The Middle East Channel

Obama Offers to Negotiate Cease-Fire as Gaza Death Toll Climbs

Gaza's health ministry reported 100 Palestinians have been killed and 670 wounded as Israel continues air and naval strikes on the Gaza Strip. On Friday morning, three rockets fired from Gaza targeted central Tel Aviv, though all were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome. About 550 rockets have been fired into Israel in the past four days, possibly landing as far north as Haifa. No deaths have been reported, however eight people have been wounded. Additionally, unknown militants in southern Lebanon fired between two and four rockets into northern Israel Friday and the Israeli military responded with artillery fire. On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offering to facilitate a cease-fire. However, in a televised statement Thursday, Netanyahu said, "So far the battle is progressing as planned, but we can expect further stages in the future." Israel has hinted at a possible ground invasion, and has mobilized 20,000 army reservists. Meanwhile, Israeli intelligence officials reportedly issued gag orders to suppress reporting on investigations into the kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers and a Palestinian teen.

Iraq

Kurdish forces have seized oil productions facilities in Bai Hassan and oil fields in Kirkuk amid an intensifying dispute with the Iraqi central government. Additionally, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, who is Kurdish, said the Kurdish political bloc has "suspended our government business" and will boycott cabinet meetings. However, the Kurds will continue to attend parliament sessions. Recent tensions were sparked when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday accused the Kurds of harboring militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Baathists, and other opponents of the Iraqi government.  

Headlines

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and European foreign ministers will join Iran nuclear talks in Vienna this weekend, though Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will not attend.
  • Bahrain interrogated opposition al-Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman over a meeting with senior U.S. diplomat Tom Malinowski who was ordered to leave the kingdom Monday.
  • Hackers temporarily disrupted Tunisia's online voter registration for elections scheduled in October and November.

Arguments and Analysis

'Iraq Illusions' (Jessica T. Mathews, The New York Review of Books)

"The story, which has seemed to be all about religion and military developments, is actually mostly about politics: access to government revenue and services, a say in decision-making, and a modicum of social justice. True, one side is Sunni and the other Shia, but this is not a theological conflict rooted in the seventh century. ISISand its allies have triumphed because the Sunni populations of Mosul and Tikrit and Fallujah have welcomed and supported them-not because of ISIS's disgusting behavior, but in spite of it. The Sunnis in these towns are more afraid of what their government may do to them than of what the Sunni militia might. They have had enough of years of being marginalized while suffering vicious repression, lawlessness, and rampant corruption at the hands of Iraq's Shia-led government."

'Hot Heads' (P.S., The Economist)

"But since late 2013, the Houthis, with the backing of local tribes, have scored successive victories over tribal and Sunni Islamist militias in Amran, which separates the northern Houthi heartland of Sa'dah from the capital Sana'a. The Houthis' critics claim that, backed by Iran, the group is exploiting the security and political vacuum to seize control of north Yemen and reinstate the Shia imamate that ran the country for the better part of a millennium before being unseated in a 1962 revolution.

The Houthis counter that they are helping the tribes in Amran who want to end the dominance of the Hashid, the country's biggest tribal confederation, which is based in Amran, and Islah, Yemen's biggest Sunni Islamist party, which is part of the transitional government. They also claim to be helping to push terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) out of the province."

'Fifteen Years After the 18th of Tir: The Legacy of Student Protests That Shook Iran' (Suzanne Maloney, The Brookings Institution)

"This week marks the fifteenth anniversary of a violent crackdown on student protests at Tehran University. It was an event that shook Iran, rattling the nascent reform movement and reconfirming the utility of repression for the sentinels of the theocratic system. The forces that sparked the upheaval and shaped the regime's response continue to haunt Iran, whose current president - elected only a year ago with the fervent support of students and reformists - is the same man who advocated and helped authorize the violence against their ranks in 1999."

-- Mary Casey

DAVID BUIMOVITCH/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Death Toll Rises as Israel Intensifies Offensive on Gaza

Israel has intensified strikes on Gaza as rockets continue to hit southern and central Israel. Dozens of rockets hit Israel on Thursday, though no deaths or injuries have been reported. According to the Israeli military, the Iron Dome intercepted 21 rockets on Wednesday. The Israeli military also reported it targeted 322 sites in Gaza overnight. According to the Palestinian health ministry 17 people, including a family and a number of children, were killed in strikes on a house and a café in Khan Younis. An estimated 80 Palestinians have been killed and 500 wounded in Gaza in the past three days. Meeting with Knesset members Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that a cease-fire is not on the agenda. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned the parties against escalation, saying, "The lives of countless innocent civilians and the peace process itself are in the balance." The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to meet for an emergency session to discuss the hostilities on Thursday.

Syria

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has selected Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura to replace Lakhdar Brahimi as the international mediator seeking to resolve the Syrian conflict. While Brahimi was the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, diplomats said de Mistura will be solely the U.N. envoy. An official announcement is expected Thursday. Meanwhile, Syrian government troops backed by Hezbollah fighters are continuing an advance into the northern city of Aleppo. According to a local resident activist, opposition forces control a 2.5 mile corridor in the north, and regime forces are close to being in a position to besiege an estimated 300,000 people.

Headlines

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency said it believes nuclear materials, that were used for scientific research at a Mosul university, that were seized by militants in Iraq, are "low grade" and do not pose a significant threat.
  • A U.S. appeals court has upheld a ruling ordering $1.75 billion in Iranian funds be paid to families of Americans killed in the 1983 attack on a U.S. Marine barracks in the Lebanese capital of Beirut.
  • The Kurdistan Regional Government has threatened to take legal action against buyers of Iraqi oil if it is not paid a share of the revenue from sales, after Baghdad cut the region's entitlements.

Arguments and Analysis

'Why Iraq Is More Stable Than You Think' (Douglas A. Ollivant, Politico Magazine)

"The news from Iraq is bad. Four distinct yet intertwined problems-the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the dysfunctional politics of Iraq, the utter collapse of the Syrian state and the larger cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran-have combined to disrupt the fragile stability gained by the Iraqis in the wake of the 2006-2008 civil war. Iraq is, once again, the paragon of a 'wicked problem.'

There are, however, a number of rash conclusions being arrived at in the wake of the bad news. One does not have to read very far to find a series of assumptions being made about Iraq's future-that Baghdad is about to fall, that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's days are numbered, that Kurdistan's independence is imminent and that oil production is at risk. None of these are certain and some are extremely unlikely."

'The threat or promise of justice in Palestine' (Mark Kersten, The Washington Post)

"Indeed, those pressing for a referral of the ICC should be careful what they wish for. Some have suggested that there is a strong case to be made that Palestinian groups like Hamas and Fatah are responsible for international crimes under the Rome Statute and that the seemingly indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas by Palestinian militants in Israel would be prioritized for investigation by the prosecutor. As SOAS criminal law professor Kevin Jon Heller argues: It would be 'much easier to prosecute Hamas's deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians than Israel's disproportionate attacks, collective punishment of Palestinians, and transfer of its civilians into occupied territory.'

Nevertheless, the very threat of requesting an ICC intervention has been useful to the Palestinian Authority. In this exceptionally asymmetric conflict, Abbas has been left with few means of political leverage. The threat of an ICC intervention may yield certain benefits for the Palestinian Authority - especially if Israel and the 'West' are sufficiently afraid of it, which they certainly appear to be. Moreover, being seen as the unjustly targeted party whose recourse to international accountability is consistently blocked by greater powers and aggressors is undoubtedly rich political capital.'

'Will Erdogan be Turkey's next Ataturk?' (Mustafa Akyol, Al Monitor)

"Recently, there have been other references by Erdogan and his team to Turkey's founding father. In the wake of the local elections on March 30, for example, he declared himself to be the leader of Turkey's 'second war of independence,' a clear reference to the original war that Ataturk led. When his aides began promoting the system of an all-powerful presidency in 2012, which Erdogan hopes to realize at some point, they also referred to Ataturk as an example.

This is very interesting, because until very recently Ataturk and his political legacy was a theme that religious conservatives almost always criticized. So, should we understand this newly discovered interest in Kemalism as a sudden change in conservative ideology and identity? Probably not, because the pro-Erdogan conservatives are still very critical of the ideological components of Kemalism such as authoritarian secularism and ethnic Turkish nationalism. Yet, they now seem to partly admire, and imitate, the methods Ataturk used to accumulate and consolidate power."

-- Mary Casey

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images