Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

Danin analyzes critical developments and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

Hamas Breaks From Syria

by Robert M. Danin Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Syria's president Bashar al-Assad shakes hands and welcomes Hamas leader Khaled Meshal before a meeting in Damascus on January 24, 2009—three years before Meshal would break with the former (Courtesy Reuters). Syria's president Bashar al-Assad shakes hands and welcomes Hamas leader Khaled Meshal before a meeting in Damascus on January 24, 2009—three years before Meshal would break with the former (Courtesy Reuters).

While the “Friends of Syria” were meeting in Tunis last week, Hamas was separately taking its own steps to disavow the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. In a significant move, Hamas officials announced last Friday—in Egypt as well as in Gaza—its break with the Assad regime. Hamas’ strategic realignment affects the Middle East chessboard, both regionally and within Palestinian politics. Read more »

Middle East Matters This Week: Hamas, “Friends” Line up Against Syria’s Assad

by Robert M. Danin Friday, February 24, 2012
Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu confers with United Arab Emirates' foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan during the “Friends of Syria” conference in Tunis on February 24, 2012 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu confers with United Arab Emirates' foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan during the “Friends of Syria” conference in Tunis on February 24, 2012 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Middle East Developments

Hamas. Hamas officials announced today a break with long-time ally Syrian president Assad. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told a crowd of thousands at Cairo’s al-Azhar Mosque: “I salute all the nations of the Arab Spring and I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy, and reform.” The announcement indicates a dramatic shift in alignment for the organization that until recently had been headquartered in Damascus. Read more »

The “Friends of Syria” Tunis Meeting

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, February 23, 2012
Foreign Ministers Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa of Bahrain, Prince Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey pose for a group photo during the fourth ministerial meeting of Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Istanbul on January 28, 2012 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Foreign Ministers Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa of Bahrain, Prince Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey pose for a group photo during the fourth ministerial meeting of Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Istanbul on January 28, 2012 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

A new chapter in the struggle for Syria opens on Friday with the meeting of some seventy foreign ministers and senior officials in Tunis. Having dabbled episodically with President Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless bloodshed against the Syrian people, the first meeting of the “Friends of Syria” signifies the solid placement of this issue at the top of the international agenda. Read more »

Charting a Course for the United States Toward Syria

by Robert M. Danin Tuesday, February 21, 2012
U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov look up during a signing ceremony at the State Department in Washington on July 13, 2011 (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov look up during a signing ceremony at the State Department in Washington on July 13, 2011 (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters).

Syria continues to heat up both domestically and internationally. Anti-government demonstrations finally reached the heart of Damascus Saturday as thousands of protesters marched through the Mezze district located in the foothills beneath President Assad’s palace. It was the largest demonstration in the capital since Syrian protests erupted nearly a year ago. Read more »

Middle East Matters This Week: Renewed International Efforts on Iran and Syria

by Robert M. Danin Friday, February 17, 2012
Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attends an unveiling ceremony for new nuclear projects in Tehran on February 15, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters). Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attends an unveiling ceremony for new nuclear projects in Tehran on February 15, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Middle East Developments

Syria. The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a new resolution Thursday calling for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to end the brutal attacks on the Syrian people. Initial vote counts indicate the resolution received 137 votes in favor, twelve against, and seventeen abstentions. The vote came as the Syrian military stepped up its assault against opposition strongholds, including severe bombardments of Homs, Hama, and Deraa. Read more »

The Arab League Doubles Down Against Bashar

by Robert M. Danin Monday, February 13, 2012
An empty chair for Syria is seen during the Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on February 12, 2012.Arab states will end an Arab observer mission to Syria and call on the UN Security Council to send an international peacekeeping force to end violence there (Mohammed Salem/Courtesy Reuters). An empty chair for Syria is seen during the Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on February 12, 2012.Arab states will end an Arab observer mission to Syria and call on the UN Security Council to send an international peacekeeping force to end violence there (Mohammed Salem/Courtesy Reuters).

The Arab League’s moves against Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime yesterday are striking, coming on the heels of Russia and China’s veto of a Security Council resolution condemning Syria the week before. Rather than back down in light of the international community’s failure to condemn Syria, the Arab League called for even more robust action and backed it up with measures—some symbolic, some tangible—that will increase Syria’s regional isolation and ratchet up the diplomatic pressure on Damascus. Three elements of the Arab League’s call yesterday are noteworthy: Read more »

Middle East Matters This Week: Palestinian Unity and Syria’s Disunity

by Robert M. Danin Friday, February 10, 2012
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal walk with Qatar's emir sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani as they arrive to sign an agreement in Doha on February 6, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters). Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal walk with Qatar's emir sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani as they arrive to sign an agreement in Doha on February 6, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Middle East Developments

Syria. Russia and China vetoed an Arab and Western-backed resolution at the UN Security Council last Saturday following a flurry of negotiations. Russia succeeded in watering down the text of the resolution, only to then vote against it. (I offer a proposal for engaging the Russians in a ‘grand bargain’ as the international community considers more robust means to halt the bloodshed in Syria, which is available here.) Read more »

Diplomatic Long Shot Over Syria: Engage Moscow?

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, February 9, 2012
Russian ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin speaks to media after a UN Security Council meeting to discuss a European-Arab draft resolution endorsing an Arab League plan calling for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to give up power in New York on February 4, 2012 (Allison Joyce/Courtesy Reuters). Russian ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin speaks to media after a UN Security Council meeting to discuss a European-Arab draft resolution endorsing an Arab League plan calling for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to give up power in New York on February 4, 2012 (Allison Joyce/Courtesy Reuters).

Russia’s veto of the UN Security Council resolution and Foreign Minister Lavrov’s subsequent Damascus visit this week have positioned, if not isolated, Russia alongside Iran against Arab, Western, and indeed international consensus opposing Bashar al-Assad’s barbarism. Buried within the headlines on last Saturday’s vote was the fact that both India and South Africa voted for the resolution condemning Syria. Yes China voted alongside Russia. But Beijing did not subsequently dispatch its foreign minister to Damascus in an effort to find a way to keep Mr. Assad in power. Russia is clearly in a diplomatic place it would rather not be. Read more »

The Doha Palestinian Unity Agreement: Now the Hard Part

by Robert M. Danin Monday, February 6, 2012
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal sit on either side of Qatar's emir sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani during a meeting to sign an agreement in Doha on February 6, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters). Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal sit on either side of Qatar's emir sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani during a meeting to sign an agreement in Doha on February 6, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters).

Today’s Fatah-Hamas unity agreement announced in Doha marks the latest in a series of unimplemented accords between the two Palestinian adversaries. The two sides announced—again—their intention to unify their efforts and form an independent caretaker government to shepherd the Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza to new elections. In an innovation that apparently violates the Palestinian Basic Law, the two sides agreed that Mahmoud Abbas would serve as both president and prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Recall, the PA’s prime minister position was established in 2003 and Abbas was appointed to that post to reduce the absolute powers of the presidency, then in Yassir Arafat’s hands. Ironically, it is now Abbas as president who is seeking to claim back what he once tried to take away. Read more »

Middle East Matters This Week: Syria, Egypt, Algeria, and More

by Robert M. Danin Friday, February 3, 2012
U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton confers with British foreign minister William Hague before a UN Security Council meeting at the United Nations in New York on January 31, 2012 (Mike Segar/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton confers with British foreign minister William Hague before a UN Security Council meeting at the United Nations in New York on January 31, 2012 (Mike Segar/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Middle East Developments

Syria. Diplomatic activity shifted to New York with foreign ministers, including Secretary of State Clinton, convening on Tuesday at the UN Security Council in attempts to forge a consensus over next steps to address the Syrian crisis. Russia declared its intent to veto any resolution that explicitly calls for regime change, sanctions, or an arms embargo. Read more »