The Middle East Channel

Obama Authorizes Airstrikes and Aid Drops in Iraq

U.S. President Barack Obama announced Thursday that he has authorized targeted airstrikes and humanitarian aid drops in Iraq. Obama said he has directed the U.S. military to conduct strikes if fighters from the Islamic State advance toward the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil, where U.S. diplomats, military advisors, and other citizens are based. Over the past week, Islamic State fighters have overtaken about six towns in northern Iraq, as well as the Mosul dam, in an offensive that has brought the militants about 30 miles from Erbil. Fighters led by the Islamic State seized the town of Sinjar over the weekend, forcing about 200,000 civilians to flee, trapping about 40,000 members of the minority Yazidi community in the mountains nearby. On Thursday, U.S. planes began dropping food and water on Mount Sinjar, and Obama said he had authorized airstrikes, if necessary, to break the siege. No airstrikes had been conducted by late Thursday, but they would mark the first significant battlefield role for the United States in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011. Obama maintained, however, "As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq."

Syria-Lebanon

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Islamic State fighters seized a Syrian army base in Raqqa, one of the government's last outposts in the northern province, Thursday night. Most of the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front fighters have pulled out from the Lebanese town of Arsal, on the border with Syria, after Sunni Muslim clerics brokered a truce following days of fighting between the militant groups and the Lebanese army. The Lebanese government said it is deploying an additional 12,000 troops to the area. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to Lebanon for the first time in three years saying he intended to oversee a $1 billion Saudi grant to aid the army in addressing security concerns. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch reported that while Jordan has allowed over 607,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict to enter the country, it has denied entrance to Palestinians from Syria, returning over 100 since the beginning of 2013.

Headlines  

  • Israel has resumed strikes on Gaza in response to Palestinian rocket fire after parties failed to negotiate an extension to a 72-hour cease-fire.
  • Libya's new parliament has called for a U.N. supervised cease-fire and has increased its powers to act against warring militias.

Arguments and Analysis

'Not Just Iraq: The Islamic State Is Also on the March in Syria' (Charles Lister, The Huffington Post)

"But the Islamic State is not only making such gains in Iraq. After approximately a year of extremely minimal confrontation with the Syrian government, the Islamic State is now also in the midst of a major offensive against Syrian Arab Army (SAA) facilities in northeastern Syria.

Beginning in mid-July, the Islamic State re-initiated offensive operations against Syrian government targets, beginning with an attack on the Al-Shaer gas field in Homs governorate, which was captured on 17 July, resulting in the death of at least 270 people -- soldiers, security guards, and civilian staff. As well as being a major source of natural gas, the facility was a large military base and the Islamic State is thought to have captured 15 tanks and a vast arsenal of additional light and heavy weaponry from the facility before withdrawing on 26 July."

'Israel: Worlds apart' (John Reed, Financial Times)

"Israel's Operation Protective Edge has stoked a conformist, conservative and frenetically patriotic atmosphere that brooks little dissent. Leftist Israelis liken it to the anticommunist 'red-baiting' of McCarthyism in the US in the early 1950s.

Protests are accepted grudgingly, and in some cases suppressed. Anti-war activists have held demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Haifa and other cities over the past month in which they say police failed to protect them from violent or abusive pro-war demonstrators, and in some case were abusive themselves.

Some have been punched, threatened or taunted with shouts of 'Traitors!' or 'Go to Gaza!' Israeli police arrested 14 protesters last Saturday for staging a demonstration they said was illegal, an assertion the protesters vigorously dispute."

'(In)discriminate language on Gaza' (Evgeny Finkel and Sarah E. Parkinson, The Washington Post)

"Though Marc Lynch recently lamented that political scientists are having ‘the same arguments in the same terms' when it comes to Israel-Palestine, other discourses have evolved. We have spent the weeks since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Gaza tracing shifts in the employment of three related concepts: The distinction between combatants and noncombatants; the difference between discriminate and indiscriminate violence; and genocide. All of these terms have been deployed for years in human rights and activist circles, as well as in the daily lives of millions of Palestinians and Israelis. What is new is the increasingly commonplace usage of these terms in media, political, academic and lay discourse."

-- Mary Casey

SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Mediators Work to Extend Israeli-Palestinian Cease-Fire

Egyptian mediators have continued indirect talks with Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo as a 72-hour cease-fire nears its end. Israel has expressed willingness to extend the truce under its current terms passed the Friday morning deadline. However, one Hamas leader said there has been no agreement on an extension, while another said there would be no extension unless Israel meets some of its demands. The still appear to be wide gaps between the parties with the Palestinians calling for an end to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza, while Israel is pushing for the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. A Palestinian official said he did not expect Hamas to accept Israel's demand that it disarm. Meanwhile, business leaders are assessing the damage in Gaza caused by the four-week conflict, exacerbating already dire economic conditions.

Iraq

Militants led by the Islamic State have continued an offensive in northern Iraq, expanding territorial gains Thursday near the Kurdish region. Kurdish pesh merga forces have been battling over control of towns west of the regional capital of Erbil. The Islamic State reported it had overtaken 15 towns, the Mosul dam, and a military base since the weekend. However, Kurdish officials claim their forces maintain control of the dam. Witnesses reported the predominantly Christian towns of Tilkaif and Al Kwair, as well as Iraq's largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, were seized by militants. The United Nations reported 200,000 people had fled fighting. Tens of thousands of people from the Yazidi community were forced to leave the town of Sinjar as it was seized over the weekend and fled to the surrounding mountains. According to the United Nations, some have been rescued over the past 24 hours, though many are in urgent need of water, food, and medical care.

Headlines  

  • A cease-fire between the Lebanese army and militants in the town of Arsal near the Syrian border has been extended, after fighters freed a number of soldiers, though 22 are believed to be missing.
  • Senior U.S. and Iranian officials will hold nuclear talks in Geneva Thursday after six world powers and Tehran agreed to extend negotiations on a comprehensive agreement until Nov. 24.
  • The Yemeni army has reported it has killed 25 suspected al Qaeda militants in two days of clashes in the city of Seiyoun in Hadramout province.

Arguments and Analysis

'Opposition backers strengthen jihadists by shunning moderate Islamists' (Hassan Hassan, The National)

"A series of events inside the country appears to have put the ball in the opposition backers' court, especially in the Gulf. Earlier this week, 18 of the rebels' major fighting groups issued a statement of unity, called wa'tasimo, or 'work in solidarity'. The signatories represent the rebels' different inclinations, from seculars to religious moderates, and exclude radical groups such as Ahrar Al Sham and Jabhat Al Nusra. What is particularly interesting is that the groups are supported by various backers - namely Saudi Arabia and Qatar - who often pit these groups against each other.

The rivalry among the opposition's backers has undermined the rebels' unity and led to catastrophic infighting. Support for certain moderate groups was conditioned on refusal to include or even work with certain Islamist groups. Some of these moderate groups have received advanced weapons, while other groups have suffered from a policy of financial blockade. This, along with the fighting with the ­Islamic State, is an important factor behind the flaking of large rebel alliances."

'Turkey wakes up to Islamic State threat' (Orhan Kemal Ceniz, Al Monitor)

"Turkey's serious troubles with IS are obviously not only about its citizens held hostage in Mosul but also the threat posed by the organization to the country's security. The impression that Turkey is tolerating IS militants endangers the peace process in Turkey as IS attacks against Syrian and Iraqi Kurds escalate. IS has become a major threat to Turkey's security and stability." 

-- Mary Casey

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images