The Middle East Channel

U.S. Lifts Israel Flight Ban as Gaza Death Toll Reaches 700

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration lifted its ban on commercial flights traveling to Tel Aviv late Wednesday as diplomatic efforts failed to forge a truce between Israel and militants in Gaza. The FAA said it was satisfied with the security measures taken by Israel to mitigate potential risks. US Airways announced its service to Tel Aviv would resume Thursday, and some other carriers said flights would resume Friday. Meanwhile, Israel continued assaults and strikes into the Gaza Strip Thursday morning. An estimated 729 Palestinians have been killed since Israel's operation began on July 8 and at least 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed in clashes in Gaza. Additionally, a number of rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome over Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities Thursday. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern on Wednesday that 20 rockets discovered hidden at a U.N. school in Gaza had gone missing. Egypt has been working to broker a humanitarian cease-fire, though U.S. and Israeli officials said there is unlikely to be any truce by the weekend. 

Iraq

Militants attacked a prisoner convoy in the Iraqi town of Taji, about 15 miles north of Baghdad, Thursday sparking clashes that killed at least 52 prisoners and up to nine Iraqi police officers. Gunmen ambushed the bus on a remote road after several roadside bombs exploded. According to Iraqi officials, the prisoners were being transported from a military base in Taji to the Iraqi capital after the base was hit by mortar rounds. It is unclear who was responsible for the attack, and whether the prisoners were killed by militants or security forces. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Baghdad earlier Thursday to meet with officials to address the political crisis in Iraq and recent violence sparked by the advance of militants from the Islamic State.

Headlines

  • Algerian authorities reported an Air Algerie flight traveling from Burkina Faso to Algiers carrying 116 people has gone missing.
  • Islamic State fighters attacked a besieged army base in Syria's Raqqa province Thursday igniting clashes with government forces meanwhile the OPCW reported the 1,300 tons of chemicals removed from Syria have arrived at destruction facilities.
  • Fighting between government forces and Islamist militants overnight in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi killed at least nine people and wounded 19 others.

Arguments and Analysis

'Defeating the Islamic State: Crafting a Regional Approach' (Douglas A. Ollivant and Terrence Kelly, War on the Rocks)

"It is important not to overstate ISIL's connection with the current dysfunction in Iraqi politics. It is not 'an al-Qaeda army marching across Iraq' as some news commentators have claimed. It has succeeded in Iraq through a partnership with local Sunni forces. While it is true that current sectarian tensions have led Iraqi Sunnis to support ISIL to oust the Shi'a dominated government, this has happened before during the Iraqi resistance in 2004-2007. Moreover, this alliance need not be permanent; Iraq's Sunnis, with U.S. help, decimated ISIL's predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, in 2007 and 2008 because of the threat it posed to local Iraqi leaders and their way of life through their imposition of a strict version of Sharia law and other social changes they sought to impose on the local communities (e.g., forced marriages into important tribal families). Further, it will be interesting to see how Iraq's more nationalist Sunnis, including the outlawed Ba'ath Party, react to the Caliphate announcement and similar threats to local leaders, which will no doubt occur. It is likely that these groups will turn on ISIL again once they have realized their true goal of getting Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki out of power."

'Hamas's struggle has receded as a priority in the new Arab world' (Roula Khalaf, Financial Times)

"It is not that the Palestinian cause is no longer an emotive issue for Arabs. But the turmoil spreading across the region has lessened the shock of a soaring Palestinian death toll while stripping Islamist groups, including Hamas - which controls the Gaza Strip - of an automatic claim on public sympathy. Few in the region are rushing to Hamas's rescue. State-backed media in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are blaming not only Israel but the Islamist group, too, for the violence.

The shift in Arab attitude has not gone unnoticed in Israel, which has expanded its campaign by launching a ground offensive. While it plays to Israel's advantage in the short term, though, it also complicates the search for a way out of the crisis that Israel will eventually need.

'The circumstances of the region are different this time. There are problems no less important than Gaza - whether in Syria, Iraq or Libya,' says Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian official who now teaches at Birzeit University near the West Bank town of Ramallah."

'Egypt: Deaths in policy custody, once a spark for revolt, now met by shrugs' (Louisa Loveluck, The Christian Science Monitor)

"With little public outcry, more than 80 people have died in custody over the past year, according to independent monitor Wikithawra. In June 2010, photos of the shattered face of Khaled Said, a young man killed in police custody, laid the groundwork for mass protests in Egypt against longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak. His downfall in February 2011 was a landmark in the so-called Arab Spring, which still has aftershocks roiling the region. 

Last July, Egypt's military ousted the country's first elected president, Mohamed Morsi, and launched an aggressive crackdown against dissidents. Egypt's police are back to the most brutal practices of the Mubarak era, and deaths in custody have surged once again. But this time popular anger is muted, as many swing behind a repressive security state as a bulwark against the chaos and sectarianism that came in Mubarak's wake, particularly after police retreated from the streets."

-- Mary Casey

MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images

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