The Middle East Channel

Iran tells U.N. it plans to speed up uranium enrichment

In a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency on January 23, Iran set out a plan to upgrade uranium enrichment centrifuges at its Natanz plant. Iran plans to upgrade from the IR1 centrifuge models developed in the 1970s into the IR2m which could accelerate enrichment by two to five times at Iran's main facility. The number of new machines to be used is unclear, but it could be over 3,000, and the letter did not give a timeframe. Iran's nuclear development program has long been contested -- the United States and other western countries have been concerned Iran is seeking nuclear weapons capabilities. Iran maintains its program is for civilian and peaceful purposes. The IAEA has asked Iran for more technical and other information about the plans. The announcement came as nuclear talks have been delayed because Iran and six world powers (the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China) have been unable to agree to a location.      

Syria

Israeli warplanes struck Syrian territory on Wednesday, raising concerns of regional spillover of the Syrian war. However, there have been contrasting reports of the target, and both Israel and the United States have refrained from comment. Anonymous U.S. officials said they believed that the strike hit a government military convoy carrying Russian-made antiaircraft weaponry in the border area west of Damascus, which could have been a shipment to Lebanon's Hezbollah. Israel has recently expressed fears that the lack of government control in Syria could allow for Syrian missiles and chemical weapons to fall into the hands of Hezbollah or other militant groups. The Syrian military denied that a convoy was hit, and made a statement on state media saying that Israeli fighter jets hit a scientific research center in Jamraya, near Damascus, killing two people and wounding five others. Russia, a long time ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, expressed concern over the alleged Israeli attack saying such an act would be a violation of the U.N. Charter.

Headlines

  • Egypt's rival political parties, including Muslim Brotherhood officials and secularists, met for the first time on Thursday for rare talks at Al Azhar University where they renounced violence.
  • The United Nations Human Rights Council has released a report saying that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories violate Palestinian human rights.
  • The head of Bahrain's main opposition party, al-Wefaq, has called for the reformist Crown Prince Salman to attend talks in efforts to end the approaching two-year political crisis. 

Arguments and Analysis

Palestine: How Bad, & Good, Was British Rule? (Avishai Margalit, The New York Review of Books)

"After World War II, the vague, lingering religious sentiments of Christian Zionism were not strong enough to sustain an increasingly secular British effort. But there's another way to answer the question about the British as colonialists, and that's to examine whether they improved the daily life of the people in Palestine. Being colonialists, it is clear that they weren't good for the collective aspirations of the two clashing communities, but were they good, on the whole, for the lives of the individual members taken together? Those who remember the British Mandate would grudgingly admit that they were.

It is fair to assume that the British were more benign in Palestine than in many other places they ruled. Since they were in the Holy Land, they were under the scrutiny of world opinion more so than in, say, Nigeria. But perhaps the most important implicit question raised by Lazar's book, and the one that gives it its political aspect, is how British colonial rule in Palestine fares in comparison to Israeli colonial rule over the Palestinians during the last forty-five years.

For its first six years, Israel was as good to the Palestinians as Britain was. There was a genuine effort on behalf of the Israelis in charge of the Palestinian territories, especially under Moshe Dayan, to be so-called good colonialists. In his 1970 book, The Cursed Blessing, the writer Shabtai Teveth tells the story of the Israeli effort to be enlightened colonialists. One can be suspicious about the generosity of their attitudes but not about their deeds. In one stroke, Dayan removed all restrictions on the movements of the Palestinians between Gaza in the south to Mount Hermon in the north, and an unprecedented economic boom followed in the Palestinian community."

Time for the U.S. to disturb Israel's comfort zone, (Daniel Levy, Haaretz)

"One way of interpreting last week's election is that Israel just put up a big "Do Not Disturb" sign: We are rejigging domestic burden sharing until further notice. That, though, is of little interest to the outside world as long as Israel remains in the business of illegal occupation and pursues regional ambitions that impact developments in Iran and also Syria, Egypt and beyond.

Coalition details matter, but a picture is already taking shape. Netanyahu is a known quantity - a speech from almost four years ago at Bar Ilan University no longer generates rosy expectations, and his pro-annexationist Knesset faction members have been taken note of. Yair Lapid and his MKs are a known unknown - profiles have been scoured, but political practicalities and group behaviour traits will take time to emerge. The other coalition variables and how they impact the territorial question can been discounted as window dressing - Naftali Bennett offers an excuse for inaction via constraints imposed by the settler right, while Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz offer a fig leaf for international consumption via the reasonable center. The world has been here before. It has experience of Bibi's schtick and how the pantomime villain (remember Avigdor Lieberman?) is deployed one day and the good fairy (Ehud Barak) the next."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Syria’s government and opposition trade blame over mass killings

Gulf states pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in Syria aid as the Syrian government and opposition forces traded blame over mass killings in Aleppo. Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia each pledged $300 million at the International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria in Kuwait on Wednesday. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon addressed the group:"I appeal to all sides, and particularly the Syrian government to stop the killing" and called for more humanitarian aid. The United Nations was seeking $1.5 billion total in pledges and $1 billion for humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. The remaining money would go to the 4 million Syrians who are still inside the country and need assistance. Meanwhile, the Syrian regime and opposition forces are accusing one another of what appeared to be summary executions of dozens of people, almost all men in their 20s and 30s, whose bodies were found along a river in the Bustan al-Qasr district of Aleppo. At least 50 bodies were found, but estimates of the number killed reach over 100. Syrian state media, SANA, reported that the victims' families "have identified a number of the killed, stressing that the Nusra Front abducted them because of their refusal to cooperate with this terrorist group." The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition activist group, said 80 bodies were found and blamed the government for the mass killings. About half of the victims identified by Tuesday night were from opposition controlled districts, and some local residents blamed government checkpoints on the opposite side of the river.

Headlines  

 

Arguments and Analysis

Does Jordan's election change anything? (Julien Barnes-Dacey, The European Council on Foreign Relations)

"Last week's parliamentary elections in Jordan have been widely hailed as a success. Domestic and international observers have praised the integrity of the vote and the turnout figure of 56.5 percent has been taken, by some, as a popular endorsement of King Abdullah's reform track. The Royal Palace is likely enjoying a moment of renewed confidence following a difficult year, particularly as fears about the spread of instability from Syria are also dampening opposition activism. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the King hailed a "wonderful election outcome."

Yet while the general integrity of the electoral process was a positive improvement on past elections, in and of itself, the vote may not actually mean that much. Following two years of low level - but nationwide - protests provoked by a lack of substantial political reform or the tackling of state corruption, the country remains in a precarious position. Much will now depend on the King's willingness to push through bolder measures aimed at cementing a more inclusive order if further unrest is to be avoided."

Why Palestine Should Take Israel to Court in The Hague (George Bisharat, The New York Times)

"If Palestinians succeed in getting the I.C.C. to examine their grievances, Israel's campaign to bend international law to its advantage would finally be subjected to international judicial review and, one hopes, curbed. Israel's dangerous legal innovations, if accepted, would expand the scope of permissible violence to previously protected persons and places, and turn international humanitarian law on its head. We do not want a world in which journalists become fair game because of their employers' ideas.

If the choice is between a Palestinian legal intifada, in which arguments are hashed out in court, and an actual intifada, in which blood flows in the streets, the global community should encourage the former.

Indeed, Palestinians would be doing themselves, Israelis and the global community a favor by invoking I.C.C. jurisdiction. Ending Israel's impunity for its clear violations of legal norms would both promote peace in the Middle East and help uphold the integrity of international law."

AFP/Getty Images