The Middle East Channel

Iraq Signs $195 Million Arms Deal With Iran

Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq $195 million worth of arms and ammunition, according to a report by Reuters, in a move that would violate a U.N. weapons embargo on Iran. Reuters said documents showed that Iraq signed eight arms contracts with Iranian state-owned companies in November, just weeks after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with U.S. President Barack Obama requesting additional weapons to fight al Qaeda-linked militants. Maliki would neither confirm nor deny the reports, and the Iranian government denied any knowledge of an arms deal with Iraq. The United States said it is "seeking clarification" over the report, and State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said "If true, this would raise serious concerns." A U.S. official said such a deal could complicate ongoing nuclear talks with Iran.

Syria

Israeli jets launched two raids on the Syrian-Lebanese border late Monday, according to Lebanon's National News Agency. Reports conflict over whether the strikes hit Lebanese or Syrian territory, though Lebanese sources said the raids took place near the village of Nabi Sheet in the eastern Bekaa Valley. The Lebanese army said four Israeli warplanes violated Lebanese airspace at 9:50 p.m. According to a security source, the warplanes hit a suspected Hezbollah weapons convoy. The source added that there is a Hezbollah training site in the area. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Israeli planes bombed a Hezbollah "missile base." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would neither confirm nor deny the strikes, but said, "we do all that is necessary in order to defend our citizens." According to U.S. officials, Israel has conducted three strikes on Syria in the past year in efforts to prevent arms deliveries from reaching Hezbollah. Hezbollah's television channel, Al Manar, said there was "no raid on Lebanese territory." Meanwhile, Filippo Grandi, commissioner general of the U.N. relief agency supporting Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, on a visit to the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus, said he is "deeply disturbed and shaken" by the despair and destruction. The United Nations estimates over 100 people have died since mid-2013 from starvation and illness in the rebel enclave that has been blockaded by pro-regime forces.

Headlines

  • A Turkish opposition party leader has called for an investigation into Recep Tayyip Erdogan for alleged corruption after the prime minister accused his rivals of fabricating an audio recording of him telling his son to dispose of large amounts of money.
  • Seven Egyptian men have been found shot dead on a beach near the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi and authorities said they could not yet "speculate on the motive of the crime."
  • Egyptian interim President Adly Mansour has asked Ibrahim Mehleb, who resigned as housing minister Monday, to succeed Hazem el-Beblawi as prime minister and form a new government.
  • British police have arrested a woman and three men, including former Guantánamo detainee Moazzam Begg, on suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offenses.

Arguments and Analysis

'Bouteflika's Fourth Mandate: The Cartel's Gamble' (Thomas Serres, Jadaliyya)

"In short, the cartel's gamble regards the reaction of the Algerian population. It regards the capacity of the ruling elite to know the opinions and interests of the people. It is, after all, in the name of these people that they pretend to rule. But one would need to be a soothsayer to be able to claim such knowledge. In fact, there are a number of factors that influence the reception of this announcement: certain material interests, the fear of a much-cited potential chaos, political mobilization (or lack there of), and the senses of priority and honor. Also, even if this choice was one between stability and loyalty, as claimed by the servants of the Impotent Prince, it also implies a period of uncertainty. The uncertainty does not concern the relationships of power within the cartel as much as the reaction of those who may see this non-event as one insult too many. 

In the coming weeks, it is not the cries of outrage coming from the editorialists that deserve our scrutiny. Indeed, they have been indignant for many years, and their criticisms have never managed to shake the cartel. However, it would be much more worrisome for the supporters of the status quo should Bouteflika's fourth term become a common theme in the multiple forms of protests that express the persistent and profound nature of popular discontentment. We certainly have not reached this point yet, and there is hardly any doubt that the Direction Générale de la Sûreté Nationale (DGSN) will do whatever is necessary to prevent cross-sector mobilizations, tracking each slogan that exceeds the habitual socio-economic demands. And still, all forms of control have their limits. One should not prematurely judge the quantity of insults that people can stomach without reacting."

'Illicit Trafficking and Libya's Transition: Profits and Losses' (Mark Shaw and Fiona Mangan, United States Institute of Peace)

"Observers often focus on the engagement of the militias in the political process. For many of these groups, however, resources from trafficking and smuggling empowers them and undercuts commitment to peaceful, democratic processes. They may at present not have an interest in outright secession, but the funding from illicit activities is a centrifugal force that encourages armed groups to continue to recuse themselves from the central statebuilding process. Several factors, not least of which is Libya's location along some of the oldest trans-Saharan trade and trafficking routes to Europe, have made the fledging political order particularly vulnerable to organized criminal activity. The very logic of trafficking and smuggling, which relies on tenuous controls of the state's periphery, is an incentive for armed groups to maintain a weak state rather than allow a strong one to be rebuilt. Furthermore, the protection of trafficking routes -- which entails access to arms and maintenance of militias -- not only ensures that these groups are unlikely to be interested in a formal demobilization or disarmament process but also serves to proliferate arms, maintain instability, and promote violence.

The geography of Libya is such that most of the population lives along the northern coastal belt and temperate western highlands, and far fewer people are in the south, where the reach of the state is noticeably weaker, particularly around Sebha in the southwest and Kufrah in the southeast. The coastal belt is divided: On the one hand is the pull of the central state from Tripoli and the urban concentrations in the mountains between Tripoli and the Tunisian border; on the other is the Barqa region to the east with its distinctive political history and culture centered on the city of Benghazi."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

AZHAR SHALLAL/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Egyptian Government Unexpectedly Resigns

In a televised address Monday, Egypt's interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi announced the resignation of his cabinet. Beblawi gave no reason for the government's departure, however the move could pave the way for army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare his bid for presidency. To run for president, Sisi would need to first leave his post as defense minister. According to an Egyptian official, the cabinet resigned so that Sisi would not appear to be acting alone. The announcement came amid a number of strikes over the past few days including by public transport and textile workers, doctors, and garbage collectors. Beblawi acknowledged the sharp increase in strikes, but claimed no government could address all the demands of its people in such a short amount of time. He said the government "made every effort to get Egypt out of the narrow tunnel in terms of security, economic pressures, and political confusion." Interim President Adly Mansour has asked Beblawi to run the government's affairs until a successor is named, according to the state-run newspaper al-Ahram.

Syria

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved on Saturday a resolution on humanitarian access in Syria, threatening "further steps" in the event of non-compliance. There was concern that Russia and China, which have previously vetoed three resolutions on Syria, would block the move. However, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly I. Churkin said Moscow supported the resolution because "many Russian considerations were borne in mind." References to the International Criminal Court and threats of targeted sanctions were removed from the initial text. The resolution "demands that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for U.N. humanitarian agencies ... including across conflict lines and across borders" and calls for an end to attacks on civilians, including the use of "barrel bombs." Meanwhile, a top al Qaeda representative and commander of the Salafist group Ahrar al-Sham, Abu Khalid al-Suri, was killed Sunday along with six other fighters from the group by a suicide attack on its base in the northern city of Aleppo. Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri had reportedly sent Suri to mediate conflicts between Islamist factions fighting in Syria. No group has taken responsibility for the attack, but it is believed to have been carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Fighting between rival Islamist groups has killed up to 2,000 people since early January. 

Headlines

  • Israeli police killed American-Israeli inmate Samuel Sheinbein, who was jailed for committing murder in the United States in 1997, after he shot three guards.
  • Prosecutors accused ousted President Mohamed Morsi of leaking state secrets to Iran's Revolutionary Guards and conspiring to destabilize Egypt, in the second hearing of his trial on espionage charges.
  • Attacks across Iraq, including shelling in Ramadi, shootings in Mosul, and bombings in Baghdad, have killed at least 17 people since Sunday.

Arguments and Analysis

'Concern Grows Over Academic Freedom in Egypt' (Ursula Lindsey, New York Times)

"'I won't publish anything critical while I'm here,' said a political scientist currently working in Egypt who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals from the authorities. The foreign researcher, who had previously done work on the Muslim Brotherhood, said that under Mr. Mubarak, even though the Islamic group was an illegal organization, the authorities did not object to academics meeting with its members.

Now 'they don't want anyone to present anything that is sympathetic or humanizing' of the Islamist group, which the government has officially designated a terrorist organization, the researcher said."

'Old sores lie at the heart of Sinai's spike in violence' (Sharif Nashashibi, The National)

"The motives of militants in the region have been dangerously over-simplified and misunderstood. The authorities are portraying violence there as part of their war against Islamist terror that was unleashed by Mr Morsi's supporters. Conveniently, this label fosters support from a frightened public.

However, Sinai residents' grievances are long-running, and many have little to do with Mr Morsi or Islam, though both factors play a part, particularly in recent months. The grievances include demands for greater autonomy, the selling and resettlement of their land under Mr Mubarak, and economic, political and social marginalisation."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)