NATO officials said the Syrian government fired more Scud-type missiles at opposition targets in Syria on Thursday, about a week after their use was first detected. NATO Secretary Genera Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it was the "act of a desperate regime approaching collapse." NATO and the United States reported that over six Scud missiles were fired last week from Damascus into opposition held areas of northern Syria. Rasmussen said this further justified the deployment of Patriot missile systems to protect the Turkish border. Meanwhile, opposition fighters are pushing into Morek, a strategic town on the highway from Damascus to Aleppo in Hama province. Additionally opposition fighters are surrounding al-Tleisia, a town dominated by President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect, as the conflict becomes increasing more sectarian in nature. According to activists, the Syrian regime has been shelling the town of Halfaya, which was overtaken by opposition forces two days prior. Government forces also continued shelling the Damascus suburb in efforts to stem opposition gains near the capital. Fighting in the Damascus Palestinian camp of Yarmouk began to subside on Thursday, and some of the over 100,000 residents who fled have started to return.
- Islamists and opposition members clashed in Egypt's second city of Alexandria at a rally called by the Muslim Brotherhood, a day before the final round of voting on a controversial draft constitution.
- Egypt's chief prosecutor, Talaat Ibrahim Abdullah, appointed in President Morsi's controversial November 22 decree, has retracted his resignation saying he had been pressured to resign.
- Iraq's Sunni Muslim Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi has denounced raids on his office and the arrests of about 150 of his bodyguards and staff members saying that it was a premeditated act by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Why the Generals Back Morsi (Joshua Stacher, Foreign Affairs)
"It seems like déjà vu all over again in Egypt. Recent clashes between supporters of President Mohamed Morsi and those who oppose his government's draft constitution are reminiscent of the violence in the last days of former President Hosni Mubarak's reign. Both then and now, the military and police have been generally absent from the scene, standing aloof from the chaos around them. To be sure, the generals have issued statements suggesting that they might step in to restore order, but they have never made clear whether they would intervene on behalf of the protesters or Morsi. Further, on December 11, they indicated their interest in brokering a deal between the Muslim Brotherhood and the protesters, only to rescind the offer shortly thereafter.
Some have argued that the military's apparent neutrality is a reflection of its diminished power. The June 2012 election that brought Morsi to office, the argument goes, clipped the military's wings, forcing the soldiers back to their barracks. Specifically, Morsi's sacking of the most senior general in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces last August was taken as proof. Yet Morsi's move was not solely Machiavellian. In fact, according to Egypt's deputy defense minister, General Mohamed el-Assar, Morsi coordinated his plan with the SCAF's junior members. The gambit thus revealed the beginnings of an alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the armed forces."
Why Israel Has Shifted to the Right (Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary Magazine)
"If liberal American Jews weren't already dismayed about the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is a shoe-in to be re-elected in next month's election, the latest political news out of Israel may give them conniption fits. The results of new polls show that Netanyahu's Likud and its coalition partners are set to exceed the strong governing majority they had in the current Knesset. But the really interesting numbers are those that show that the main party to the right of the Likud-the Habeyit Hayehudi or Jewish Home Party-is on track to be the third largest in the next parliament with only Likud and Labor (set to finish a distant second) ahead of it.
This will give residents and supporters of the settlement movement an even louder voice in the next Knesset than their already healthy contingent in the current one.
This will be interpreted by some on the left as a sign of Israel's depravity or indifference to peace. But the reason for it is clear. Whereas in Israel's past it could be asserted that the Likud represented Israel's right-wing constituency, it has, to the shock and dismay of many in the left-wing Israeli media, become the center. That is not because more Israelis are supporters of increasing settlement throughout the West Bank. They are not. Rather it is due to the fact that the Israeli center as well as even many on what we used to call the Israeli left have given up on the Palestinians. They know that neither Fatah in the West Bank nor Hamas in Gaza will ever recognize Israel's legitimacy no matter where its borders are drawn. So they have abandoned those parties that hold onto the illusion of peace in favor of those with a more realistic vision while those on the right are now embracing parties like Habeyit Hayehudi in order to hold Netanyahu's feet to the fire and prevent him from making concessions that will neither entice the Palestinians to the negotiating table nor increase its popularity abroad."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
The Mideast Channel wishes you a happy and safe holiday season. The brief will resume on January 2, 2013.