The Middle East Channel

Nearly Half of Syria’s Chemical Stockpile Has Been Removed

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported that nearly half of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal has been removed from the country for destruction abroad. The OPCW issued a statement Wednesday saying 45.6 percent of Syria's chemicals have been exported so far in 10 shipments, including two over the past week that included some of the regime's most lethal chemicals. The Syrian government has asked to be given until April 27 to remove its complete stockpile, which is two and a half months after the initial deadline. It remains unclear if a dispute over Syria's 12 chemical production facilities has been settled. Syria has proposed sealing the facilities, keeping them intact, which the United States has demanded Syria destroy them. Meanwhile, Syrian government forces and Hezbollah fighters ambushed dozens of wounded rebel fighters as they attempted to flee the besieged area of al-Hosn in Homs province. The attack came as part of a regime offensive working to reclaim territories along the Lebanese border, and after Syrian troops recaptured al-Hosn. Eleven armed men were reportedly killed in Thursday's ambush, and 41 wounded Syrian rebels crossed over a river into Lebanon. The intense clashes provoked Syrian troops to close the Bqaiaa border crossing into the neighboring country.

Headlines

  • Iran and world powers appeared to reach no agreements in nuclear talks though discussions were described as "useful and substantive" and the parties scheduled the next round of negotiations for April 7-9.
  • Violence across Iraq has killed up to 46 people with clashes between government forces and militants in Fallujah and a suicide attack at a café in Baghdad.
  • Saudi Arabia has sentenced 13 men to up 14 years in prison for supporting Islamist militants, aiding terrorism, and assisting fighters in traveling to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
  • Turkey's parliament rejected an opposition demand for the full reading of judicial records outlining graft charges against four former ministers inciting allegations that Prime Minister Erdogan is attempting a cover-up ahead of elections.

Arguments and Analysis

'Ask a professional: security and democracy in Tunisia' (Haykel Ben Mahfoudh and Fabio Merone,  Arab Awakening)

"The IM [Interior Ministry] -- as it is now in Tunisia -- is a system that must learn to act according to the interest of the people and not that of a particular political power. It is the same problem that we have throughout the whole Public Administration (PA). At the time of Ben Ali, the entire system was under very strong pressure to conform to one interest. It worked in a way that each person responsible for a department entirely depended on those ranked above him. The upper level of the ladder was not the Director of the Interior Ministry, not even the Minister himself. Instead, every decision went back to the special consultants of the presidency. Ben Ali had special counsellors, the real initiators of every  activity. Whatever was done was an implementation of an order coming from the ‘palace'. What is clear is that before activating this order system, every counsellor talked to Ben Ali in person in a way that ensured that the entire apparatus was managed directly from Ben Ali's hands. This system of command created the paradoxical situation that no lower level of the ranks took a single decision so afraid were they of possible reactions from the palace. The highest cadres were in fact themselves victims of a power system wholly concentrated in Carthage (location of the presidential palace).

This system does not exist any more in the sense of the real climate of fear that pertained at that time. However, the logic of having a structure that solely depends on one man's orders to take any decisions does still exist. This is well known; there is not a clear normative system that allows employees (from the lowest rung of the ladder to the highest ranking cadres) to take a decision or to act according to what is in the interest of the Tunisian people, according to the specific duty he or she serves in his/her respective function. Still today, the key word to make anything move in our administration is taalimat (instructions). Employees are all the time just waiting for instructions. 

This system must change. Without serious legislative reform, the machine will still work with the same instinct, and moreover each new political regime will tend to reproduce the same mechanisms as the old regime when it comes to the security apparatus."

'Down and out in Yabrud and Tripoli: Lebanon suffers Syria's war' (Joyce Karam, Al Arabiya)

"By virtue of geography, demographics, and politics, Lebanon is the most shaken by the conflict out of all Syria's neighbors. From the beginning of the armed struggle, Lebanese fighters crossed the unmarked border into Syria either to help the embattled Assad regime or the rebel groups. Hezbollah's decision, however, to intervene directly and en masse in the Syrian war last May, marked a turning point in the repercussions and the intensity of the spillover into Lebanon.

While Hezbollah defends its involvement as a preemptive strategic measure to protect Lebanon and keep extremists away from the border, so far the move has done the exact opposite. Terrorist groups in Syria such as the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are more prevalent in Lebanon today, and see in Hezbollah's involvement an invitation to strike inside Lebanese territory. The Bekaa bombing on Saturday, claimed by al-Nusra and which took the life of a Hezbollah security member, was the number 14 such attack this year according to Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, and signifies a new trend in the threat facing the country."

-- Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

Yiannis Kourtoglou/AFP/Getty Images

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