The Middle East Channel

Israel Attacks Syrian Sites in Response to Golan Bombing

Israel conducted air strikes early Wednesday on several Syrian military sites in what it says were retaliation for a bombing Tuesday that injured four soldiers in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. According to the Syrian army, the Israeli attacks targeted three sites near the town of Quneitra, killing one person and injuring seven others. The Israeli military said the strikes across the Israeli-Syrian cease-fire line in the Golan Heights hit a Syrian army training facility, a military headquarters, and artillery batteries that had "aided and abetted" the bombing. On Tuesday, an explosive device was detonated when Israeli soldiers were patrolling in the village of Majdal Shams. It was the third attack or attempted attack along Israel's northern border in the past two weeks, and while there have been several reported strikes by Israel on Hezbollah targets in Syria and Lebanon, this is the first publicly acknowledged Israeli attack on Syria since the beginning of the civil war three years ago. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said, "We see the Assad regime as responsible for what is happening under its authority" and warned that it would pay a "high price" for helping militant groups seeking to harm Israel.

Lebanon/Syria

The Lebanese army has dismantled roadblocks and reopened the road leading to the predominantly Sunni town of Arsal, near the Syrian border. Residents of the mainly Shiite neighboring town of Labweh blocked the road accusing Arsal of harboring Syrian rebels, sparking protests that forced the closure of several major roads in the capital of Beirut and in the eastern Bekaa Valley, and triggering clashes with security forces. Tensions have escalated since the Syrian army, backed by Hezbollah fighters, overtook the Syrian border town of Yabroud on Sunday. Meanwhile, the United States has ordered the closure of Syria's embassy in Washington, D.C., and its consulates in Michigan and Texas. The move is not a formal break of relations, but blocks Syria's envoys to the United States from carrying out diplomatic and consular duties. The newly appointed special envoy for Syria, Daniel Rubinstein, said the decision was "in consideration of the atrocities the Assad regime has committed against the Syrian people."

Headlines

  • Two Egyptian army officers and five militants were killed Wednesday in a gunfight that erupted after a raid on a bomb and weapons storage facility in Qalubiya province.
  • An armed man killed six people and himself Wednesday at a statistics office in Turkey's northeastern province of Kars, reportedly over a workplace dispute.
  • Iran's senior negotiator said it is "too early" to draft text for a final nuclear agreement as Wednesday's talks with world powers are expected to focus on the Arak heavy water reactor.

Arguments and Analysis

'Iraqi Kurds: Yesterday's victims show little compassion?' (Saladdin Ahmed, Al Jazeera)

"There is no doubt that Iraqi Kurds have faced gross injustices throughout the last century - from British colonial air raids to Saddam Hussein's chemical attack on Halabja on March 16, 1988 as part of his 'Anfal' campaign. Along with the rest of Iraq, they also suffered 12 years of crippling UN-backed sanctions. For this reason, one would imagine Iraqi Kurds would feel a sense of solidarity with their brethren in -- and from -- the Kurdish regions of Syria (otherwise known as Rojava).

But this is not the case. In addition to the high-handed position the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has taken towards the burgeoning Kurdish movement in Rojava, the tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds currently seeking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan are subjected to racism and exploitation at every turn."

'What's the story with Morning Glory?' (Hussein Ibish, Now)

"The tensions that fueled everything that led up to, and is following from, the Morning Glory affair boil down to what is driving almost all of the major fault lines in Libya: everyone wants the largest slice of the petroleum pie they can grab. As militias and politicians scramble for control of it, Libya's energy sector lies in tatters and is operating at a tiny fraction of its normal, let alone potential, capacity. 

So the Morning Glory story is that a country that ought to be booming with oil wealth is ripping itself to pieces -- and ripping itself off -- in a series of conflicts driven largely by an effort to control that potential wealth. And because of that struggle, presently Libya has no oil wealth at all."

-- Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Iran and World Powers Resume Nuclear Talks as Tensions Rise Over Ukraine Crisis

Iran and six world powers are meeting in Vienna Tuesday resuming talks over Tehran's disputed nuclear program aiming to reach a comprehensive agreement by mid-July. However, tension between western countries and Russia over events in Ukraine and Crimea's succession vote on Sunday, which overwhelmingly approved reunification with Russia, may threaten the second round of talks. Diplomats said there is little sign that the Ukraine situation will undermine attempts to broker a nuclear deal. However, if Russian President Vladimir Putin annexes Crimea, disagreements between the permanent U.N. Security Council member states may reduce pressure on Iran to make a deal. Furthermore, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he expects talks to be more difficult this week than the previous round as the two sides attempt to work out details such as the Arak heavy water reactor and levels of uranium enrichment.

Syria

U.N. human rights investigators released an update report Tuesday adding to their list of suspected war criminals from the Syrian regime and opposition groups. According to Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, chairman of the inquiry, "This ‘perpetrators list,' as we call it, contains names of persons criminally responsible for hostage-taking, torture, and executions." The U.N. Commission of Inquiry says that hostilities escalated between opposition factions during the period of January 20 through March 10. The report notes that fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have "conducted mass executions of detainees" and that opposition fighters have used car and suicide bombs targeting civilian areas. Additionally, the report says government forces have increased barrel bomb attacks causing extensive civilian casualties. The list includes heads of intelligence branches and detention facilities, military commanders, and officials. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced Daniel Rubinstein will replace Robert S. Ford as special envoy for Syria. Rubinstein is a senior foreign service official who has served in Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, and Israel, among other assignments.

Headlines

  • An Egyptian court has convicted four policemen in connection to the deaths of 37 Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters in 2013, sentencing one to 10 years in prison.
  • U.S. President Obama met with Palestinian President Abbas Monday saying achieving a Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would be challenging and that they would need to take risks to move forward.
  • The Daily Telegraph has alleged that a Qatari company paid nearly $2 million to former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner and his family after the Gulf state's successful bid for the 2022 World Cup.

Arguments and Analysis

'Islamist Outlaws: Saudi Arabia Takes on the Muslim Brotherhood' (William McCants, Foreign Affairs)

"Saudi Arabia's moves have provoked some unhappiness at home. Saudi Islamists, particularly the Brothers, are convinced that Morsi's overthrow was part of a Saudi plot to roll back Islamist political gains of the past three years. In defiance, they festooned their social media profiles with symbols of Brotherhood resistance and criticized their government for its complicity. The defiance has become more muted recently, after the local press reported that the government was contemplating declaring the Brotherhood a terrorist organization. According to former members of the Saudi Muslim Brotherhood I spoke with, the 25,000 or so members of the Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia reacted to the news of the deliberations by preemptively keeping a low profile, closing some of its gatherings so as not to further stoke the government's ire. Until the Saudi government actually begins making arrests, its recent announcement is more of a shot across the Brotherhood's bow than an attempt to sink the ship.

Nevertheless, person after person I interviewed asserted that the level of Islamist anger toward the Saudi government is higher than at any time since the early 1990s. That does not mean Brotherhood leaders will move against the regime in the near term. In the 1990s as now, they have too much to lose institutionally. There is also some benefit in a wait-and-see approach, which is why Salman al-Awda, a prominent Saudi Islamist, is privately counselling his followers to wait for the regime's factions to sort things out among themselves. But the younger rank-and-file Brothers in Saudi, like those in other Brotherhood franchises outside Egypt, are starting to lose hope in peaceful political change. That frustration can lead to apathy. But it can also lead to violence -- and if it does, the Saudi government's decision to declare the group a terrorist organization will have been a self-fulfilling prophecy."

'Women's Activism and the Polio Epidemic in Syria' (Thomas McGee, Jadaliyya)

"The humanitarian virtue of the campaign to protect children on the 'other side' of the front line from the highly contagious and potentially fatal virus is clear. Beyond this, however, the initiative has also served as a powerful means of mobilizing and engaging Syrian women within a context generally perceived to be hostile to female participation. Despite playing a key role in the early stages of the Syrian uprising that began in 2011, many women found themselves side-lined in a conflict environment increasingly dominated by extremist actors.

The polio campaign offers, therefore, a new example of women's continued commitment to active and visible participation. Despite security limitations, female recruits account for at least one third of the volunteers administering the vaccination campaign across half of the country. Against all the tragedy of the present situation in the country, the campaign deserves attention as a potential model for strengthening women's engagement in Syrian society."

-- Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images