The Middle East Channel

Former Israeli Leader Ariel Sharon in Critical Condition

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, 85, who has been in a coma since a 2006 stroke, is experiencing multiple organ failure and is in critical condition. According to reports on Wednesday, Sharon has been suffering from kidney malfunction. Zeev Rotstein, director of the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, where Sharon has been receiving care, said Sharon's situation has worsened and that "there is definitely a threat to his life." While Rotstein said Sharon is not on dialysis, doctors have been administering antibiotics to deal with multiple infections. Rotstein noted, "He's getting all the treatment necessary," but some sources say he is not expected to live for more than a few days.

Syria

Syria has missed a December 31, 2013 deadline for the removal of part of its chemical weapons arsenal. Security concerns, bad weather, and bureaucratic issues caused the delay, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) although inspectors maintain the mission is still on track. Norwegian and Danish ships slated to transport the chemical weapons to Italy returned to port in Cyprus after containers failed to arrive in the Syrian port of Latakia. The vessels are expected to return to sea in the coming days. Meanwhile, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that over 130,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011.

Headlines  

  • Lebanese military authorities have arrested Majid bin Muhammad al-Majid, head of al Qaeda linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which claimed responsibility for a November attack on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.
  • The Syrian Electronic Army has claimed responsibility for hacking into the Microsoft-owned Skype's social media accounts Wednesday in an apparent protest against NSA surveillance.
  • Heavy clashes have continued between the military and al Qaeda linked militants in Iraq's Anbar province, meanwhile the death toll in the country reportedly hit 8,868 in 2013.
  • Clashes between Egyptian police and pro-Islamist protesters have killed two people in the coastal city of Alexandria.
  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has returned to the Middle East to push for a "framework" for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement as Israel delays an announcement of bids for new settlement construction

Arguments and Analysis

'The Danger of New Iran Sanctions' (Colin Kahl, National Interest)

"The Revolutionary Guard and other hardliners are already fighting a rearguard action against the Geneva agreement, with a war of words breaking out in recent weeks between Zarif and the Guards' top commander, Major General Mohammad Jafari, over the course of Iran's nuclear and foreign policy. These same forces would undoubtedly seize on Congressional legislation threatening new sanctions and demanding de facto nuclear surrender as the latest example of American perfidy, using it to rebut Rouhani's claim that an accommodation with the West that protects core Iranian interests is possible. Hardliners have consistently argued that Iranian compromise is just a prelude to greater U.S. pressure. Khamenei suspects this too. Threatening new sanctions in the immediate aftermath of the first meaningful Iranian concessions in a decade, as the proposed Senate legislation does, risks validating that view.

The Senate bill could also lead to provocative Iranian counter-reactions at an extraordinarily delicate moment for diplomacy. Indeed, nearly one hundred hardline Iranian parliamentarians have already drafted legislation that would mandate escalating enrichment to the nearly-bomb-grade 60 percent level if more U.S. sanctions are imposed. Given thirty-five years of distrust between Tehran and Washington, it would not take much perceived bad faith by either party to reverse the modicum of confidence built at Geneva. It is difficult to imagine negotiations surviving such a tit-for-tat retaliatory cycle."

'A Deadly Mix in Benghazi' (David Kirkpatrick, New York Times)

"The United States waded deeply into post-Qaddafi Libya, hoping to build a beachhead against extremists, especially Al Qaeda. It believed it could draw a bright line between friends and enemies in Libya. But it ultimately lost its ambassador in an attack that involved both avowed opponents of the West and fighters belonging to militias that the Americans had taken for allies.

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO's extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

A fuller accounting of the attacks suggests lessons for the United States that go well beyond Libya. It shows the risks of expecting American aid in a time of desperation to buy durable loyalty, and the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment. Both are challenges now hanging over the American involvement in Syria's civil conflict.

The attack also suggests that, as the threats from local militants around the region have multiplied, an intensive focus on combating Al Qaeda may distract from safeguarding American interests."

'Bashar Al Assad: An Intimate Profile of a Mass Murderer' (Annia Ciezadlo, New Republic)

"For years, many Western analysts and diplomats have viewed Assad as malleable, even naïve. But his former aides describe a man who is accustomed to being underestimated and adept at exploiting those misperceptions. Before negotiations, Assad would tell his team to let the other side think they had won: 'Give them always nice words, nice meetings, nice phrases,' Abdelnour recalls him saying. 'They will be happy, they will say good things about us, and they cannot withdraw from it later.' In the end, though, Assad rarely delivers on the concessions that he grants so courteously. He always has an excuse, a variable beyond his control: Yes, he would try to stop the flow of jihadists into Iraq, but he could not police the entire border.

According to another former aide, Assad took pleasure in toying with the West. 'He told me once, "When I sit with the Arabs, it's a session of takazu" -- mutual lying, we say in Arabic,' says the former adviser. 'But when I sit with those foreigners, and you see me on television, really it's a game of Tom and Jerry.'"

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

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