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: Israel-Hamas Fighting Intensifies and Islamists capture Benghazi

by Robert M. Danin
July 31, 2014

Palestinians collect the remains of bodies at a United Nation-run school sheltering Palestinians displaced by an Israeli ground offensive, that witnesses said was hit by Israeli shelling, in Jebalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip July 30, 2014 (Salem/Courtesy Reuters). Palestinians collect the remains of bodies at a United Nation-run school sheltering Palestinians displaced by an Israeli ground offensive, that witnesses said was hit by Israeli shelling, in Jebalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip July 30, 2014 (Salem/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Israel-Hamas. The Israeli government ordered the call up of 16,000 additional reserve soldiers today in the fourth week of Hamas-Israeli fighting in Gaza. A joint Fatah-Hamas delegation reportedly arrived in Cairo this morning to discuss possible cease-fire agreements with Egyptian officials. A small Israeli delegation arrived in Cairo yesterday for similar discussions. So far, some 1,360 Palestinians and 59 Israelis have died as a result of Hamas-Israel fighting which shows no sign of abating. For more on the Obama administration and the Gaza crisis, see the U.S. Foreign Policy section below.

Libya. Ansar al-Sharia, Libya’s Islamist militia group, announced that it had captured Benghazi last night and declared an “Islamic Emirate” there. Khalifa Hiftar, the former army general who earlier this year launched a campaign to clear the city of Islamist militants, denied the claims. A coalition of Islamist fighters and rebel militiamen seized the Libyan army’s main base in Benghazi on Tuesday, following a fight that killed at least 30 and led Libyan special forces to flee the camp. Militias fighting for control of Tripoli’s airport yesterday agreed to a two-hour ceasefire to allow firefighters to quell the growing blaze at a nearby fuel depot. Two fuel tankers at the depot had been hit over the weekend. French, British, German, and American nationals were evacuated from Libya this week while thousands of Libyans fled to neighboring Tunisia amid the intensified fighting.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Israel. The White House today condemned the recent shelling of a UN school in Gaza, calling it “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible.” White House officials said that there was little doubt that Israeli artillery had hit the United Nations school in Gaza that killed 16 Palestinians and injured many more. The United States also condemned those responsible for hiding weapons in UN facilities in Gaza. President Barack Obama called Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday and, according to the White House readout of the call, “made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement.” The call also followed strong U.S.-Israeli recriminations over Secretary of State Kerry’s draft peace proposal last week. Meanwhile, the Pentagon confirmed that the U.S. Defense Department resupplied Israel’s stock of ammunition from its War Reserve Stockpile in Israel. On Sunday, the United States backed a UN Security Council presidential statement calling for an “immediate and unconditional cease-fire.”

Syria. Moner Mohammad Abusalha, the American who carried out a suicide bombing in Syria in May, returned to the United States after training with the al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra Front, the New York Times reported today. A video released on Monday by al-Nusra shows Abusalha declaring “You think that you killed Osama bin Laden. You did nothing. You sent him to [heaven].” U.S. and European officials expressed concern about the training and possible return home of thousands of their radicalized citizens from Syria.

Human Rights Watch accused the Syrian regime yesterday of continuing to indiscriminately target civilians with high explosive barrel bombs. In February, the UN Security Council passed a resolution in February ordering all parties to halt the use of such explosives. Meanwhile, the Islamic Front claimed responsibility for bombings in Aleppo tunnels on Tuesday night that killed at least 13 government soldiers.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced plans yesterday to allocate $858 million to aid Iraqi citizens internally displaced by the offensive waged by the Islamic State. Pentagon officials yesterday confirmed approval of a $700 million deal to send an additional 5,000 Hellfire missiles to Iraq to help the government fight the insurgency. Meanwhile, Maliki’s own party, Dawa, began discussions on possible alternative ministers on Sunday, after issuing a statement on Saturday urging politicians not to cling to their offices.

Yemen. Protests broke out in Yemen yesterday following the government’s announcement of a decision to raise fuel prices. The move to ease energy related government subsidies came in response to IMF pressure in loan discussions. Yemen reportedly spent about $3 billion on energy subsidies last year, nearly a third of state revenue.

Tunisia. Defense Ministry officials confirmed yesterday the resignation of General Mohammed Salah al-Hamedi, commander of the army’s land forces. Hamedi submitted his resignation on July 23, less than a week after two attacks by militants on army checkpoints, which killed 15 soldiers. The Tunisian military has been fighting al-Qaeda linked militants in the country for months.

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by Writt Woodson

    Donald Rumsfeld got rid of Saddam Hussein as per Operation Iraqi Freedom. Iraq no longer exists. The Middle East is filled with terror and terrorism. Obama bombed Libya to get rid of Gaddafi. Enter jihadist control. Obama said that Assad had to go. Enter the Islamic State.
    The thing that bothers me most is that the U.S. takes my tax money to bankroll the genocide in Gaza. I have never knowingly met a Palestinian. But I know that Andrew Jackson, Hitler and Netanyahu are/were of the same ilk. Jackson violated a U S Supreme Court decision. Israel violates U N 242. There wasn’t anything that Hitler didn’t violate, but you can’t get lower than genocide.

  • Posted by Writt Woodson

    Author Robin Wright appeared on Meet the Press on Aug. 10 and was allowed to present a few truths to the viewing public before being cut off in mid-sentence. She noted that Al Qaeda was not in Iraq before the 2003 US invasion and Hezbollah was not in Lebanon before Israel’s invasion (1982). The American public rarely hears truthful accounts. —So this account will further the account in the same direction, as if Wright had not been interrupted. Except that the account is mine. —Hezbollah in fact did not exist before 1982. In 1982 2,000 innocent Shiites were massacred in the Lebanon. It is called the Sabra and Shatila massacres. There was at that time no entity in Lebanon that would protect Shiite lives. If Hezbollah was established to protect Shiites from additional massacres, so be it. — Wright was interrupted by another panelist who pointed out that the 9/11 attacks preceded the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Absolutely. But when the 9/11 attacks occurred the US had troops in Saudi Arabia, left there after the Gulf War. Some or most of the 9/11 attackers were Saudi. It should not take 1400 years of contemplation to understand a point of view held by one billion people. In fact those troops were there when the 1996 Khobar Towers explosion happened. Troops were pulled out of Saudi Arabia in 2003. — I will digress to my personal experience. When 19 of our men were killed at Khobar Towers (500 injured) I was completely disgusted. I thought it was horrible. When the second plane hit the World Trade Center I immediately knew what had happened. I’m not proud of it, but at that point I was numb – detached. I was devoid of sympathy. — A finer point here – We should have pushed Saddam out of Kuwait, BUT we should have taken our troops out of Saudi Arabia immediately after that. — So the US keeps thinking that bombs, troops and invasions will set the ME on the proper course. And the extremism keeps getting more extreme. Iraq is a failed state. Syria. Libya. Egypt is next. Which was the smartest move, getting rid of Saddam, Morsi or Gaddafi? I think the dumbest move was ignoring the Khobar Towers explosion.. For some reason it is still painful for me to think about it, although I did not know anyone killed there . The rest just makes me angry about the obvious futility of modern Crusades.

  • Posted by Daud R Matthews

    Israel will not talk to Hamas presumably because Hamas denies the right of Israel to exist.
    However…
    By Israel not agreeing to 1967 borders for a Palestinian State or even to the existence of a Palestinian State (mandated by the “creation” of the State of Israel) doesn’t this imply that Israel does not accept the existence of Palestinians let alone a Palestinian State and still looks for Greater Israel?
    By the same argument, why should Hamas (Palestinians) talk to Israel?
    P.S. Whenever these Israeli-Palestinian conflicts break ouit the US and UK should be asked to publish details of arms sales/gifts to Israel for the past year, the request should come from the UN in my opinion and should be mandatory..

  • Posted by PAUL MARTIN

    The facts are incorrect. Just read the Wikipedia entry for Sabra and Chatila massacre and you will see that they were two camps for Palestinians (not Shia).

    “Sabra and Shatila massacre. September 16, 1982 West Beirut. 762-3500. Numbers are disputed. Sabra and Shatila were Palestinian refugee camps.”

    Then there was another clash in the same camps, in which a Shia militia killed Palestinians:

    “War of the Camps. May 1985. West Beirut. 3,781 dead and 6,787 injured. Sabra, Shatila and Burj el-Barajneh. Palestinian refugee camps were besieged by the Shi’ite Amal militia. Some activity occurred after May 1985.”

  • Posted by PAUL MARTIN

    A hugely informative blog by Robert Danin, as usual. But sometimes the Posts by those who wish to comment do not, alas, meet the same standard of accuracy.

    A key ‘fact’ posted by Writt Woodson to explain the rise of Hezbollah is incorrect. The massacre by Christian militiamen of the inhabitants of Sabra and Shatila was conducted against PalestiniansA hugely informative blog by Robert Danin, as usual. But sometimes the Posts by those who wish to comment do not, alas, meet the same standard of accuracy.

    A key ‘fact’ posted by Writt Woodson to explain the rise of Hezbollah is incorrect. The massacre by Christian militiamen of the inhabitants of Sabra and Shatila was conducted against Palestinians not Shia, though there may well have been some living in what was designated as Palestinian refugee camps. Please refer, for example, to Wikipedia’s rather depressing entry about massacres in Lebanon. “Sabra and Shatila massacre. September 16, 1982. West Beirut. 762-3500. Numbers are disputed. Sabra and Shatila were Palestinian refugee camps.”

    There was another clash in the same camps, in which a Shia militia killed Palestinians:

    “War of the Camps. May 1985. West Beirut. 3,781 dead and 6,787 injured. Sabra, Shatila and Burj el-Barajneh. Palestinian refugee camps were besieged by the Shi’ite Amal militia. Some activity occurred after May 1985.” This massacre, conducted by Shia from Amal, would appear to show that even a year later Amal was well equipped to look after what it considered to be the interests of the Shia.

    Also, I recall personally hearing US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, very soon after the 2003 war in Iraq, telling troops at the Allied headquarters in Qatar that the US, by mutual agreement, was closing its airbase in Saudi Arabia. I was there, as a foreign correspondent for a US and a British newspaper. That (shall we say?) lapse of memory by Writt Woodson does not alter the fact that, yes, Osama bin Laden had been incensed by the US military presence in a country whose leader declares himself the Custodian of the Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina.
    not Shi’a, though there may well have been some living in what was designated as Palestinian refugee camps. Please refer, for example, to Wikipedia’s rather depressing entry about massacres in Lebanon. “Sabra and Shatila massacre. September 16, 1982. West Beirut. 762-3500. Numbers are disputed. Sabra and Shatila were Palestinian refugee camps.”

    There was another massacre in the same camps, in which Palestinians were killed – this time by a Shi’a militia:

    “War of the Camps. May 1985. West Beirut. 3,781 dead and 6,787 injured. Sabra, Shatila and Burj el-Barajneh. Palestinian refugee camps were besieged by the Shi’ite Amal militia. Some activity occurred after May 1985.”

    This massacre, conducted by Shia from Amal, would appear to show that even a year later Amal was well equipped to look after what it considered to be the interests of the Shia.

    Also, I recall personally hearing US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, very soon after the 2003 war in Iraq, telling troops at the Allied headquarters in Qatar that the US, by mutual agreement, was closing its airbase in Saudi Arabia. I was there, as a foreign correspondent for a US and a British newspaper. That (shall we say?) lapse of memory by Writt Woodson does not alter the fact that, yes, Osama bin Laden had been incensed by the US military presence in a country whose leader declares himself the Custodian of the Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina.

  • Posted by PAUL MARTIN

    (Dear readers, Please excuse the typographical mess of the previous two attempts to Post. Read this one instead. I usually write articles and do not post – but for so fine a Blog as Robert Danin’s I am making an exception!)

    A key ‘fact’ posted by Writt Woodson to explain the rise of Hezbollah is incorrect. The massacre by Christian militiamen of the inhabitants of Sabra and Shatila was conducted against Palestinians, not against Shi’a, though there may well have been some living in what were designated as Palestinian refugee camps.

    Please refer, for example, to Wikipedia’s depressingly long entry about massacres in Lebanon. “Sabra and Shatila massacre. September 16, 1982. West Beirut. 762-3500. Numbers are disputed. Sabra and Shatila were Palestinian refugee camps.”

    There was another clash in the same camps, in which, this time, it was a Shi’a militia group who killed Palestinians:

    “War of the Camps. May 1985. West Beirut. 3,781 dead and 6,787 injured. Sabra, Shatila and Burj el-Barajneh. Palestinian refugee camps were besieged by the Shi’ite Amal militia. Some activity occurred after May 1985.” This massacre would appear to show that even a couple of years later Amal was well equipped to look after what it considered to be the interests of the Shi’a.

    Also, Writt Woodson contends the US should have withdrawn forces from Saudi Arabia after the events in Iraq in 2003. Well, it did. I recall personally hearing US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, very soon after the war, telling troops at the Coalition headquarters in Qatar that the US, by mutual agreement, was closing its airbase in Saudi Arabia. (I was there, as a foreign correspondent for a US and a British newspaper. )

    Of course, that (shall we say?) lapse of memory by Writt Woodson does not alter the fact that, yes, Osama bin Laden had been incensed by the US military presence in a country whose leader declares himself the Custodian of the Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina.

  • Posted by Writt Woodson

    Since Paul Martin rewrote part of what I wrote and attributed the revision to me, I want to respond. First I want to say that I am glad that Martin is as interested in these matters as I am. More Americans needs to pay attention. I think the risks to American security have increased dramatically in the past three months. Before getting into the details I also want to say that sometimes we are basically agreeing with each other, but not listening to the points of agreement. For instance Martin and I agree on two primary points. (1) Osama bin Laden was “incensed” (Martin’s word) about the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia. We also agree that the troops effectively left in 2003. (2) Martin and I agree that a massacre of Muslims occurred in Lebanon in 1982. That was about the time Hezbollah came into existence.
    Details — Regarding troops this is what Martin wrote, “Also, Writt Woodson contends the US should have withdrawn forces from Suadi Arabia after the events in Iraq in 2003.” This is what I wrote in the post above, “We should have pushed Saddam out of Kuwait, BUT we should have taken our troops out of Saudi Arabia immediately after that.” The coalition pushed Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991. The deadly and horrific (500 injured) Khobar Towers explosion was in 1996. The 9/11 tragedy in this context was an inexcusable lapse in American security and intelligence. — With regard to a massacre in Lebanon in 1982, Martin seemed to think that I misstated the facts because the thousands of people killed were “Palestinians not Shia.” Martin’s words in quotations) Martin later refined his position of this point. We should find points of agreement rather than finding hairs to split. —
    Separately, I find the current state of affairs very disturbing. This week the US government and the US press seems to be focused on the line in the sand between the Islamic State and the Kurds. They are also concerned about Baghdad politics. At this moment the current Battle of Alleppo and the control and ownership of Benghazi are far more important, by a factor of multiples.

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