The Middle East Channel

U.S. Navy SEALs Seize Rogue Libyan Oil Tanker

U.S. Navy SEALs have seized a North Korean-flagged tanker loaded with oil from a rebel-held port in Libya. A separatist militia took control of the oil terminal in July 2013, demanding a greater share of the country's oil wealth. The tanker, the Morning Glory, evaded a naval blockade at the eastern port of Sidra last week, embarrassing the government and spurring the dismal of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. North Korea disavowed the ship, saying it did not provide authorization. According to the Pentagon, U.S. forces boarded the Morning Glory before dawn Monday in international waters off Cyprus, and took control of the tanker, at the request of the Libyan and Cypriot governments. The move may prevent further attempts by the rebels to sell oil on the black market. Meanwhile, a car bomb hit outside a military base in the eastern city of Benghazi killing at least five soldiers and wounding another 14 people.

Syria

The Syrian military, backed by Hezbollah fighters, has overtaken Yabroud, the last rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border. Most opposition fighters had withdrawn by Sunday, however rebels said fighting continued on the outskirts of the town. The fall of Yabroud is a major boost to the Syrian regime, helping President Bashar al-Assad to secure the route connecting the capital of Damascus with Aleppo and the Mediterranean coast. The move will also serve to cut off a major supply line for the rebels from Lebanon. The opposition's loss of Yabroud risks sparking increased violence in Lebanon, where a suicide car bomb struck a gas station Sunday in the primarily Shiite town of al-Nabi Othman, a Hezbollah stronghold. A group calling itself al-Nusra Front in Lebanon released a statement taking responsibility for the attack, saying it was "a quick response to the bragging and boasting of the party of Iran [Hezbollah] over their rapping of Yabroud." However, Liwa Ahrar al-Sunna in Baalbek also claimed the attack, which killed at least four people including local Hezbollah leader Abdul Rahman al-Qadhi.

Headlines  

  • The United States has delivered 100 Hellfire missiles as well as assault rifles and ammunition to Iraq in what it said is an effort to help Iraqi forces combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
  • U.S. President Obama is scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Abbas Monday urging him to sign a framework for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as a deadline for a peace deal approaches.
  • Tunisian police reportedly killed three armed militants Monday in a raid on their home in the northwest region of Jendouba.

Arguments and Analysis

'Jordan's Urban Refugees' (Marisa L. Porges, New York Times)

"The movement of nearly 600,000 Syrians into Jordan is straining that country's economy, infrastructure and social services. While international press attention has focused mainly on Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp, home to approximately 100,000 Syrians, the vast majority of refugees have settled in Jordan's urban areas, particularly those close to its northern border, like the cities of Mafraq and Ramtha.

The increased demand for housing and the influx of subsidies from international NGOs have nearly tripled the cost of rent in these cities, driving many Jordanians from their homes and pushing Syrians further into debt. Jordan's crowded public schools are being crippled as administrators try to accommodate at least 85,000 refugee students -- still only half of the school-age Syrians now in the country. Local hospitals, sanitation and water systems are being similarly strained. As one young Syrian told me in January, 'We're making a hard life harder for Jordanians.'"

'In search of an energy vision' (Isabel Bottoms, Mada Masr)

"Amidst the fragmented politics of the last six months, one of the most pressing questions has been how Egypt would meet its energy demands from 2014 onwards.

'Nobody has done the math,' lamented Environment Laila Iskandar when she addressed the Cairo Climate Talks.

This leaves a gap in the overall future energy strategy of Egypt -- a gap deeply connected to politics, the nation's poorest citizens and the country's industrial output, among many other factors."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Syrian Parliament Approves New Election Law

Syria's parliament approved a new election law Thursday allowing multiple candidates to run in elections, about four months ahead of the expiration of the seven-year term of President Bashar al-Assad. The move in theory opened the door for candidates to contest Assad, who has suggested he would run for another term, but hasn't yet confirmed whether he will seek re-election. However, the legislation includes residency rules for candidates, which could bar from running most opposition leaders who have lived in exile, many since before the start of the uprising in March 2011. U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said holding an election would jeopardize peace talks. He noted, "If there is an election, my suspicion is that the opposition -- all the opposition -- would probably not be interested in talking to the government." He also mentioned that he wanted to continue the Geneva process. Local truces established between government and opposition forces around Damascus have restored calm and a degree of normality to several of the capital's neighborhoods, however, they are fragile and have left much unresolved. Meanwhile, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem was hospitalized in the Lebanese capital of Beirut Thursday with a suspected blocked coronary artery. He is reportedly in stable condition and is scheduled to undergo bypass surgery.

Headlines

  • An exchange of rocket fire and air strikes has continued between Israel and the Gaza Strip despite a statement from the Islamic Jihad that Egypt had brokered a truce.
  • Turkish political leaders, campaigning Thursday, traded accusations of provoking protests meanwhile police files have been leaked intensifying pressure on Prime Minister Erdogan in a graft scandal.
  • In a leaked recording Ahmed Shafiq, former Egyptian general and prime minister, called the presidential election a "farce" however said in a statement Thursday his comments were taken out of context.
  • Bombings in and around the Iraqi capital of Baghdad Friday have killed seven people, a day after a car bomber killed at least 16 people, including security officers and members of a wedding party, at an army checkpoint in Anbar Province.

Arguments and Analysis

'Gulen, Erdogan and democracy in Turkey' (Berna Turam, Al Jazeera)

"Turkey has recently been shaken up by the tumultuous altercation between the globally active Muslim community-movement, the Gulen movement (GM) and the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) in power for over a decade. Both Western and local audiences have been stunned by the intensity of the clash, which peaked in the last couple of months.

Previously, most observers had wrongly assumed that these groups were inherent allies because of their faith-based worldview. In sharp contrast to this misperception, these groups came from entirely different pasts and political orientation, although they share a common interest in free market economy and cherished upward socio-economic mobility."

'Why Iran will profit from a family fight in the GCC' (Yuri Barmin, Your Middle East)

"In the short term Iran may be eager to demonstrate its partner relations with Qatar and Oman to further aggravate the disagreement and to put Saudi Arabia at odds with fellow GCC states. In this game Iran may feel more comfortable than its counterpart as it has secured a confident position with international organizations and the West, who frostily admit that Tehran is implementing the nuclear deal in good faith.

Iran's re-entry to oil markets and slow restoration of its economic power may also be a blow to the GCC. Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in particular, were forced to increase their social spending in the wake of the Arab Spring to prevent possible protests. Now their economic power is diminishing as Iran's reappearance on the market drives oil prices down, and this pushes the GCC countries closer to their break-even oil prices."

-- Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images