The Middle East Channel

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Sentenced to Six Years in Jail

A Tel Aviv Court has sentenced former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to six years in prison on corruption charges. Olmert was convicted on March 31 for taking a $145,000 bribe, while he served as mayor of Jerusalem, from developers of the controversial Holyland apartment complex as well as an additional bribe from a separate project. In his opening statements, Judge David Rozen said, "A public servant who accepts bribes is akin to a traitor." Olmert was prime minister from 2006 to 2009. A centrist, he was credited internationally for his efforts attempting to negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinians. He would be the first Israeli head of government to be imprisoned, with his jail sentence set to begin September 1. However, his lawyers, who said Olmert did not take a bribe, are expected to file an appeal with the Supreme Court.

Syria

Representatives of the 11 leading countries supporting the Syrian opposition, known as the London 11, are meeting Thursday. The meeting comes after a top U.N. humanitarian official said the "situation is getting worse" for the over 9 million Syrians displaced by conflict, and as aid workers become increasingly concerned about the effectiveness of aid deliveries into Syria. The meeting will also follow the evacuation deal that saw over 1,200 rebel fighters abandon the city of Homs. A European official said, "It doesn't mean we're giving up in any way." A U.S. official mentioned the meeting will be a "sort of reset." Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch released a report Tuesday citing strong evidence that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in barrel bomb attacks on three towns in April.

Headlines

  • The IAEA has reported that Iran is making slow progress in clarifying possible military dimensions of Tehran's nuclear program ahead of resumed talks with world powers in Vienna.
  • Jordanian Ambassador to Libya Fawaz al-Itan has been freed, after being abducted in April in Tripoli, in exchange for the release of a fighter held since 2007 by Jordan.
  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday for the first time since peace talks collapsed to discuss resuming negotiations with Israel.
  • A series of car bombings in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad targeting Shiite celebrations Tuesday killed an estimated 23 people.

Arguments and Analysis

'The random Muslim scare story generator: separating fact from fiction' (Nesrine Malik, The Guardian)

"Underpinning it is a common theme: that there is an ever more muscular and intimidating Muslim minority demanding special rights from a cowed and pandering, lily-livered body politic muzzled by ‘multicultural Britain' - rather than simply attempting to adapt and integrate, as immigrants of all religions have been doing in the UK for centuries. It's not hard to see how this constant blurring of facts generates the mood music of anti-immigration rightwingers and establishes common misconceptions about Muslims.

But the threat of a creeping sharia never seems to materialise. It seems to be more of a crawling sharia, so slowly has the Islamist takeover of Britain been, in contrast to the constant media warnings of its imminent arrival.

The focus far outstrips the size and political activity of the minority, which number 2.7 million (less than 5% of the population), not all of whom are practising Muslims. The Islamic scare story plays to a nexus of easy media sensationalism, a portion of the public primed and ready to believe the worst, and an interested rightwing element for whom it is a convenient vehicle for their anti-immigration views, xenophobia, or just Islamophobia."

'The U.S., Asia and the Middle East: A convergence of interests' (Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Houston Chronicle)

"Crucially, the recipient states with some of the highest dependencies on Gulf energy are those that are commonly projected as forming the focus of any U.S. "pivot." The U.S. has a powerful set of overlapping interests with Asian partners when engaging with the Middle East. With Asian economies all looking to the Gulf as a stable and long-term supplier of oil and gas, a nexus of shared U.S.-Middle East-Asian interest is coalescing around the security of supply through international sea lanes and regional chokepoints in addition to the maintenance of regional stability more generally. These are substantive ties that can bind U.S., Middle Eastern and Asian interests and soothe the surface tensions that recently have marred U.S.-Gulf relations, particularly with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates."

'Syrian Refugees and Turkey's Challenges: Beyond the Limits of Hospitality' (Kemal Kiri?ci, The Brookings Institution)

"The persistence of the conflict and the ever growing number of urban refugees is creating a set of tough challenges for Turkey. Firstly, it is becoming increasingly clear that refugees are not about to return home anytime soon. This brings up a range of very difficult policy issues for the government. They range from whether the government should start to think in terms of offering refugees the possibility to remain and integrate in Turkey to addressing urgent education, employment, health, shelter and other needs of Syrian refugees. Secondly, the refugee population outside camps has grown significantly and is expected to surpass one million by the end of the year. The government is trying to register them but the process is far from complete, particularly as increasing number of refugees are living outside of camps where assistance is always more difficult and complex. Working with refugees who are dispersed in the host community involves different governmental agencies and it is harder to identify who the target population is, harder to figure out how to assist host communities, especially in the absence of a comprehensive systematic need assessment exercise. Thirdly, the presence of growing numbers of Syrians in Turkey is deeply impacting on host communities economically, socially as well as politically. Last but not least, there is also the continued deterioration of the humanitarian and political situation inside Syria. How should Turkey be addressing these challenges?"

-- Mary Casey

Sebastian Scheiner-Pool/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Militants Attack Iraqi Military Base Killing 20 Soldiers

Militants stormed an Iraqi military base near the northern city of Mosul killing an estimated 20 soldiers. Reports conflict over when and how the soldiers were killed, with some reports saying the attack came Saturday night, and others earlier in the week. Also, medical officials said some soldiers were executed, some with their hands tied, while a police major contradicted those reports. Some officials also said the soldiers had been kidnapped from the base. The forces were responsible for protecting an oil pipeline and a highway in the area. Meanwhile, civilians and hospital sources have accused the Iraqi government of shelling civilian areas of Fallujah with barrel bombs in its fight to drive out Islamist militants. Fighting in Iraq's western Anbar province has continued into a fifth month, forcing thousands of civilians from their homes and dramatically impacting the economy.

Syria

Campaigning began Sunday ahead of Syria's June 3 presidential election, in which President Bashar al-Assad is widely expected to win a third seven-year term. The vote will be Syria's first multi-candidate presidential election with two relatively unknown candidates challenging Assad: Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar and Hassan Abdullah Nouri. Meanwhile, residents returned to Homs after the last busloads of rebel fighters left the Old City on Friday in part of an evacuation deal negotiated with the government. Though the deal appeared successful, U.N. officials cautioned there is no solution in sight to end the Syrian civil war or ameliorate the severe humanitarian crisis.

Headlines

  • A suspected U.S. drone strike in southern Yemen killed up to six alleged al Qaeda militants Monday a day after a suicide bomber killed 11 police officers near a police station in the city of Mukalla.
  • At least 36 people have died and 42 remain missing after a boat carrying mostly African migrants capsized last week off the coast of Libya.
  • A U.N. report has noted that Iran's attempts to illegally procure materials for its nuclear and missile program have decreased ahead of a new round of talks this week between Tehran and World Powers.
  • Presidential frontrunner and former General Sisi said Egypt would see an improvement in two years, "if things go according to plan," and that he would resign from office if his presidency provokes mass protests.

Arguments and Analysis

'The ICC in Syria: Three Red Lines' (Mark Kersten, Justice in Conflict)

"Still, unlike Darfur and Libya, the Office of the Prosecutor now has the time to develop a coherent and rigorous position regarding a Syria referral. And if the Prosecutor can't be proactive in ascertaining the political risks in accepting certain referrals, perhaps it is time that an independent referral review panel be set up advise the Court.

While it is extremely unlikely that the ICC would reject a referral of Syria, the ICC has a problem when it comes to its relationship with the Security Council. A potential Syria referral offers the opportunity to think critically and clearly about what, exactly, the Court wants that relationship to look like."

'Lebanon union strike not helping the economy' (Sami Nader, Al-Monitor)

"The crisis of the ranks and salaries scale, which is pushing the country toward an economic and social explosion, has revealed the depth of the structural problem, represented by the size of the public sector relative to the Lebanese economy. It should be noted that the total salaries and wages in the public sector, if the budget is approved as is, represents 15.5% of the gross domestic product and 54.2% of state expenses. The rate in Europe is 20% of state expenses. For example, if we look at the number of teachers in the public sector - the ranks and salaries scale primarily concerns them - we find that the student-teacher ratio is 7-to-1, while the global average is about 20-to-1.

This shows how much the public sector has grown. Successive governments have avoided facing the problem despite the recommendations of international institutions, from the World Bank to the International Monetary Fund, which called for reducing the size of the administration.

This is the bitter reality, which should be blamed neither on the workers nor the employers, but on political clientelism, corruption and the absence of good governance."

-- Mary Casey

Sadam el-Mehmedy/AFP/Getty Images