The Middle East Channel

Hamas Says Israeli Strike Killed Wife and Son of Military Leader

Hamas said an Israeli airstrike has killed the wife and young son of the group's military commander, Mohammed Deif. The Israeli military would not confirm if it targeted the leader of Hamas's military wing, or his family, however Deif has been the target of previous Israeli assassination attempts and he was threatened by Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid in July. Israeli airstrikes resumed on Tuesday in response to rocket fire from Gaza, breaking a temporary cease-fire and causing Israeli and Palestinian delegates to abandon indirect talks in Cairo. The Israeli military carried out around 60 strikes on the Gaza Strip, which reportedly killed 11 Palestinians. Additionally, Israel said 80 rockets had been fired into its territory.

Syria-Iraq

The Islamic State released a video Tuesday purporting to show militants beheading U.S. photojournalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria in November 2012. The authenticity of the video, titled "A Message to America," has not yet been verified. In the video, an Islamic State militant, speaking English with what seemed to be a British accent, said Foley's execution was in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. Additionally, the fighter threatened to kill another U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff, who appeared to be kneeling alongside Foley. Sotloff went missing while covering the conflict in July 2013 in northern Syria. Facing a growing threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday called for an international conference to discuss a global strategy to fight the militant group.

Headlines

  • Yemeni security forces deployed in the capital Sanaa Tuesday facing tens of thousands of protesters including Houthi supporters calling for the resignation of the government.
  • An Iraqi army offensive to retake the city of Tikrit from Islamic State militants has seemingly stalled meanwhile Iraqi and Kurdish forces scuffled near the Mosul Dam.

Arguments and Analysis

'Trouble is brewing' (P.S., The Economist)

"Appearing on the Houthis' Al Masira television channel, Abdelmalek al-Houthi, the Houthis' leader, demanded that President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi reverse a decision taken in July to remove subsidies, which hit Yemen's poor, who amount to a half of the population. Second, he demanded the president dissolve the country's 'corrupt' government in favour of a more representative body. Mr Houthi wants cabinet posts to be divvied up between Yemen's various groups in the same proportions as representation at Yemen's National Dialogue, a ten-month series of peace talks that ended in January. Houthi representatives made up 6% of attendees. 

Mr Houthi threatens to take 'measures' if their demands are not met by August 22nd-likely a campaign of civil disobedience such as sit-ins in front of government buildings in Sana'a. In a first demonstration of the group's ability to mobilise unhappy Yemenis, on August 18th at least 10,000 people flooded into Sana'a's 'Change Square', a central square that was set up as a protest camp during the 2011 uprising that ousted the former president, Ali Abdullah al-Saleh. 'We need a government of technocrats, for the people,' says Hamid Abdullah Hindawn, 50, a supporter from Sana'a."

'Syria in Revolt' (Sadik J. Al-Azm, Boston Review)

"I was surprised by the revolution, but I should not have been. Daily experiences and recurrent observations foretold a crisis that many Syrians tried hard to deny. And deny we did. Let me explain.

After the violent suppression of the Damascus Spring in 2001-2002 and again after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut in 2005, which led to the humiliating withdrawal of Assad's troops from Lebanon, angst spread throughout Syria. I was working in Damascus, where the trepidation was especially pronounced. The country, it seemed, was teetering on the edge of an abyss."

'In Egypt, Religion Remains a Vital Political Tool' (Johannes A. Makar, Atlantic Council)

"It was a familiar sight: the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, Ahmed at-Tayyeb, and the Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, side-by-side as General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the ousting of Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013. Front seats were granted to the two grey-bearded clerics who had donned their customary robes for the occasion. Since the founding of the Republic of Egypt in 1952, the Church and al-Azhar have often joined efforts with the state authorities. This time another, pious actor befriended the triad: the-Salafist Nour Party. With Egypt then standing on the verge of entering a new adventure, the formation of this curious alliance suggested that religion as a political instrument would not perish."

-- Mary Casey

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Iraqi Forces Advance on Tikrit After Troops Seize Mosul Dam

U.S. President Barack Obama announced that Kurdish and Iraqi forces, with the support of U.S. airstrikes, had made "important progress" reclaiming the Mosul Dam from Islamic State militants on Monday. Obama said the U.S. military will continue limited missions in Iraq and he committed to providing humanitarian aid to Iraqis. However, he stressed the need for the process of forming Iraq's new government under Haider al-Abadi to be inclusive, legitimate, and credible. A day after overtaking the Mosul dam, Iraqi forces launched an offensive against Islamic State fighters in and around the city of Tikrit, which the militants seized in June. Meanwhile, the United Nations has launched a major humanitarian aid operation to deliver food and supplies to over half a million people displaced by violence in northern Iraq.

Syria

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has formally barred all U.S. airlines from flying over Syria due to the ongoing conflict. The FAA said the decision was made after an updated risk assessment concerning extremist groups that are "known to be equipped with a variety of antiaircraft weapons which have the capability to threaten civilian aircraft." Additionally, the United States reported it had completed the neutralization of Syria's worst chemical weapons that were delivered to the U.S. ship, the Cape Ray.

Headlines

  • Israeli and Palestinian officials have agreed to a 24-hour cease-fire extension to continue talks in Cairo meanwhile Israel has accused West Bank Hamas cells of plotting a coup to oust Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
  • A Kurdish protester was killed in southeastern Turkey in clashes with security forces who were removing a statue of Mahsum Korkmaz, a founder of the Kurdistan Workers' Party.
  • Unidentified militiamen fired rockets into two affluent districts of Tripoli early Tuesday pushing fighting closer to the center of Libya's capital.
  • Saudi Arabia executed four men convicted of smuggling cannabis bringing the total number of executions in the kingdom to 17 over the past two weeks.
  • Turkish authorities detained 25 more police officers in an investigation into the illegal wiretapping of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdgoan.

Arguments and Analysis

'Why Maliki's ouster is no magic bullet for Iraq' (Michael Wahid Hanna, Al Jazeera America)

"Much of the recent media conversation about the rapid territorial gains of the Islamic State (IS) focused on Maliki, as if he had been the key obstacle to the achievement of a new Iraqi national consensus that could turn the tide against the extremists. Maliki's sectarian, authoritarian and paranoid tendencies as well as his growing incompetence have certainly exacerbated the country's chronic political and security maladies and rendered him a toxic figure among Iraq's domestic and foreign stakeholders. And the impending transfer of power from one Shia prime minister of the Da'wa party to another, Haider el-Abadi, avoids the potential for a major disruption among Iraq's democratic institutions.

But redistributing authority in Baghdad is unlikely to have a significant impact on either the motivations or the capabilities of the IS. Despite the now hackneyed truism that there is no military solution to Iraq's current crisis, it is equally clear that a significant military campaign will be necessary for Iraq to reverse the gains of the IS."

'Israel and the Demise of "Mowing the Grass"' (T.X. Hammes, War on the Rocks)

"In short, technological advances offer Hamas the opportunity to shift from a terror strategy to a military strategy that focuses on Israeli security forces. This will place even more pressure on Israel over the proportionality of its response. The issue did not surface until it became apparent that disproportionate numbers of Palestinian civilians were being killed at a time when the threat to Israeli civilians was at a minimum. During the recent conflict, Israel could legitimately claim that its technical and tactical proficiency was what reduced the Israeli civilian casualties - and point to the continuing Palestinian efforts to fire rockets at civilian areas. It will be much more difficult for Israel to justify its actions against Palestinian civilians if Hamas focuses its attacks on Israeli security forces. Furthermore, if Hamas focuses on the personnel and facilities that enforce Israel's blockade, it can argue that its actions are directly focused on improving the lives of Palestinian civilians. It is much more difficult for Israel to insist that the blockade is a security rather than a punitive measure given that Hamas has smuggled in materials to build thousands of rockets as well as miles of tunnels. Since the blockade has clearly failed to prevent the infiltration of weapons, can the enormous humanitarian cost to the Palestinian people be justified?"

-- Mary Casey

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images