Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

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

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This Week: Syria’s Latest Agreement and a New U.S. Ambassador for Egypt

by Robert M. Danin
May 9, 2014

Residents arrive on foot to inspect their homes in the al-Hamdeya neighborhood, after the cessation of fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Syria's president Bashar al-Assad, in Homs May 9, 2014 (al-Hariri/Courtesy Reuters).


Significant Developments

Syria. Regime forces took complete control of Homs today as part of a deal struck with armed rebels allowing for nearly 1,700 opposition fighters to evacuate the city with light weapons. Hundreds of Homs residents began to filter back into the battered city this morning to discover what remained of their homes. The regime-rebel pact, brokered by the Iranian and Russian ambassadors to Syria, exchanged safe passage for the release of forty Alawite women and children, an Iranian woman, and thirty-one Syrian soldiers, as well as the distribution of aid to two pro-regime villages in Aleppo province.

Egypt. President Barack Obama announced that is nominating Robert Stephen Beecroft, currently the top U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, to serve as the next ambassador to Egypt. Beecroft is to fill the position that has been vacant since Anne Patterson left Cairo in August to head the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. The president also reportedly plans to send Ambassador Stu Jones, currently heading the U.S. embassy in Amman, to Baghdad.

Meanwhile, in the first television interview of former military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s presidential campaign, the former general  said that he had turned down a request last July from Patterson to wait a day or two before overthrowing former President Mohamed Morsi last July. When asked in the interview if the Muslim Brotherhood would cease to exist if he is elected, Sisi responded with, “Yes. That’s right.”

U.S. Foreign Policy

Israel. U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice today reaffirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to Israel saying that, “Every American dollar spent on Israel’s security is an investment in protecting the many interests that our nations share.” She arrived in Israel on Wednesday for talks primarily with Israeli officials on strategic matters. U.S. secretary of defense Chuck Hagel is scheduled to visit Israel next week to discuss Israel’s rocket and missile defenses. Meanwhile, U.S. peace envoy Martin Indyk provided a frank assessment of the suspended Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy last night. Indyk, deploring the lack of urgency on both sides, said that, “It is safe to say that if we, the U.S., are the only party that has a sense of urgency, these negotiations will not succeed.”

Libya. Speaker of the House John Boehner appointed seven Republicans today to the new House select committee to examine the attack on Benghazi on September 11, 2012. The Democratic leadership has not yet decided whether to participate in the committee that was created in a vote yesterday that fell mostly along party lines. Democrats were given five seats on the committee.

Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Syrian Opposition Coalition president Ahmad Jarba yesterday in Washington. Jarba reportedly requested anti-tank weapons, but State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki would only say, “I have nothing to announce in terms of any change in our position.” The United States did announce some new measures to support the Syrian opposition coalition this week, included designating its offices in Washington and New York as “foreign missions” in a symbolic diplomatic upgrade. The Administration also announced its intention to work with Congress to provide an additional $27 million in non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Palestine. Hamas announced on Wednesday that it is allowing Al Quds, the best-selling West Bank newspaper, to be distributed in Gaza for the first time after a six year ban. The step came two days after Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal met in Doha to discuss implementation of the deal. It was the first face-to-face meeting of the two Palestinian leaders since their January 2013 Cairo meeting.

Libya. Libya’s General National Congress elected Ahmed Maetig, a businessman from Misrata, as the country’s new prime minister on Sunday after three contentious rounds of voting. Maetig was immediately sworn in and given two weeks to form a government; however he faces challenges from some members of the parliament who claim that his appointment was “invalid.” If Maetig successfully forms a government, he will become Libya’s fifth prime minister since the Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown in 2011.

Saudi Arabia. Interior Ministry spokesperson Major General Mansour al-Turki said on Tuesday that Saudi security forces had dismantled a terrorist organization and arrested sixty-two suspected members of the group. Al-Turki said that the militants arrested had links with al-Qaeda in Syria and Yemen and were planning attacks in Saudi Arabia.

Lebanon. Maronite patriarch Beshara Rai is reportedly trying to bring together the four main Maronite leaders to agree on one presidential candidate. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Gagea offered to withdraw from Lebanon’s presidential race yesterday, after the Lebanese parliament failed on Wednesday to elect a president for the third time. Fifty-two lawmakers affiliated with the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance boycotted the vote, preventing the two-thirds quorum from gathering. The Lebanese constitution mandates that a new president must be in place before current president Michel Sleiman’s term ends on May 25.

Yemen. Defense Minister Muhammad Nasir Ahmad escaped an assassination attempt today when his convoy was attacked by alleged al-Qaeda militants. Hours later a bomb wounded eleven Yemeni security officials in Sana’a. The attacks come in the midst of a military crack-down on al-Qaeda. On Tuesday, the defense ministry announced that it had seized two al-Qaeda strongholds in the south.

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