The Middle East Channel

Two blasts hit near the Iranian Embassy in Beirut

Two explosions hit near the Iran Embassy in Beirut killing at least 23 and wounding 146 others on Tuesday. The blasts struck about 50 to 100 yards outside the embassy in the predominantly Shiite Bir Hassan neighborhood of the Lebanese capital. One explosion appeared to have been caused by a suicide bomber, while the other seemed to be a car bomb from a vehicle parked two buildings away from the complex. However, some report that one of the explosions could have come from rocket fire. According to the Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, Iran's cultural attaché, Sheikh Ibrahim Ansari, was killed in the explosion. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Lebanese militant group with ties to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack. Lebanon has seen sporadic violence since the start of the Syrian civil war, and southern Beirut was hit with a series of rocket attacks and car bombings this summer. The country has also experienced an influx of over 816,000 refugees, with a new wave of Syrians fleeing a recent government offensive.

Syria

Syrian state media has claimed that government forces have seized the strategic town of Qara near the Lebanese border. The statement has come days after the Syrian army launched an offensive in the mountainous Qalamoun region. Qara is located on a vital supply line between Lebanon and rebel fighters around Damascus and additionally ties government territory along the Mediterranean coast with the capital. If government troops succeed in overtaking the area, the regime would consolidate gains made with the support of Hezbollah fighters in May in Qusair. According to the United Nations, fighting in the area has driven over 12,000 new refugees into the Lebanese town of Arsal in the last four days, the greatest influx into the town at any period over the past two and half years of fighting.

Headlines  

  • Iranian President Rouhani has warned the West not to make "excessive demands" in nuclear negotiations as lawmakers push to continue 20 percent uranium enrichment.
  • The Qatari 2022 World Cup organizing committee said it would improve worker welfare standards after a report by Amnesty International on labor abuses.
  • Minor skirmishes have broken out between pro and anti-military protesters as demonstrations build near Egypt's Tahrir Square on the second anniversary of anti-military council clashes.
  • A Kuwaiti man has been sentenced to five years in prison for insulting the Prophet over Twitter while a man in the UAE has been jailed for two years for his tweets on a political trial. 

Arguments and Analysis

'New Shia Politics and the Maliki-Sadr Competition in Iraq' (Harith Hasan, Atlantic Council - MENA Source)

"The reciprocal criticisms between the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shia rival, Moqtada al-Sadr, reflect the changing dynamics of Shia politics in Iraq. On several occasions, Sadr, the leader of the Iraqi Islamist Sadrist Movement, warned of a possible 'return to dictatorship' in Iraq while denouncing the government's 'exclusionary' policies. Critical of Maliki's recent visit to Washington DC in October, he condemned it as an attempt by the prime minister to seek US support for a third term in office. Maliki's office replied with an unusually defiant statement, reminding Sadr that his militias were largely involved in the sectarian violence during the civil war and accusing him of participating in efforts sponsored by hostile regional powers to unseat Maliki. The statement threatened a harsh reprisal in the future should Sadr not change his behaviour.

Iraqi commentators saw in those public attacks an early initiation of the electoral campaign for the general election due to take place in April 2014. Internal competition over the position of prime minister among the three major Shia forces -- the Maliki-led State of Law coalition, the Sadrist Movement, and the Supreme Islamic Council led by Ammar al-Hakim -- will exert unprecedented influence over the course of the elections. Although Sunni-Shia and Arab-Kurdish divides will keep playing important roles in shaping political alliances, the growing polarization resulting from Maliki's legacy will likely dominate the electoral discourse and post-election trends."

'Egypt: Anchors Away' (Steven Cook, CFR Blog - From the Potomac to the Euphrates)

"If the United States has little capacity to encourage the development of what some believe to be prerequisites for democracy, its ability to shape the calculations of its leaders is also quite limited.  What incentive can Washington offer that will alter the interests and constraints of Egypt's leaders?  It's unlikely that even if the United States had the resources and political will to offer, for example, billions of aid in exchange for democratic change that Major General Abdel Fatah al Sisi would respond positively.  As noted above, under circumstances in which Egyptians believe they are in an existential struggle for the soul of the country, outsiders -- any outsiders -- will have very little influence to compel the leaders to do something they would not otherwise do.  For all the money that the Saudis, Emiratis, and Kuwaitis are providing, they are merely helping to enable what the Egyptian armed forces would have done anyway.

There may be other examples, but I can only think of one instance in which an outside power had a decisive influence on the direction of politics in a country: the EU and Turkey.  The prospect of membership in the European Union altered the incentives of Turkish Islamists and placed constraints on Turkey's senior military officers in ways that made the wide-ranging democratic reforms (which have turned out to be reversible) of 2003-2004 possible.  The Turkish relationship with the EU is unique, however.  As long as there seemed to be a credible chance for Turks to become members of Europe, Brussels had a dynamic effect on Turkish politics. The United States, in contrast, is not going to offer Egypt membership in its own exclusive club."

'Israel's policy of erasure' (Saree Makdisi, Los Angeles Times)

"The expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories is part of Israel's project to gradually suffocate the Palestinians. But it's only one indicator, and a misleading one at that. Because even if no new settlements are built, Palestinian homes will still be bulldozed and Palestinian olive orchards will still be uprooted; Palestinian water wells will run dry and Palestinian fields will brown and crack for lack of irrigation (Israel denies Palestinians access to water from the Jordan River and makes it almost impossible for them to dig new wells, even as it uses, according to a World Bank estimate, more than 80% of the West Bank's groundwater).

Palestinians will still be held up at Israeli army checkpoints and harassed or arrested by Israeli soldiers; they will still be prevented from tending their crops or getting to their schools and clinics, or even to the ruins of their bulldozed homes.

Finding a path to a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians, such that both peoples truly live side by side rather than one living at the expense of the other, requires not simply dealing with the settlements but with the whole complex of displacement, suffocation and erasure. And the first step is noticing its very existence."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

Ratib Al Safadi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Militia groups withdraw from the Libyan capital of Tripoli after deadly clashes

Militia groups from Misrata have reportedly begun withdrawing from the Libyan capital of Tripoli following clashes that killed at least 43 people and injured an estimated 450 others on Friday and Saturday. Misrata's council of elders and local council on Sunday issued a statement ordering militia groups from the city to leave Tripoli within 72 hours. The order came after militiamen from the Misratan al-Nusour brigade fired on protesters participating in demonstrations outside its brigade headquarters calling for the militias to leave the capital. According to the interim government, "the security situation in Tripoli is good and under control." On Sunday, Libyan Deputy Intelligence Chief Mustafa Noah was reportedly abducted at Tripoli's international airport by unknown gunmen but was later released on Monday. Noah's abduction came about a month after Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped and briefly held by militiamen associated with the government.

Syria

A Syrian government delegation met with Russian officials in Moscow Monday to discuss an international peace conference planned for Geneva. U.N. and Arab League Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said that he hopes to convene the Geneva II conference in December. The talks in Moscow have come just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the first time in over two years. Amidst the diplomatic efforts, fierce violence continues within Syria, including a massive bombing targeting an army transport base in the Damascus suburb of Harasta. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 31 Syrian troops, including four senior officers, were killed in the explosion Sunday, which leveled the building. The bomb appeared to have been placed either inside or in the basement of the building, which suggests that rebel forces had infiltrated the base. Meanwhile, government offensives have continued in the outskirts of Damascus, in the Qalamoun mountain region along the border with Lebanon, as well as in the northern Aleppo region. A top Syrian rebel commander reportedly died overnight in Turkey after sustaining wounds from a government attack on Thursday in Aleppo province on a base where several rebel leaders were meeting. Abdulkader al-Saleh was the leader of Liwa al-Tawhid, one of the main rebel groups in Aleppo with between 8,000 and 10,000 fighters.

Headlines

Arguments and Analysis

'Libya: on the brink of abyss' (Solomon Dersso, Al Jazeera)

"The failure to re-establish state authority, the continuing hold of diverse and rival armed groupings, polarisation and militarisation of politics, regional and tribal divisions and fighting, political assassinations, as well as increasing extremism and acts of terrorism, have emerged as the defining features of Libya's post-Gaddafi transition. While it adds to the argument against externally driven forcible regime change, the worrying and sad state of things in Libya inevitably also raises questions if Libya was worse off today than it was under Gaddafi's authoritarian rule. As a special report by the Independent aptly captured it: 'We all thought Libya had moved on -- it has but into lawlessness and ruin.'

True, the situation has not as yet descended into total anarchy and full-fledged civil war. Overshadowed by the events in Egypt and Syria, Libya's multidimensional crisis attracts little attention. But if the trend persists, it is not clear what would stop the country from becoming a major crisis in the region. Given the large amount of weapons moving around in and from the country and the precarious security situation in the Sahel and West Africa, including the surge in armed movements, Libya's descent into anarchy is sure to affect not only North Africa and the entire Sahel region, but it would also be felt as far as Central Africa and the Horn of Africa regions." 

'An Iran nuclear deal doesn't have to be perfect -- just better than the alternatives' (Kenneth Pollack, Washington Post)

"The current sanctions against Iran work only because they rest on an international consensus that Iran has been the recalcitrant party in the nuclear impasse. Russia, China, India, Brazil and other key nations have supported and abided by the sanctions because they have seen Iran as the country refusing to negotiate.

If Washington -- rather than Tehran -- rejects the deal under consideration, the United States will suddenly become the problem, and that could prove disastrous. It would embolden Tehran to hold out, rather than give in. Instead of increasing the pressure on Iran, over time, we would probably see an erosion of the sanctions.

Here it is worth remembering Iraq. Once international opinion turned against the Iraq sanctions in the mid-1990s, they unraveled quickly. By 2000, Saddam Hussein was smuggling billions of dollars in oil, goods and cash while countries such as France, Russia, China, Egypt and Turkey ignored U.N. Security Council resolutions -- resolutions that France, Russia and China had voted for. What we found then, and as we would probably find now with Iran, is that once international opinion turns against sanctions, trying to enforce them means fighting with your allies and trade partners, rather than the targeted country. That makes sanctions virtually impossible to sustain."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images