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: Iraq and Syria’s Caliphate, Israel and Palestine’s Violence

by Robert M. Danin
July 3, 2014

A militant Islamist fighter in Ra’qqa province celebrates the declaration of an Islamic "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria on June 30, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). A militant Islamist fighter in Ra’qqa province celebrates the declaration of an Islamic "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria on June 30, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Iraq. Saudi state news agency SPA announced today the deployment of 30,000 Saudi Arabian troops to the country’s border with Iraq. The move followed the reported removal of Iraqi troops from their shared border; officials in Baghdad denied their troops had withdrawn. On Sunday, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) announced the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in their newly conquered territory.  ISIS then changed its name to “The Islamic State” and proclaimed its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as caliph—the head of the new state. In a video posted online Tuesday, Baghdadi called upon Muslims worldwide to take up arms and join the caliphate.

In Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced in a television address that fighting the Iraq’s insurgency took precedence over reconciling differences amongst the country’s political factions. Parliament was adjourned Tuesday when Sunnis and Kurds did not return to the session after a recess, citing Shiite members’ failure to select a new prime minister. The Shiite bloc has not agreed to endorse Maliki for a third term or to nominate an alternative. Meanwhile, Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdish region, asked the region’s parliament to prepare for a referendum on Kurdish independence. Barzani did not offer a timetable for the proposed referendum.

Israel-Palestine. Israeli forces conducted 15 air strikes on Gaza last night after Palestinian militants fired over 30 rockets into Israel over the past 24 hours. The Israeli army today initiated a limited deployment of troops to the border with Gaza. The latest escalation of violence follows the abduction and killing of a Palestinian teenager in East Jerusalem yesterday and the discovery on Monday of the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli Yeshiva students missing since June 12. Israeli Authorities have yet to confirm the details behind the death of the Palestinian teenager, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, which is suspected of being a revenge killing. Residents of Khdeir’s Jerusalem neighborhood took to the streets following the discovery of his body, throwing stones and firebombs at police.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu convened the Security Cabinet for a third evening yesterday, and urged police to “swiftly investigate who was behind the loathsome murder” of Khdeir while calling on citizens to refrain from taking the law “into their own hands.” Hamas’ leader Khaled Meshaal yesterday denied that his organization was responsible for the killing of the three Israeli youth and appealed to Turkey to intervene and deescalate the crisis with Israel.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Iran. In an op-ed article published in the Washington Post Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the July 20 deadline on P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran is fast approaching, and accused the Iranians of demonstrating no clear willingness to make concessions necessary to reach an agreement with the United States. Kerry said the choice rests with the Iranians, should they agree to the West’s demands, or “squander a historic opportunity” to end the tough sanctions that have inhibited the country’s economy for years. The final round in the months-long negotiations opened  yesterday in Vienna, where Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif met with Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Talks are expected to continue non-stop for the next three weeks.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Turkey. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Tuesday his candidacy for the country’s presidential race next month. The vote, on August 10, will be Turkey’s first direct presidential election; previously, parliament chose the country’s leader. Erdogan, who has been prime minister since 2003, is running against Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, former Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party, the People’s Democratic Party. If no candidate wins at least 50 percent of the vote, there will be a second round of elections on August 24.

Lebanon. Parliament speaker Nabih Berri postponed presidential elections for the eighth time yesterday when parliament failed to reach a quorum for the vote. Both Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam were not in parliament at the time. The vote is now scheduled for July 23. Parliament member and presidential hopeful Michel Aoun told a news conference on Monday that the constitution should be amended to allow for a two-round popular presidential election. Aoun’s proposal reportedly aims to prevent further political gridlock by having only Christian citizens vote in the first round, to be followed by a national election of that round’s top two vote winners. The Lebanese army conducted a series of raids yesterday following a string of terrorist attacks in Tripoli this week. Four men were wounded in a grenade attack on a Tripoli café yesterday and a roadside charge exploded near an army patrol on Tuesday.

Egypt. Egyptian police arrested four members of the Sinai-based Ansar Beit al-Maqdis yesterday in connection to bomb blasts that killed two police officers Monday and wounded ten others outside the presidential palace in Cairo. The arrests came after another group, Ajnad Misr, warned civilians days before to stay away from certain areas where it had planted bombs to target security forces.  Meanwhile, a criminal court sentenced Abdullah Morsi, son of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, to a year in prison on drug possession and consumption charges yesterday on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the military’s removal of his father from office.

Kuwait. Thousands of protestors took to the streets in Kuwait last night following a court decision  to hold prominent opposition leader and former parliament member Musallam al-Barrak, for 10 days after questioning him for insulting the judiciary. Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd, which had marched from Barrak’s house to the jail where he is being detained, demanding his release. Barrak, who was the longest serving member of parliament, has been active in calling for political reform and an end to corruption in Kuwait.

Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia announced Tuesday $500 million in humanitarian aid that will be delivered through the United Nations to address the growing Iraqi refugee crisis caused by the country’s recent insurgency and violence.

Tunisia. Four soldiers were killed in a landmine explosion in Tunisia’s Kef region yesterday while destroying the hideaway of a terrorist group. The explosion came a day after a roadside bomb wounded six Tunisian security officers on the Algerian border Tuesday.  Meanwhile, two employees of the Tunisian embassy in Tripoli, Libya were released Sunday after having been kidnapped in March and April of this year.

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  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    In the recently released “Renewed Conflict in Lebanon: Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 22,” author: Mona Yacoubian, Senior Adviser, Middle East Program, Stimson Center, observes rather understatedly: ” Some might argue that the United States should now seek to set terms that will break the ongoing stalemate, including conceivably dropping the precondition that would require President Assad to resign early in the dialogue process.”

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