The Middle East Channel

Israel Fires on Militants on Syrian Border Meanwhile Seizes Iranian Arms Vessel

The Israeli military said its forces shot two militants as they were attempting to plant a bomb near the fence between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syrian territory on Wednesday. According to an army spokeswoman, Israeli intelligence had identified the men as members of Hezbollah. Lebanese military sources said the suspected Hezbollah fighters were wounded, and that they believe there could be clashes between Hezbollah and Israel in the coming days. Last week, Hezbollah accused Israel of carrying out an air strike hitting one of its bases along the Syrian-Lebanese border, and threatened to retaliate. Israel, however, did not confirm the attack. Meanwhile, Israeli naval forces said they intercepted a ship carrying Iranian arms manufactured in Syria. According to the army, the ship was sailing to Sudan, and the weapons were to be moved overland through Egypt to Gaza. The vessel was reportedly carrying dozens of M-302 rockets, which have a range of up to 100 miles.

Syria

Syrian government helicopters reportedly launched three air raids on Lebanese territory close to the border town of Arsal. According to Lebanon's National News Agency, the strikes hit Khirbet Yunin and Wadi Ajram, however it was unclear if there were any casualties. Meanwhile, U.N. human rights investigators released a report Wednesday saying that all parties in Syria's war are using shelling and siege tactics to punish civilians, and that world powers are responsible for failing to prevent war crimes. Additionally, investigators confirmed that sarin gas was used in three chemical weapons attacks in March, April, and August 2013 and that the agents likely came from the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military.  

Headlines

  • Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain have pulled their ambassadors from Qatar accusing the country of failing to comply with a 2013 security agreement following a GCC meeting.
  • The trial of 20 journalists, including Al Jazeera staff, has resumed in Egypt a day after the trade and investment minister, Mounir Fakhyr Abdel Nour, said their detainment was a mistake.
  • Western countries are pushing Iran to clear up suspicions it had worked on designing an atomic bomb with the United States saying this "will be critical" to ensure sanctions relief.
  • Nine bombings targeting mainly Shiite areas of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad killed at least 12 people Wednesday.

Arguments and Analysis

'Gulf trio pull Qatar ambassadors -- why now?' (Theodore Karasik,  Al Arabiya)

"The real question is what comes next. As of today, all the movement to create a GCC Union and to rally the monarchies around each other in defense and preservation of the old order of the Gulf region seems to be crumbling. What we could see next is a return to the days of the early 1990s when the Saudi-Qatari border was the site of occasional shoot-outs and road blockages in order let imported food rot by the side of the road. Qatar may also choose to use tribal disputes across the Gulf region, particularly the al-Murrah who have been pawns before between Riyadh and Doha.

We may see Qatar pull its Ambassadors from the GCC states which will further isolate Qatar, forcing Doha to move closer to Iran and Turkey. On the commercial front, there may be a closure of air space which would have a tremendous impact on Qatar Airlines plus the shutting down of trade of goods to Doha by both land and sea as noted above. Finally, we may also witness the restriction of gas flow via the Dolphin Project. In other words, all types of unofficial sanctions are plausible if Qatar does not make real, immediate, meaningful changes."

'The Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union' (Aron Lund, Carnegie Syria in Crisis)

"But the rise of such hardline, Gulf-funded Salafism within the Damascus insurgency is not the whole story. Other brands of Islamic thought have also thrived among the rebels, and more moderate religious movements indigenous to the Damascus area have in fact contributed greatly to the rebellion there. In addition, Alloush's dominance in Douma didn't sit well with some other local groups, and his announcement of the Islam Army in September 2013 was immediately followed by intrigues and protests among the rebels in Douma.

In early November 2013, a large number of Islamist rebel groups in the wider Damascus region announced a new collaborative structure called the "Greater Damascus Operations Room." This structure excluded the most radical jihadis, such as al-Qaeda's Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- but it also excluded the Islam Army."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Egyptian Court Bans Hamas Activities

The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters has banned all work and activities of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in the country and ordered the seizure of its offices and assets. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip bordering Egypt to the north, was founded as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt designated the Brotherhood a terrorist group in December 2013, and an Egyptian lawyer demanded a ban on Hamas because of its ties to the group. The military-backed government has accused Hamas of conspiring with militant groups in Sinai, who have targeted attacks at the government and security forces killing hundreds of people since the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. According to security officials, after crushing the Muslim Brotherhood, military leaders planned measures to undermine Hamas. Hamas has denied allegations of interfering in Egyptian affairs and condemned Tuesday's court ruling. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, "The decision harms the image of Egypt and its role towards the Palestinian cause."

Syria

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported Tuesday that Syria has shipped out about a third of its chemical stockpile for destruction abroad. The OPCW said the Syrian government has handed over six shipments of its declared chemical agents and confirmed that two more shipments are being transported to the Syrian port of Latakia. The chemicals will be sent to the U.S. ship Cape Ray and transferred to destruction facilities in Britain and Germany. After missing a February deadline for the removal of its chemical weapons arsenal, Syria submitted a revised plan with a deadline of the end of April. The Dutch diplomat heading the mission to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons program, Sigrid Kaag, said removal of chemical agents is speeding up and the June 30 deadline for destruction of Syria's arsenal is achievable. Meanwhile, the Syrian government has increased an offensive on the town of Yabroud, the last opposition stronghold near the Lebanese border. According to a Syrian army commander government troops, backed by Hezbollah fighters, seized the village of al-Sahel Monday, bringing down the rebels' "first defense line" of Yabroud.

Headlines

  • Egyptian defense minister Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has given his strongest indication yet of his intentions for a presidential bid saying, "I cannot turn my back when the majority wants me to run."
  • Gunmen seized the city council headquarters in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra Tuesday killing at least three policemen and three civilians and taking employees hostage.
  • Meeting with Israel's prime minister, President Obama called for compromise to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks though Netanyahu said Israel is "doing its part," meanwhile settlement building soars.
  • A remote detonated bomb killed three policemen Monday in the Bahraini village of Daih as security forces worked to disperse protesters.
  • An Israeli air strike reportedly targeting a "rocket-launching squad" in northern Gaza killed two Palestinian men and injured two children Monday night.

Arguments and Analysis

'Yemen in Transition: Between Fragmentation and Transformation' (Philip Barrett Holzapfel, United States Institute of Peace)

"Decades of nepotism also eroded state institutions. Possibly the main reason why so many Yemeni were alienated from the central authority and drawn toward their respective centers of gravity was that the Saleh state had failed to deliver the services citizens expected from their government. Resolving this failure will require long-term institutional reforms and greater attention to creating and enforcing institutional checks and balances through an independent judiciary and watchdog mechanisms such as the Supreme National Authority for Combating Corruption (SNACC) and the Central Organization for Control and Auditing (COCA). Greater accountability over how government officials are appointed, whether by reviewing recruitment processes or considering an automatic rotation and retirement system for both military and civil leadership positions, would also help prevent personal fiefdoms and the entrenchment of corruption.

Despite the fact that Yemen is de facto a highly decentralized country with distinct regional identities, state resources and decision making are primarily in the hands of the government in Sanaa, where they have been spent in a highly unequal fashion favoring some constituencies over others. This disparity has caused much disillusionment, leading to the emergence of peripheral opposition groups such as al Hiraak and the Houthis as well as a general discontent with the central government in various other parts of the country (such as the western coastal plain of the Tihama, the industrial city of Taiz, and the eastern province of Hadhramaut). As a result, the central government yields limited control over many parts of the country and has lost it almost completely over others. The need is therefore urgent for a new contract between the capital and the periphery that allows for an orderly decentralization of power and resources in return for universal recognition of the central state."

'An optimist's case for the Kerry peace process' (Michael Omer-Man, +972)

"The truly flawed aspect of the two-state paradigm is the insistence that such an agreement constitute a conclusive end to all claims and a final resolution to the conflict. If one accepts that argument, then the two-state solution is only doomed as a framework for a catch-all solution meant to herald in an era of peace and coexistence -- or as liberal Zionist speakers love to metaphorize the conflict, an Israeli-Palestinian divorce.

But if the two-state solution is not the resolution to the conflict, it could still be an important stepping stone toward a final resolution. The two-state solution could still be the best solution right now, regardless of whether it leads to ever-lasting peace and harmony. Both Israeli and Palestinian societies are plagued by conflict-driven hyper-nationalism, and any resolution that does not physically separate the two sides must be preceded by an end to violence. It follows then, that after a few decades of living in two states, should such a situation emerge, Israelis and Palestinians could foreseeably decide that it is in both their interests to form a single liberal democratic state, or any other alternative arrangement that addresses the remaining issues of conflict."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/GettyImages