The Middle East Channel

U.S. Captures Suspected Leader of 2012 Benghazi Attack

U.S. special operations forces captured a suspected leader of the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. The attack killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and sparked multiple investigations and allegations that the Obama administration and State Department misled the public regarding the incident. According to the Pentagon, Ahmed Abu Khattala was taken into custody on June 15 in a secret raid south of Benghazi and is now being held outside the country, reportedly onboard the USS New York. President Barack Obama said he is being transported to the United States, where he will face a federal trial. According to U.S. officials, Khattala is a local, small-time Islamist militant with no known connections to international terrorist groups.

Syria

Syrian army helicopters have dropped barrel bombs on a refugee camp in the village of Shajra, about a mile from the Jordanian border. According to residents and activists, the bombing killed at least 20 people, including nine children. On Tuesday night, Syrian air forces bombed several opposition-held areas of Aleppo province. Additionally, the army targeted the Waar district of Homs, which is the only area of the city that remains under rebel control. Meanwhile, an initial report from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons indicates that chemical agents, including chlorine, have been used "in a systematic manner" in attacks in Syria.

Headlines

  • The Iraqi army is battling ISIS fighters and allied militants, who have seized 75 percent of Iraq's largest oil refinery in Baiji, meanwhile Iranian President Rouhani has vowed to protect Iraq's Shiite holy sites and U.S. President Obama ruled against immediate air strikes.
  • Israeli troops arrested 65 more Palestinians overnight, 51 of whom were released in the 2011 deal to free Gilad Shalit, as they continue to search for three missing teenagers.
  • Turkey's two main opposition parties have selected conservative diplomat Elmeleddin Ihsanoglu as their joint candidate in the presidential election, in which Prime Minister Erdogan, is also expected to run.

Arguments and Analysis

'Getting rid of Maliki won't solve Iraq's crisis' (Fanar Haddad, The Washington Post)

"Finally, given the scale of the current threat, an argument can be made for delaying any attempt at structural change until the crisis has subsided to manageable proportions. The inflamed fears and divisions that recent events have provoked should not be tested with additional political upheaval at the center. The Iraqi state faces an existential crisis that needs to be confronted militarily and then solved politically. What is at stake is not just Maliki but the Iraqi state and regional stability; judging by what happened the last time the Iraqi state collapsed 11 years ago, I for one think it best to avoid a repeat."

'A Third Iraq War?' (Robin Wright, The New Yorker)

"Any plan for stability-whether Iraq remains a single state or breaks into three-has to begin with the underlying political problem. Last week, President Obama called for a multiethnic governing council in Baghdad but, with insurgents less than fifty miles from the capital, that option is now too little, too late.

Iraqis must become invested in their own political order and risk putting their lives on the line to secure it. Unfortunately, Maliki may not be willing to either cede the powers required for a just resolution or to step aside. His intransigence has sabotaged Iraqi nationalism-though others share in the blame-and simply propping him up could eventually be costly. On Tuesday, Maliki defied international appeals for political outreach. Instead, he declared a boycott of a Sunni political bloc and put the blame for Iraq's disintegration on Saudi Arabia. 'We hold them responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally, and for the outcome of that-which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites,' his government said in a statement. So Washington will have to be bold and blunt with him-and even consider withdrawing support. Leaving the political work undone a third time around only risks yet another failure-and who knows how many more."

'The New President of Israel: Not Easily Categorized' (Paul Scham, Middle East Institute)

"Peres, within the limited confines of the presidency, opposed Netanyahu on occasion from the left, criticizing his actions with relation to peace issues. This is something we will not likely see from Rivlin, whose views on territorial compromise are well to the right of those of Netanyahu.

There is general agreement that Rivlin will stay at home far more than his globe-trotting and international celebrity predecessor. However, should there be some sort of deal that divides the Land of Israel, we will probably hear some rumblings from Rivlin, though well within the understood presidential limits. On the other hand, it is likely that he will be a strong voice, again within limits, for democracy and against racism and "price tag" attacks against Arabs, which have become increasingly common in recent years."

-- Mary Casey

STRINGER/AFP/GettyImages

The Middle East Channel

Iraqi Pro-Government Forces Battle Militants as U.S. Considers Support

U.S. President Barack Obama met with top advisors to deliberate options on Iraq, but he made no decision on U.S. action. The United States and Iran held talks on the security situation in Iraq Monday, though they ruled out military cooperation. Obama said 275 military personnel would be sent to Iraq to provide security for the U.S. Embassy, though the forces would be "equipped for combat." About 170 of those forces have arrived in Iraq, and the remainder are on standby. Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and allied forces temporarily overtook several districts on the western outskirts of Baquba Monday, however after heavy clashes Iraqi government forces and Shiite militia fighters regained control. Government forces are also working to reclaim the city of Tal Afar, which was seized by militants Monday, and have reportedly been carrying out airstrikes.

Syria

In a report Tuesday, U.N. human rights investigators said the Middle East appears on the "cusp of a regional war" with violence expanding in Syria and Iraq. According to the report, rebel factions, including ISIS having been abusing civilians in territory they control and ISIS fighters abducted nearly 200 Kurdish civilians while attacking Aleppo at the end of May. On Monday, U.N. chief humanitarian aid coordinator Valerie Amos said the Syrian government has been making the delivery of aid to civilians more difficult since the re-election of President Bashar al-Assad. The United Nations estimates 9.3 million people in Syria need humanitarian aid, and that 241,000 people are completely cut off from assistance.

Headlines  

  • Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain will reopen its embassy in Iran, which has been closed for two and a half years, in a mending of ties amid the security deterioration in Iraq.
  • Egypt's public prosecutor has ordered the release on medical grounds of Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah Elshamy who has been on hunger strike since January protesting being held without charge.
  • Israel arrested 41 additional members of Hamas in overnight raids, as the military continues to search for three missing teenagers and works to weaken Hamas.
  • Egypt's new cabinet was sworn in Tuesday with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb heading the third government since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Arguments and Analysis

'ISIS a fanatical force -- with a weakness' (Charles Lister, CNN)

"But this is not all about ISIS. Many other armed Sunni actors are involved in what has become, in effect, a Sunni uprising -- groups such as the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, Al-Jaish al-Islami fil Iraq and various tribal military councils.

ISIS may be the largest force involved (with about 8,000 fighters in Iraq), but it is far from sufficient to take and hold multiple urban centers. It is still totally reliant on an interdependent relationship with what remains a tacitly sympathetic and facilitating Sunni population. But this "relationship" is by no means stable and should not be taken for granted. The militant group has consistently failed to retain popular support, or at minimum, acceptance."

'How ISIS Games Twitter' (J.M. Berger, The Atlantic)

"The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Sunni militant group that seized Iraq's second-largest city last week and is now pledging to take Baghdad, has honed this new technique-most recently posting photos on Twitter of an alleged mass killing of Iraqi soldiers. But what's often overlooked in press coverage is that ISIS doesn't just have strong, organic support online. It also employs social-media strategies that inflate and control its message. Extremists of all stripes are increasingly using social media to recruit, radicalize and raise funds, and ISIS is one of the most adept practitioners of this approach.

One of ISIS's more successful ventures is an Arabic-language Twitter app called The Dawn of Glad Tidings, or just Dawn. The app, an official ISIS product promoted by its top users, is advertised as a way to keep up on the latest news about the jihadi group."

-- Mary Casey

STR/AFP/Getty Images