The Middle East Channel

Saudi Arabia Replaces Intelligence Chief

Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree Tuesday appointing a new intelligence chief after removing Prince Bandar bin Sultan "at his own request." He has been replaced by his deputy General Youssef al-Idrissi. Bandar was formerly ambassador to the United States and had control of Saudi Arabia's Syria file. He had criticized Washington for not conducting a military intervention into Syria. However, some analysts have said the prince had been disengaged from Syria policy for months, and that the file had been predominantly taken over by Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. Bandar recently returned to Riyadh after spending about two-months abroad for medical treatment. It is unclear if he will remain as head of the National Security Council.

Syria

The U.N. Security Council reviewed a series of photos Tuesday of bodies of people allegedly detained by the Syrian government who had been tortured and starved. The photos were said to have been taken by a defected Syrian army photographer known as Caesar. An international panel of experts hired by Qatar, which supports the Syrian opposition, deemed the photographs authentic, however the Syrian Justice Ministry dismissed the photos and an accompanying report as "lacking objectiveness and professionalism." France held the presentation pushing to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile, opposition fighters appear to have obtained U.S.-made TOW anti-tank guided missiles. Online videos seem to show rebel forces using the missiles, which would be the first time a major U.S. weapons system has appeared in rebel hands. It is unclear how the opposition procured the weapons. While U.S. officials declined to comment on the origin of the weapons, they did not deny that the rebels possess them.

Headlines

  • Two Australian men were killed in Yemen in November 2013 in a drone strike along with three known al Qaeda operatives.
  • Iraq has closed the notorious Abu Ghraib prison saying its location had become a "hot zone," however it is unclear if the closure was permanent.
  • A meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators scheduled for Wednesday, which was to focus on extending peace talks, was postponed after an off-duty policeman was killed in the West Bank Monday.
  • Kuwait's prime minister said a videotape that allegedly shows former senior officials plotting a coup has been "tampered with."

Arguments and Analysis

'The Roots of Crisis in Northern Lebanon' (Raphael Lefèvre, Carnegie Middle East Center)

"The rise of Sunni extremism in Lebanon, and particularly in Tripoli, is also often explained away as a product of the Syrian crisis. However, although the radicalization of elements of the Syrian opposition undeniably has an impact, this trend has at least as much to do with national, and sometimes even local Lebanese dynamics as well. 

The past decade has borne witness to a growing feeling of socioeconomic and political marginalization on the part of Lebanon's Sunni community. This leads many Sunnis to turn away from the state and look for alternative sources of support and protection, including joining certain Islamic groups that provide services or working with criminal networks in exchange for money. And this comes at a time when the Shia Islamist party Hezbollah seems to be at its military and political apex."

'Algeria's preordained election prods debate' (Mansouria Mokhefi, European Council on Foreign Relations)

This election, which everyone agrees is already a done deal, will at least have opened the door for a genuine debate on the country's future. Will Algeria enter a consensus-driven peaceful transition process towards institutional reform? Or will it see the radical transformation of a structure that many consider obsolete, impermeable, and illegitimate? Indeed, the risks of systemic collapse are greater than ever, and many think that the time has come to effect change not only through a reform from within but through a comprehensive systematic overhaul of the system.

One could also contend that despite minor opposition groups, the status quo remains unshakable in Algeria. Algerians also know that the creation of a vice-presidential office, whether it be held by Abdelmalek Sellal or Ahmed Ouyahia, the two favourites for this new post, is only being created to ensure that the regime can carry on even if president Bouteflika's health deteriorates severely. Indeed, Algerians are being called upon to cast their ballots for a presidential candidate of their choice even though the result has likely been pre-determined. In reaction the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), the oldest opposition party, is keeping its distance from the elections, calling for neither participation nor boycott, because the 17 April vote ‘is only decisive for the regime' in power. This will also explain the high abstention rate that is likely to mark the vote."

-- Mary Casey

HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images

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