The Middle East Channel

Opposition forces make significant gains in Syria over the past week

Opposition forces have claimed control of the northeast province of Hasaka which produces most of the country's oil. Opposition fighters have reportedly captured the town of Shadadah, near the province's capital, seizing state security and military intelligence compounds as well as the Jbeysa oil fields. The attack was led by the Islamist opposition group al-Nusra front. In three days of fighting, an estimated 100 government soldiers were killed, as well as 30 al-Nusra fighters and dozens of civilian employees of the Syrian Petroleum Company. An estimated 40,000 people have fled the town. This attack has not yet been verified, but if true, it comes amid other recent strategic gains for opposition fighters. Opposition forces captured Syria's largest hydropower dam and a military airbase in the north, along with undamaged aircrafts. Additionally, rebel fighters reported shooting down three government air force warplanes on Thursday. If verified, it could be the largest one-day loss of warplanes for the regime since the beginning of the conflict nearly two years ago. Meanwhile, government forces and opposition fighters have continued battling for Aleppo's international airport, where over 150 regime troops and rebels have been killed.

Headlines

  • In a policy shift, the United States has called for the release of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi from house arrest ahead of Iran's presidential elections.
  • Egypt's main opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front, and the Salafist al-Nour Party have called for the resignation of Prime Minister Hisham Zandil's cabinet and the formation of a new government.
  • Suspicions are growing over the case of Australian-born suspected Mossad agent Ben Zygier. He was reportedly involved in an Australian investigation into the use of Australian passports by Israeli intelligence.
  • A police officer was killed as protests and violence escalated in Bahrain on Thursday after the death of a teenager. 

Arguments and Analysis

The hawks were wrong: Iraq is worse off now (Mehdi Hasan, The New Statesman)

"The Iraq war was a strategic disaster - or, as the Tory minister Kenneth Clarke put it in a recent BBC radio discussion, "the most disas­trous foreign policy decision of my lifetime . . . worse than Suez". The invasion and occupation of the country undermined the moral standing of the western powers; empowered Iran and its proxies; heightened the threat from al-Qaeda at home and abroad; and sent a clear signal to "rogue" regimes that the best (the only?) means of deterring a pre-emptive, US-led attack was to acquire weapons of mass destruction (see Korea, North).

There may have been a strong moral case for toppling the tyrant and liberating the Iraqi people - but there was a much stronger moral case against doing so. Brutal and vicious as Saddam's reign had been, a "humanitarian intervention" could not just be justified in March 2003, given the complete absence of an ongoing or imminent mass slaughter of Iraqis. Some of us warned that the cost of action, in blood and treasure, would far outweigh the cost of inaction.

And so it came to pass. The greatest weapon of mass destruction turned out to be the invasion itself. Over the past ten years, Iraqis have witnessed the physical, social and economic destruction of their country - the aerial demolition of schools, homes and hospitals; the siege of cities such as Fallujah; US-led massacres at Haditha, Mahmudiyah and Balad; the biggest refugee crisis in the Middle East since the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948."

Good Fences, Bad Neighbors: Israel and the Palestinians (Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic)

"In January, the government of Israel announced that it plans to build a fence along its frontier with Syria, because the Syrian army appears to have receded from the border area and jihadist forces have moved in. It is no wonder that the anarchy and the atrocity in Syria causes consternation in Israel; but this announcement left me with a heavy heart for another reason. With the erection of this northern barrier, Israel will be almost completely fenced in. The fences-in their most prominent locations, the high concrete slabs-that demarcate Israel from the Palestinians to the east are the most famous, or infamous, of these partitions; originally Yitzhak Rabin's idea in the early 1990s, when "separation" was the regnant fantasy of Israel's doves, it was begun in earnest in 2002, and 62 percent of its projected length of 440 miles has been completed. To the south, Israel has constructed a steel and wire barrier that runs the 150-mile length of its border with Sinai, which has now become a perilous and ungovernable waste. As it approaches the Mediterranean, this new fence will meet the old fence that Israel built around Gaza, 32 miles long with a buffer zone. Israel long ago put up a fence along its border with Lebanon. The only open border remaining-aside from the glistening apolitical sea to the west-is with Jordan to the southeast, from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea. The state is walled.

There are two ways to understand these comprehensive fortifications. The first is that they make Israel safer. Since the threats encircle Israel, the barriers encircle Israel. Their efficacy from the standpoint of security cannot be denied. The wall that runs north to south through the West Bank has spectacularly reduced Israel's vulnerability to homicidal infiltrations, even if the barrier with Gaza has done nothing to deter the violence of the rockets that fly above it. Physical threats must be countered physically. (Israel is not the only country that has reached such a conclusion: the United States, India, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and other polities have also resorted to fences and walls.) It was not until Palestinian "resistance" chose to rely on suicide bombers that the big, cold wall was raised. A criticism of Israel's "security fence"-the common Israeli appellation for what Palestinians call a "wall of racial separation"-that does not take seriously its success in thwarting terrorism cannot itself be taken seriously. Of course such criticisms abound: a wall between peoples is an ugly thing, though a massacre-and a strategy of massacre-is even uglier. About the racial character of the wall the Palestinians are wrong, but there is a second way, as I say, to understand the wall, and it has nothing to do with Israeli safety."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

AFP/Getty Images

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