The Middle East Channel

Kerry Proposes Cease-Fire Plan as Protests Erupt in the West Bank

An estimated 10,000 Palestinians gathered in the West Bank Thursday to protest the Israeli offensive in Gaza. Clashes broke out between Israeli soldiers and demonstrators, and three Palestinians were reported killed and up to 200 wounded. Blasts at a U.N. school, which was being used as a shelter, in Gaza's northern city of Beit Hanoun killed an estimated 16 people Thursday. On Friday, Israeli airstrikes hit 30 houses in Gaza, reportedly killing the head of Islamic Jihad's media operations. In the past 18 days of fighting, an estimated 819 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in negotiations in Cairo, has proposed an initiative to end hostilities. The initiative would begin with a weeklong cease-fire, starting Sunday, though Israeli troops would be permitted to remain in Gaza throughout the truce. During that time, Egypt would mediate negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

Syria

The United Nations has for the first time sent a humanitarian aid convoy into Syria across the Turkish border. The move came after a U.N. Security Council resolution on July 14 that authorized U.N. humanitarian aid deliveries to be transported across four border crossings, in Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan, without the consent of the Syrian government. Meanwhile, the Jordanian air force shot down an unidentified drone Friday near the northeastern border city of Mafraq. This was the first such incident reported by Jordanian authorities since the conflict began in Syria in March 2011.

Headlines

  • Iran has arrested four journalists, of whom three are Iranian-Americans, including Washington Post Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian.
  • French authorities are investigating Thursday's Air Algerie flight crash, which left no survivors, though the interior minister said the incident could have been linked to weather conditions.
  • Iraqi parliamentarians elected Kurdish politician Fouad Massoum president meanwhile militants from the Islamic State destroyed the shrines of two Muslim and Christian prophets in Mosul.

Arguments and Analysis

'How the U.S. Lost Leverage in Iraq' (Steven Simon, Middle East Institute)

"Reflecting on this turbulent time, it is relatively easy to see why U.S. options for responding to the ISIS surge are so meager.  Without a large-scale troop presence on the ground in Iraq, securing the population is not really possible. This, in turn, suggests that peeling away ordinary Iraqis from insurgents would be quite a challenge.  The ideological framework and depth of commitment among core ISIS members further implies that efforts to coopt them would be unavailing.  Finally, there is the inescapable relevance of Casey's insight regarding the Maliki government: that, in important ways, it acts like yet another sectarian faction rather than as a government in search of broad legitimacy.

The Obama Administration, therefore, will likely be constrained to actions on the margin:  collecting intelligence (mostly for targeting purposes), weakening ISIS through decapitating attacks, strengthening reliable units in the Iraqi armed forces, stepping up arms transfers, and strengthening vulnerable allies, like Jordan.  If the Iraqi political process develops in a way that produces more inclusive policies, then U.S. options will broaden.  In the meantime, what you see is what you get."

'Sisi's Economic Call to Arms' (Tom Rollins, Sada)

"To a large degree, Sisi's ability to enact major subsidy cuts with little unrest demonstrates how the government has, with some success, reclaimed leftist language to frame its reforms, remarketing austerity policies as inclusive, beneficial, and progressive. It seems Sisi learned a lesson from President Anwar Sadat's attempt at a more radical overhaul of the subsidies system in 1977. Back then, the reforms sparked the infamous 'Bread Riots' and brought Egyptians to a stand-off with the army. The government has been lauded for its comparatively measured introduction of subsidy reform in 2014. However, this reflects more a wariness of Sadat's sudden, shock-therapy economics than any genuinely progressive reforms made by Sisi that might both complement subsidy reforms and protect the poor at the same time."

-- Mary Casey

ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images

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