The Middle East Channel

Israeli Airstrike on Gaza Kills Three Hamas Commanders

An Israeli airstrike Thursday killed three senior commanders of Hamas's military wing in the southern Gaza town of Rafah. The killing of Mohammed Abu Shamalah, Raed al-Attar, and Mohammed Barhoum followed an apparent assassination attempt on Tuesday night on the group's chief commander, Mohammed Deif. Israeli officials confirmed they targeted Shamalah and Attar, the most senior members of Hamas confirmed killed since 2012, and Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner noted they "have been in our sights for the last 15 years." The men were among at least 19 Palestinians killed on Thursday in the Gaza Strip, according to medics. In a televised address Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would continue would not stop the military campaign "until we secure full security and quiet." Israel reported 243 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza since a temporary cease-fire collapsed on Tuesday.


Pentagon officials said Wednesday that U.S. forces attempted, but failed, to rescue hostages including journalist James Foley, whose beheading was shown in a video released Tuesday, in a secret mission in Syria earlier this summer. U.S. Special Forces and other military personnel, supported by helicopters and planes, dropped into Syria and exchanged fire with Islamic State militants and killed a number of fighters, however they found that the hostages were not there. Officials did not specify exactly when or where the mission took place, but it was the first confirmation of U.S. military operations into Syria. As U.S. airstrikes continue in Iraq, the Obama administration is weighing options to combat Islamic State militants, though U.S. officials say Obama is unlikely to deepen military involvement in Iraq or Syria.


  • Forces loyal to former General Khalifa Heftar clashed with Islamist militias in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi Wednesday killing at least five people.
  • In a blow to President Hassan Rouhani, Iran's parliament voted to dismiss Reza Faraji-Dana, the country's science, research, and technology minister accused of reinstating reformist students and professors.
  • Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will meet Thursday to select Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's successor, with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appearing to be the favorite. 

Arguments and Analysis

'Syria's Disarmament Mirage' (The Wall Street Journal)

"The OPCW is the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Hague -based outfit that has overseen the removal of 1,300 tons of chemical agents from Syria. The organization complained for months that Damascus was slow-rolling the disarmament process as it continued to starve and bomb its enemies into submission. In April the Assad regime began dropping chlorine bombs against civilian targets. Chlorine violates the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined last year as part of the deal that Mr. Obama used to celebrate.

Then there are those 'omissions and discrepancies' cited by the President. We are not privy to the intelligence, but every source we talk to says the Syrians have surely not declared everything in their possession. It's also hard to believe the Administration would underline the defects in its own purported achievement if there weren't serious doubts among U.S. spooks about the completeness of the Syrian declaration."

'Iran is not making a U-turn in Iraq' (Ellie Geranmayeh, European Council on Foreign Relations)

"Iran's policy in Iraq has never been about specific personalities. Iran has generally been open to a more inclusive central government in Iraq, as long as the administration remained Shia-dominated and Tehran-friendly. Unlike in Syria, where it sees Bashar al-Assad as an essential figure, Iran believed that viable alternative candidates existed in Iraq who could both keep the Iraqi state apparatus under control and remain allied to Iran.

Besides the formation of IS, two events particularly influenced Iran's decision to abandon Maliki. First, there was the 'Sistani factor' and the general Shia discontent. Iraq's foremost Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, gave strong warnings that Maliki had lost legitimacy among all Iraqi factions, and Tehran took note of his message. Iran's leaders also paid close attention to the large numbers of defections from Maliki's Shia Dawa party. As long as Maliki had the loyalty of the majority in his own party, Iran remained loyal to him as well. But as this loyalty withered over the last month, so too did Iran's."

'Three things to know about Iraq's Mosul Dam' (Lydia Tomkiw, The Christian Science Monitor)

With the aid of US airstrikes, Kurdish peshmerga fighters seized control Monday of Mosul Dam, which had been held by the Sunni militant Islamic State (IS). Control of the dam is essential to Iraq's energy and water resources; the United Nations considers it the 'most important hydropower station' in the country.

As the Monitor reported, IS has targeted key energy infrastructure in Iraq, including oil fields and water resources, as it expands its territory in Iraq and Syria.

In April, IS fighters captured the Nuaimiyah Dam in Fallujah and cut off water supplies flowing south to a primarily Shiite population. But a UN news agency reported that 'the shutdown also triggered a surge into the Abu Ghraib irrigation channel, causing widespread flooding in an area that is mostly inhabited by Sunnis.' The UN's special representative for Iraq said the damage included the displacement of more than 12,000 families and the flooding of 'hundreds of houses and at least four schools.'" 

-- Mary Casey


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.


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.


  • 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