Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

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

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Middle East Matters This Week: Tragedy in Libya and Regional Unrest

by Robert M. Danin
September 13, 2012

Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, smiles at his home in Tripoli on June 28, 2012 (Al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters).


On a personal note, I send my heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods killed in Benghazi on Tuesday. Chris and I were in the history department together at the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 1980s, and then later worked together for many years at the State Department. We were also neighbors for some years in Washington and had many a chat about California and the Middle East. Chris loved both passionately. He was kind, modest, and handsome, with a disarming, easy going manner and a first-rate mind. He led courageously and gracefully through example. Chris was the best of America, the best of the State Department, and the best of our native California. I am honored to have known him and mourn his death and those of his colleagues.

Significant Middle East Developments

The region. Demonstrations continued today across the Middle East, two days after violence erupted against U.S. diplomatic posts in Egypt and Libya in apparent protests over a movie allegedly defaming the prophet Mohammed. The film, believed to be produced in the U.S., was called “disgusting and reprehensible” today by Secretary of State Clinton. Demonstrators in Yemen today briefly breached the U.S. embassy before being driven back by security forces, while protests emerged in Tunisia, Morocco, the Gaza Strip, Tel Aviv, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan. Further demonstrations are expected region-wide on Friday.

Libya. U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other staffers were killed at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday. Today, Libyan officials announced the arrest of four people for the Benghazi attack that killed Ambassador Stevens, and said that a larger network of people is under surveillance. Wanis al-Sharef, Libya’s deputy interior minister, announced that the militants who carried out the attack are suspected of intentionally choosing the anniversary of 9/11 and of using the civilians protesting the film as cover. The quick action follows immediate condemnation of the attack and the promise of Mohammed Magarief, the head of Libya’s national assembly, to bring justice to the killers. Magarief also apologized, saying “We extend our apology to America, the American people and the whole world.” Several Libyan security personnel were killed while trying to defend the U.S. consulate.

Egypt. Protests that began Tuesday with the storming of the U.S. embassy compound and burning of the U.S. flag turned more violent today in Tahrir Square as demonstrators wielding rocks and Molotov cocktails clashed with security forces armed with tear gas.  In stark contrast to the Libyan government’s response, Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi gave a televised address today in which he expressed support for peaceful protests and emphasized the need for legal measures regarding the offensive film. His statement also included a lackluster pledge to protect foreigners and embassies. The U.S. embassy’s usual strict security perimeter appeared abandoned on Tuesday when the mob of protesters first descended. Morsi’s first response to the protests that have raged since Tuesday afternoon came late on Wednesday in a Facebook post where he mainly denounced the film. The Muslim Brotherhood meanwhile has called for nationwide protests on Friday to “denounce offenses to religion and to the Prophet” encouraging “all national forces” to participate.

Israel-Iran. President Obama and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu held an hour-long phone conversation Tuesday night after Netanyahu indirectly criticized Secretary Clinton’s statements that the United States was “not setting deadlines” regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu’s comments were followed by reports from Jerusalem that Obama had refused Israeli requests to meet Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly in New York later this month. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor denied that there were any disagreements, saying that there would be no meeting due to scheduling issues since “they’re simply not in the city at the same time.” Meanwhile the thirty-five nation board of the IAEA passed a resolution today rebuking Iran for not taking actions to diminish concerns over its nuclear program. Yukiya Amano, the IAEA chief, had expressed his frustration with Iran on Monday when he said “We need to stop going around in circles.”

Quotes of the Week

“I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.” – President Barak Obama said in an interview with Telemundo aired by MSNBC on Wednesday

“There were mishaps. There were things I regret, a lot of blabbering and chattering that I would have been happy to have avoided…This is one of those issues about which a measure of restraint must be shown, because this battle is serious, it’s being conducted in a serious fashion and it will continue to be so.” – Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor told the Knesset on Wednesday regarding recent developments in U.S.-Israel relations over Iran’s nuclear program

“I am the first to be held responsible for the situation in the West Bank, and Fayyad is part of the Palestinian Authority…He should not be held fully responsible.” – Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas at a news conference in Ramallah on Saturday

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

West Bank. Palestinian activists have called for mass protests on Friday to abrogate the Oslo Accords and the 1994 Paris Protocol governing economic relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, two major unions suspended their protests until Sunday to give dialogue with the PA a chance. The protests erupted over a week ago and were initially sparked by rising fuel prices and the PA’s inability to pay salaries. However, the protests turned violent on Monday, when protesters burned tires and threw rocks at police officers. In attempts to curb the crisis, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad announced on Tuesday cuts to taxes and fuel prices. Israel also announced on Wednesday that it will expedite the transfer of fifty-seven million dollars in tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority.

Iraq. An Iraqi court sentenced Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a prominent Sunni Muslim politician, to death on Sunday. Hashimi, who is currently in Turkey, denounced the sentence, calling it politically inspired. President Jalal Talabani expressed his regrets about the sentence, saying that it could “complicate efforts to achieve national reconciliation” between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq. The sentence came on the same day as a wave of bombings and shootings that have killed at least one hundred people.

Syria. The new United Nations-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, arrived in Damascus today for his first official visit in his new post. Kristalina Georgieva, the EU humanitarian chief, said on Tuesday that regime forces and rebels are committing an increasing number of humanitarian violations. Syrian rebels killed at least eighteen regime soldiers on Wednesday in the northwest town of Saraqeb, and regime soldiers are thought to have killed over one hundred and thirty people on Tuesday. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke at the UN Human Rights Council on Monday and called for all war criminals in Syria to be brought to justice.

This Week in History

This week marks the ninth anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords. On this date nine years ago, Israeli and PLO officials signed the historic agreement on the White House lawn. My colleague Jim Lindsay discusses those negotiations and why they failed to produce a lasting peace on his blog, The Water’s Edge in a new installment of  History Lessons. You can read the blog here and watch the video of “History Lessons” here.

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Marc-André

    In the past days, some government rpresentant announced this could be an organized attack from Al quaida, and some other extremist groups. Do you believe this is an excuse to make sure the bounds between america and middle-east remain stable and to make sure public opinion doesn’t get angry at the whole islam community (instead of a restrained group of extremists and terrorists)?

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