The Middle East Channel

EU fails to extend arms ban on Syria

European Union governments failed to negotiate a renewal of an arms embargo on Syria, raising the possibility of new weapons supplies to Syrian opposition fighters. Britain and France have maintained that the EU must show a stronger commitment to the Syrian opposition by allowing arms supplies, but both countries said they will not immediately deliver weapons to the opposition. Several EU countries are strongly opposed to arming the opposition, fearing weapons will end up in the hands of jihadists and that it will prompt Russia to send more weapons to the regime. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the expiration of the ban "gives us the flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate." EU member states did agree to extend economic sanctions on the regime as well as travel bans on President Bashar al-Assad and senior Syrian officials. Russia said it will go ahead with its anti-aircraft missile deliveries to the Syrian regime saying the "defensive weapons" will "stabilize" Syria, helping to stave off foreign intervention. Russia criticized the EU decision not to extend its arms embargo on Syria. Concerns over the spread of the Syrian conflict increased with escalating violence in neighboring Lebanon. Over the weekend, two rockets hit the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital of Beirut, and a blast was reported in Israel. On Monday, three mortar shells fired from Syria killed one woman and injured two people near the eastern Lebanese town of Hermel, a stronghold of Hezbollah. On Tuesday, gunmen killed three Lebanese soldiers at an army checkpoint near the town of Arsal in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley. In the northern city of Tripoli, at lease 25 people were killed last week in clashes sparked by tensions over the battle in the Syrian town of Qusayr.

Headlines  

Arguments and Analysis

Why Turkey is Thriving (Jeffrey D. Sachs, Project Syndicate)

"A recent visit to Turkey reminded me of its enormous economic successes during the last decade. The economy has grown rapidly, inequality is declining, and innovation is on the rise.

Turkey's achievements are all the more remarkable when one considers its neighborhood. Its neighbors to the west, Cyprus and Greece, are at the epicenter of the eurozone crisis. To the southeast is war-torn Syria, which has already disgorged almost 400,000 refugees into Turkey. To the east lie Iraq and Iran. And to the northeast lie Armenia and Georgia. If there is a more complicated neighborhood in the world, it would be difficult to find it.

Yet Turkey has made remarkable strides in the midst of regional upheavals. After a sharp downturn in 1999-2001, the economy grew by 5% per year on average from 2002 to 2012. It has remained at peace, despite regional wars. Its banks avoided the boom-bust cycle of the past decade, having learned from the banking collapse in 2000-2001. Inequality has been falling. And the government has won three consecutive general elections, each time with a greater share of the popular vote.

There is nothing flashy about Turkey's rise, which has been based on fundamentals, rather than bubbles or resource discoveries. Indeed, Turkey lacks its neighbors' oil and gas resources, but it compensates for this with the competitiveness of its industry and services. Tourism alone attracted more than 36 million visitors in 2012, making Turkey one of the world's top destinations."

In Syria, Go Big or Stay Home (Ray Takeyh, The New York Times)

"FROM liberal internationalists to hawkish conservatives, a chorus of influential voices in Washington is suggesting that American intervention in Syria would also do serious damage to Bashar al-Assad's close ally, Iran.

Military action in Syria would demonstrate, so the argument goes, that America is serious about enforcing its red lines. Impressed and crestfallen, Iran's recalcitrant mullahs would scale back their nuclear zeal and conform to international nonproliferation agreements.

However, given the fact that any intervention by the Obama administration is likely to be tentative and halting, rather than an overwhelming show of military force, it is not likely to end Syria's civil war or intimidate Iran's rulers.

The sort of intervention needed to bring about a decisive rebel victory would require more than no-fly zones and arms. It would mean disabling Mr. Assad's air power and putting boots on the ground. America would have to take the lead in organizing a regional military force blessed by the Arab League and supported by its own intelligence assets and Special Forces. After that would come the task of reconstituting Syria and mediating its sectarian conflicts. As the war in Iraq painfully demonstrated, refashioning national institutions from the debris of a civil war can be more taxing than the original military intervention."

--By Jennifer T. Parker and Mary Casey

AFP/Getty Images/FREDERIC DE LA MURE

The Middle East Channel

Syrian refugees face rising humanitarian crisis

More than 4.5 million Syrians are internally displaced within their own country, and about 1.5 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries. A recent report by Amnesty International accused the international community of a "spectacular failure" in Syria. The report was a broader commentary on refugees around the world, whom Salil Shetty, Amnesty's Secretary General, said face rising threats. He added that "The failure to address conflict situations effectively is creating a global underclass...The rights of those fleeing conflict are unprotected." Many Syrians live in increasingly dire conditions in refugee camps on the Jordanian, Lebanese, and Turkish borders. Furthermore, intensified clashing and shelling in southern Syria has prevented thousands of Syrian refugees from crossing into Jordan by cutting off access routes. While visiting a makeshift refugee camp in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, the Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, said "The world's facing a catastrophe here, and I think we're coming close to the point where we think anything is better than the humanitarian crisis, especially if the fighting intensifies further." More than 1 million Syrians now live in Lebanon, comprising about 20% of the population. In particular, the large influx of children has greatly strained Lebanon's public education system. According to a UNICEF official, the number of school-aged Syrian children in Lebanon is expected to surpass the number of Lebanese school-aged children currently enrolled in public schools by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department is persuading Gulf states to funnel humanitarian aid directly to the United Nations and other foreign aid agencies instead of funding their own handpicked programs, which can lead to duplicated aid or gaps in aid.  

Headlines

  • Clashes in Tripoli have continued between Sunnis and Alawites who back rival factions in Syria's civil war, bringing the death toll to 24 since Sunday; meanwhile, Lebanon's Sunni leaders have asked security agencies to create a plan to end the fighting.
  • At least seven soldiers in central Iraq died on Thursday in two separate incidents, one at a checkpoint in Taji, and another during an exchange of fire with militants near Karma.
  • Turkey's parliament has passed a law that restricts the sale of alcohol and prohibits all advertising of alcohol.
  • Fighters allied with Al-Qaeda have taken control of villages near the Yemini port city of Mukalla, in an effort to claim the southeastern province of Hadramawt.

Arguments and Analysis

Syria: the imperative of de-escalation (Julien Barnes-Dacey and Daniel Levy, The European Council on Foreign Relations)

"After more than two years of devastating destruction, a rare moment of opportunity has  emerged in Syria following the US-Russian agreement to launch Geneva II. Europe must now get fully behind the peace initiative and reject the false choice between the supposed "military-lite" or "diplomacy-lite" options - that the military balance can be tipped without a weighty intervention, or that diplomacy can advance without having to deal with Assad or Iran. Instead, by promoting de-escalation and diplomacy, the West should prioritise ratcheting down violence and the threat of regional spill over. 

A serious Geneva II effort requires three key elements: a set of guiding principles distilled from Geneva I; the support of a wide enough coalition; and a diplomatic strategy to get it off the ground. Effective diplomacy will demand unpalatable compromises aimed at securing sufficient international accord to nudge the warring parties towards the negotiating table. This will have to be inclusive in terms of both Syrian and regional participation - including engaging with Iran beyond the nuclear file. Western arming of rebels is ill-advised given its likely limited impact on the ground, encouragement of escalation and maximalism, and the inability to guarantee in whose hands weapons will end up. At the same time contingency planning for chemical weapons use or proliferation is necessary but is not a substitute for, or short-cut to, a solution for the crisis."

What the United States Can Do for Egypt Right Now (Steven A. Cook, Blog, Council on Foreign Relations)

""How can the United States help Egypt?" is a common question heard around the Beltway these days.  There are lots of good ideas, but too often they do not address the country's immediate and most pressing needs.  It should be clear  that Washington is not going to fix Egypt's political problems no matter how many times people say, "we need to get Egypt right."  That complex and difficult task is up to the Egyptians-though there are a few discrete policies that Washington can pursue that might be helpful.  All that said, here are four initiatives the United States can undertake that can make a difference in Egypt over the next 3 to 6 to 12 months:

The United States, European Union, and Asian allies should pool resources and provide loan guarantees for Egypt;

Food aid to Egypt ended in 1992; it should be started again;

The United States should continue to backstop Egypt's public health system through additional investment in NAMRU (Navy Medical Research Unit) 3, which is based in Cairo, though it is responsible for the entire Middle East, Africa, and Southwest Asia;

Everyone-Americans, Egyptians, Israelis-recognize that the Sinai is a major problem.  Although it is not just a security problem, in the short run the United States can do some good in the Sinai through the expansion of the Multinational Force Observers that have been stationed in there since 1982 and working with both the Israelis and Egyptians on expanding their communication and intelligence cooperation."

--By Jennifer T. Parker

AFP/Getty Images