many wounded were brought to the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar for care. The Turkish military has been increasing deployments to the tenuous border and the government has reportedly been considering asking NATO to station Patriot missiles at the border.

Headlines

  • Iran launched its "biggest ever" air drill on Monday as tensions increase with the United States after Iran shot down an unarmed U.S. drone over the Persian Gulf.
  • Sectarian clashes broke out in the south Lebanese coastal city of Sidon on Sunday between Sunni Salafist supporters and Shiiite Hezbollah supporters killing at least three people.
  • The United States is concerned that a Hezbollah operative accused of helping to kill U.S. troops in Iraq may soon be released.
  • An agreement between Egypt and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a $4.8 billion loan is stalled as the IMF waits for an Egyptian government economic reform package.

Arguments and Analysis

Women Fight to Define the Arab Spring (Carol Giacomo, The New York Times)

"When Mabrouka M'barek is in the Tunisian capital these days, much of her time is spent writing a new constitution as an elected member of the National Constituent Assembly. It is a role the 32-year-old mother of two embraces with idealistic passion and more than a little amazement. Before President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in 2011, she never imagined herself a "founding mother," as she referred to herself in a recent interview, of this country or any other.

Now Mrs. M'barek - a Tunisian-American whose constituents are Tunisians in the United States, Canada and Europe - is deep into one of the most important tasks of any new democracy. She is helping to write the document that will underpin the rights and responsibilities shared by the government and its citizens."

How the Brotherhood builds power in Syria's opposition (Hassan Hassan, The National)

"The MB was perceived as moderate, preaching more about socialism than about Islam. It then alienated minorities when it successfully campaigned to change the constitution to be more Islamic, and engaged in sectarian violence. Finally, it had been subject to a systematic cleansing for over three decades by the Baathist regime.

On what basis, then, does the Brotherhood dominate political and military councils today?

In a democratic Syria, the Brotherhood would have the right to engage in politics and build support. But its current dominance is not justified by true representation and this is one of the major causes of rift and hesitation among Syria's political and social forces. Its dominance needs to be addressed with urgency by activists and countries that have leverage in Syria."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey 

The Middle East Channel

Iran fired on a U.S. surveillance drone over the Persian Gulf

U.S. Pentagon officials said Thursday that Iran fired upon a U.S. surveillance drone over the Persian Gulf on November 1. According to U.S. officials, the unmanned and unarmed drone was conducting classified but routine surveillance over international waters. It was fired upon by two Russian-made Su-25 jets but was not hit, in an unprecedented instance of Iranian warplanes firing on a U.S. surveillance drone. The Defense Department said it did not release information about the incident earlier due to its classified nature, however its timing five days before the U.S. presidential election raising questions for the Obama administration. The chief spokesman for the Pentagon, George Little, said that they sent a message to Iran that the U.S. will continue to conduct such surveillance flights "consistent with longstanding practice and our commitment to the security of the region." He added that the U.S. would use diplomatic and military options to "protect our military assets and our forces in the region" if necessary. On Friday, Iranian member of parliament Mohammad Saleh Jokar told a state owned website, "Violation of the airspace of Iran was the reason for shooting at the American drone." Iran's Fars news agency released remarks from Revolutionary Guard Major General Seyed Masoud Jazaeria saying Iran has the right to "confront" incursions on its territory, but did not confirm or deny the November 1 shooting. The United States has resisted calls, primarily from Israel, for military action against Iran, but has applied multiple rounds of severe sanctions, a new round of which was imposed Thursday. The new sanctions targeted Iran's communications minister and ministry of culture and Islamic Guidance, for its international and opposition media censorship.

Syria

Turkey has reported a surge of about 8,000 refugees fleeing from Syria in the past 24 hours as well as 26 military official defectors. The dramatic flood of refugees came after an opposition offensive along the border. Opposition fighters reportedly overtook the Arab and Kurdish town of Ras al-Ain, a border crossing point into Turkey important for resupply. Adrian Edwards, from the U.N. Refuge Agency, said there had been a "large movement" in the last 24 hours of Syrian refugees into Turkey's Urfa province, which borders Ras al-Ain. This latest influx will bring Turkey's total refugee count up to over 120,000. Additionally, 26 Syrian military officials, including two generals defected, bringing their families into Turkey overnight, in the most massive defection in months. Turkish officials also reported six Turks in the border town of Ceyalanpinar were injured from stray Syrian fire. Israeli officials have reported recent mortar fire into the Israeli-held disputed territory of the Golan Heights. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon warned Syria that it will defend itself if the conflict begins spilling over. Meanwhile, the Syrian National Council is set to elect a new executive and president on Friday, before deciding whether to support the proposed unity Syrian National Initiative, being negotiated in Doha, Qatar this week. 

Headlines  

  • A Palestinian boy was killed by Israeli helicopter gunfire during clashes Thursday in Gaza between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants.
  • The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it will hold a new round of talks with Iran on its disputed nuclear program in Tehran on December 13.

Arguments and Analysis

CNN claims Iran shot at a US drone, revealing the news network's mindset (Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian)

"Barbara Starr, CNN's Pentagon reporter (more accurately known as: the Pentagon's reporter at CNN), has an exciting exclusive today. Exclusively relying upon "three senior officials" in the Obama administration (all anonymous, needless to say), she claims that "two Iranian Su-25 fighter jets fired on an unarmed US Air Force Predator drone in the Persian Gulf last week," while "the drone was in international airspace east of Kuwait . . . engaged in routine maritime surveillance." The drone was not hit, but, says CNN, "the incident raises fresh concerns within the Obama administration about Iranian military aggression in crucial Gulf oil shipping lanes."

First things first: let us pause for a moment to extend our thoughts and prayers to this US drone. Although it was not physically injured, being shot at by the Iranians - while it was doing nothing other than peacefully minding its own business - must have been a very traumatic experience. I think I speak on behalf of everyone, regardless of political views, when I say that we all wish this brave hero a speedy recovery and hope it is back in full health soon, protecting our freedom."

Saudi Arabia: The younger generation, at last? (The Economist)

"IN OTHER places sand trickles through an hourglass at a steady rate. Saudi Arabia has a lot of sand, but it tends to get gummed up with oil or stuck in prickly religious conservatism. Yet now and then something jogs the glass, and those grains of Saudi sand briefly unclog.

Just such a nudge came on November 5th, with the announcement of a sudden change at the top of the kingdom's powerful ministry of interior (its headquarters, a ponderously inverted pyramid in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, actually does evoke the top half of a giant hourglass)."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey