The Middle East Channel

Jordan’s Ambassador to Libya Abducted in Tripoli Attack

Jordan's ambassador to Libya, Fawaz al-Itan, was abducted after gunmen attacked his car in the capital of Tripoli Tuesday morning. His driver and one of his guards were reportedly shot and wounded in the attack. A source from the Jordanian foreign ministry said they believed their envoy was kidnapped as he was leaving his home. Jordan's prime minister reportedly said that parties are negotiating the ambassador's release. Kidnappings have become common in Libya since the ouster of Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011, specifically targeting foreign officials. Five Egyptian diplomats, a Tunisian official, and a South Korean official have been abducted since the beginning of 2014.

Syria

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report on Monday which found the routine use of torture in government detention facilities, as well as the use of torture by some armed opposition groups. U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay, condemned the use of torture saying it constitutes a war crime. On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council is scheduled to meet in France to view photos from a collection of 55,000 digital images of Syrians tortured and killed in the country's civil war. According to France, most of the photos were taken by a Syrian military police photographer who defected. The move is part of a process to document war crimes in Syria for a possible future bid to refer perpetrators to the International Criminal Court.

Headlines

  • Iran has complained to the United Nations accusing the United States of violating international law by refusing to grant a visa for its newly selected U.N. envoy, Hamid Aboutalebi.
  • Suspected al Qaeda linked gunmen killed Hussein Dayyan, deputy governor of Yemen's central al-Bayda province, on Tuesday as he was leaving his home.
  • At least one armed man opened fire on cars traveling near the West Bank city of Hebron Monday evening killing an Israeli police officer and wounding his wife and son.
  • A Libyan court has ruled that Saif al-Islam and other ex-Qaddafi officials that are being held outside of Tripoli can be tried via video.

Arguments and Analysis

'Syria: ‘Unbelievably Small' Confirmed' (Fred C. Hof, Atlantic Council)

The application of military force is, quite literally, deadly serious.  No civilized country would employ it as a first resort; non-violent diplomacy must run its course before lethality is even considered.  But when military force is considered it should aim for an end-state worth achieving.  That the commander-in-chief thought about doing something "unbelievably small" that would "degrade and send a message" at least pushed back on Pentagon demands that the ultimate end-state for all of Syria be unveiled before a shot is fired.  Yet the question is whether a minor degrading of capabilities and the sending of a message-perhaps the opposite of the one intended given the puny nature of the endeavor-would have been worth the application of lethal force.  Clearly something aimed at real civilian protection-destroy or significantly degrade the ability of the Assad regime to bring massed fires to bear on civilian populations-would have been worth it.

President Obama, as commander-in-chief, has framed the military option for Syria as either something unbelievably small or the full Monty: invasion and occupation.  It is a false choice.  Yet it is the choice to which he has deliberately limited himself.  And given that false choice he was correct to grasp onto the chemical weapons agreement.  Had he paid more attention to civilian protection he would have sought a better agreement.  Syrians and their neighbors are paying heavily for a diplomatic shortfall that was and is unbelievably huge."

'Death From Above: How American Drone Strikes Are Devastating Yemen' (Vivian Salama, Rolling Stone)

For the people here who have no ties to Al Qaeda or any militant groups, the constant stress of the drone threat has warped long-standing cultural norms. Mothers are increasingly keeping their children home from school or forbidding them from going to mosque for fear that they might be handed a DVD or SIM card containing propaganda or information linking to Al Qaeda. Just the mere possession of Al Qaeda propaganda or an accidental run-in with a suspected militant is enough, locals believe, to be deemed a legitimate target for the drones. 'We don't know who is with Al Qaeda,' says Oum Saeed, a middle-aged mother of ten, 'but the drones know.'"

'Bob Carr was right to start a debate on the influence of the Zionist lobby' (Antony Loewenstein, The Guardian)

"Carr explains, in compelling detail, how Melbourne's Zionist lobby pressures, romances, bullies and cajoles politicians to tow the most fundamentalist position over illegal Israeli colonies, Palestinian recognition at the UN, and even the language used to describe Israeli actions. He also claims that Israel lobby financing impacted the positions of elected politicians on foreign policy. Carr reports former Kevin Rudd telling him that about one-fifth of the money he had raised in the 2007 election campaign had come from the Jewish community, and criticises Julia Gillard's unfailing pro-Israel stance (see, for example, her effusive praise of the Jewish state after she received the Jerusalem Prize), pointing out that she would not even let him criticise Israeli West Bank settlements.

'It's an appalling situation if Australia allows a group of [Jewish] businessmen [in Melbourne] to veto policy on the Middle East', Carr summarises in frustration (unsurprisingly, local Zionist groups have responded with fury and defensiveness to the attack)."

-- Mary Casey

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Syrian Government and Opposition Trade Blame Over Gas Attacks

The Syrian government and opposition are trading blame over two alleged gas attacks on Friday and Saturday in the rebel-held Hama province village of Kafr Zeita. Syrian opposition activists have posted video, which they say provides evidence that regime forces used chemical weapons. Both the opposition and the government said that chlorine gas had been used, however, Syrian State TV blamed al-Nusra Front for the attacks. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said reports of a gas attack were so far "unsubstantiated" but continued that the United States would work to establish what had happened. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported that Syria transferred another shipment of chemical weapons to the port of Latakia on Sunday. With the latest delivery, Syria has handed over slightly more than 65 percent of its chemical agents for destruction. Meanwhile, pro-government forces have seized control of two villages near the border with Lebanon -- Sarkha and the historic Christian village of Maaloula. The gains came after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed the crisis had hit a "turning point" and his forces were winning the conflict.

Headlines

  • Libya's newly appointed interim Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani said he will resign over an attack against him and his family and "to protect the interests of the country."
  • Libya has begun the trial of dozens of ex-Qaddafi officials as well as his sons, Sail al-Islam and Saadi, who did not appear in the courtroom.
  • Responding to the U.S. move to block Iran's selected U.N. envoy, an Iranian official said Tehran would "pursue the matter via legal mechanisms."
  • A series of bombings in Iraq Sunday killed an estimated 20 people mainly in the city of Mosul and near Kirkuk.

Arguments and Analysis

'Syria's Lost Generation' (Khaled Hosseini, The New York Times)

"I am a father of two children. I cannot imagine what it would do to them, to see such grisly things. Yet that is happening every day in Syria. A whole generation of children, witness to the unfolding catastrophe, is unable to attend school, their lives shaped by violence, grief and displacement.

At some point this year, Syria will overtake my native country, Afghanistan, as the world's largest refugee-producing state. There are now 2.5 million refugees from Syria, 1.2 million of them children. Two-thirds of Syrian refugee children, and nearly three million children inside the country, are out of school.

They face a broken future. Syria is on the verge of losing a generation. This is perhaps the most dooming consequence of this terrible war."

'Tartus in the Present Crisis: A Mirror of the Syrian Regime' (Kheder Khaddour, Jadaliyya)

"Tartus has not experienced fighting or attacks during the current conflict. Behind its image of a quiet, pro-regime city, however, lies a more complicated situation with social and spatial disconnects. Unwritten rules are common, as is suspicion-mainly of newcomers and displaced people. Relations between the latter groups and the city's long-time inhabitants (Tartusis) are primarily a modus vivendi, punctuated by genuine moments of sharing. Rather than a novelty, however, this mélange of interests echoes the way the Syrian state and society have functioned for many years. Nevertheless, numerous changes have taken place in contemporary Tartus. Paramount among them is an increased affirmation of religion for purposes of group cohesion."

'The decline of Iran's Blogestan' (Fred Petrossian, Arash Abadpour, and Mahsa Alimardani, The Washington Post)

"State intervention, from filtering to repression, is a big part of the story. The Iranian regime introduced a wide mix of repressive techniques, from domain and keyword "blacklists" to deep packet inspection, bandwidth throttling  and filtering of virtual private networks (VPNs). Many bloggers cite personal reasons for abandoning their efforts. They noted the most important reasons for starting a blog as "saying things that cannot be said in public" and "sharing news not covered by mass media," while the key reasons for no longer blogging are "fear of censorship" and "too many blogs filtered." But the fading of Blogestan does not mean that online engagement has disappeared: One crucial reason for the decline of blogging has been the increase in time spent on other social media platforms."

-- Mary Casey

Nigel Treblin/Getty Images