The Middle East Channel

Kerry Arrives in Israel After U.S. Flight Ban

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Israel in a surprise visit to work to establish a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza militants. Kerry will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a one-day visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah. Kerry said some progress was made in talks in Egypt, however he noted, "There is still work to be done." Kerry's trip came a day after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposed a ban for at least 24 hours on flights to Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv, after a rocket landed about a mile away from the airport. Many other international airlines have also suspended flights into Ben Gurion. Meanwhile, Israel has continued strikes on the Gaza Strip, where nearly 650 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians. Additionally, 29 Israeli soldiers have been killed in fighting, and there have been three civilian casualties in Israel. On Wednesday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned Israel's military offensive in Gaza saying "There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes." Pillay also condemned Hamas for its "indiscriminate attacks" on Israel.

Iraq

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad overnight that killed 33 people and wounded up to 58 others. The attack hit a police checkpoint at the entrance to the predominantly Shiite district of Kadhimiya, which houses a prominent Shiite shrine. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for several other bombings in Baghdad, including a series of explosions on Saturday that killed 27 people. Meanwhile, Iraqi parliamentarians postponed a vote Wednesday to elect a new president by a day, reportedly after the Kurds requested a delay so they could agree on a candidate. At least 95 candidates are in the running for the office.

Headlines

  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fierce clashes between Syrian fighters and pro-government forces in eastern Damascus meanwhile regime airstrikes killed six children from one family in Aleppo province.
  • According to Iranian state television, nuclear talks between Tehran and six world powers would resume in early September.
  • A missile hit a fuel tanker close to Libya's international airport in Tripoli as heavy fighting, which has killed at least 47 people, has continued between rival militias.

Arguments and Analysis

'The war in Gaza threatens Egypt too' (Shibley Telhami, Reuters)

"Indeed, the fighting provides an opening for Sisi's opponents. At a minimum, it creates a distraction the Egyptian president does not need now - he has said his priorities are the economy and internal security. So Sisi has a strong interest in ending the war, particularly since Hamas and its allies are exhibiting far more military muscle than anyone expected.

But Sisi is facing a number of major complications triggered by the war.

First, though many Egyptians view Hamas as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, most sympathize with the Palestinians and are angry at Israel. When they see the scale of casualties - for example, the death and destruction in the Shuja'iah neighborhood in Gaza - they overwhelmingly blame Israel. This is true even as their leaders express anger over Hamas' refusal to accept the Egyptian ceasefire proposal."

'Which Way Now For US Policy Toward Syria?' (Frederic C. Hof, Atlantic Council)

"If working with Assad is inadmissible, so is a policy rich in rhetoric and empty gestures. On July 16, The Wall Street Journal reported-in connection with the administration's $500 million request to Congress to train and equip Syrian rebels-that the Pentagon would train and equip 2,300 men over an eighteen-month period starting in 2015. If the US objective is to help the Syrian opposition fight ISIS and resist the regime, while at the same time changing the regime's calculation about serious political transition negotiations, then the Journal's report simply cannot and must not reflect the totality of the administration's plans. Two-thousand-three hundred men by 2016 would be someone's idea of a very bad joke, given the stakes. One hopes that such pitifully small numbers represent neither the projected output of planners nor the result of "vetting" concerns driven by a fear that weapons might end up in the hands of terrorists already armed to the teeth and flush with money.

If the administration's objective is ultimately to see Syria free of the Assad regime and ISIS and replaced by a national government reflecting pluralism, citizenship, and rule of law, then it must move with dispatch now on two military-related fronts." 

'Foreign Fighters' for Israel (David Malet, The Washington Post)

"A better comparison is not today's 'Lone Soldiers' but the recruitment drive launched in 1945 by David Ben Gurion, later Israel's first prime minister, to obtain the assistance of diaspora Jews to rapidly build a regular military. Anticipating an invasion by the armies of Arab states in response to a declaration of statehood, Ben Gurion turned to North American donors to equip and field experienced World War II combat veterans in a movement later known by the Hebrew acronym MACHAL. Their pitch was not the opportunity for a Jewish state, but the inevitable resumption of the Holocaust without one. Over 5,000 volunteers came from over 40 countries and they, particularly the pilots, were subsequently credited by Israeli leaders from Benjamin Netanyahu to Yitzhak Rabin as having played a decisive role in the outcome of the war. The president of the MACHAL veterans told me that, had there been 20,000 of them, ‘there never would have been an East Jerusalem.'"

-- Mary Casey

GIL COHEN MAGEN/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Renewed Diplomatic Push for Gaza Cease-Fire as Israel Confirms Missing Soldier

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is holding talks in Egypt and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is traveling to Israel and the West Bank to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials in efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip. However, Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livini said, "There is no real option for a ceasefire now." The Israeli military said it has hit over 187 targets since Tuesday morning, including at least 100 in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaiya. Al Jazeera reported gunshots fired at its Gaza bureau, however a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said there was no direct attack on the offices of Al Jazeera or other press in Gaza, however there could have been indirect damage. In 15 days of fighting, over 600 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza's health ministry. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza said nearly 102,000 people have taken shelter in 69 of its schools, and Kerry has pledged $47 million from the United States in humanitarian aid. Additionally, 27 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the ground invasion of Gaza, according to the IDF. The Israeli military has named one missing soldier, Sergeant Oren Shaul, whom Hamas claimed to have taken captive on Sunday after an attack on an armored vehicle killed six Israeli soldiers. Shaul had been presumed dead.  

Syria

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said Syrian rebels, including al-Nusra Front fighters, have expelled Islamic State militants from four areas in the Damascus suburbs. Additionally, the Observatory reported the Islamic State has begun selling oil, from fields under its control in Syria, to Iraqi businessman. Meanwhile, two Turkish soldiers were reportedly killed after clashes with suspected smugglers broke out on the border with Syria, near the town of Ceylanpinar.

Headlines

  • Islamic State militants have reportedly seized the ancient Christian Mar Behnam monastery in Mosul as they continue to crush resistance in northern Iraq.
  • Turkey has detained dozens of police officers, most of whom were in prominent positions during a December 2013 graft investigation, on accusations of spying and illegal wire-tapping.
  • Saudi Arabia announced it will open its $530 billion stock market to foreign investors, though it has not released a timeline.

Arguments and Analysis

'Europe must give Syrian refugees a home' (António Guterres, The Guardian)

"While the world's eyes are now firmly fixed on Gaza, the Syrian maelstrom of death, destruction and displacement rages on, and shows no signs of abating.

When histories are written about the humanitarian cost of Syria's civil war, Europe's response to the crisis of a generation might be summed up in a single phrase: never was so little done by so many for so few."

'Beyond Sectarianism: The New Middle East Cold War' (F. Gregory Gause, III, The Brookings Institution)

"The current confrontation has an important sectarian element, but it cannot be accurately understood simply as a ‘Sunni versus Shia' fight. Applying such a framework can distort analytical focus, oversimplify regional dynamics, and cause Iran and Saudi Arabia's motives to be misunderstood. Riyadh and Tehran are playing a balance of power game. They are using sectarianism in that game, but both have crossed the sectarian fault line in seeking regional allies. The regional cold war can only be understood by appreciating the links between domestic conflicts, transnational affinities, and regional state ambitions. It is the weakening of Arab states, more than sectarianism or the rise of Islamist ideologies, that has created the battlefields of the new Middle East cold war. Indeed, it is the arc of state weakness and state failure running from Lebanon through Syria to Iraq that explains the current salience of sectarianism. Given how difficult it will be to reconstruct stable political orders in these and other weak states, the likelihood is that the new cold war will be as protracted as the Arab cold war was."

'Meanwhile, in Hebron' (Yassmine Saleh, MERIP)

"The Israeli campaign in the Hebron area did not halt after the missing settlers were found dead. Instead, the Israelis behaved as they did before the advent of the PA and its control of Area A, with systematic incursions. No home, no sort of building, was safe. Many employees of the PA civil service and security forces reside in the village of Tafouh. Their homes were violated and the inhabitants subjected to full-body inspections.

Israeli occupation forces were acting under the watchful and approving eyes of the settlers, who since the missing teens were found dead have been marching daily, taunting Palestinians and demanding full-scale reinvasion of Hebron. Usually, during Ramadan, people go to pray in the Ibrahimi mosque, but the high-strung settler gangs have scared people off, and the mosque is empty."

-- Mary Casey

JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images