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.
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.
- 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