Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

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

This Week: Iraq’s Morass, Iran’s Talks, and Egypt’s Trials

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, June 19, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (L) after their meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, November 1, 2013 (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. president Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki (L) after their meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, November 1, 2013 (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Iraq. President Obama told reporters today that the United States will deploy up to 300 military advisors to Iraq to help the country’s security services “take the fight” to the militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Obama reiterated his earlier pledge to not send combat troops to Iraq.  ISIL insurgents have captured several cities in northern Iraq and are holding on the outskirts of Baghdad. Obama called the current crisis “Maliki’s test,” but would not speak to the Iraqi prime minister’s competence as a unifier capable of creating an “inclusive agenda.” Read more »

This Week: Iraq’s Crisis, Syria’s Gloating, and Israeli-Palestinian Prayers

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, June 12, 2014
A burnt vehicle belonging to Iraqi security forces is pictured at a checkpoint in east Mosul, one day after radical Sunni Muslim insurgents seized control of the city, June 11, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters). A burnt vehicle belonging to Iraqi security forces is pictured at a checkpoint in east Mosul, one day after radical Sunni Muslim insurgents seized control of the city, June 11, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Iraq. Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki called on parliament today to impose a state of emergency in Iraq, but then failed to convene a quorum needed to approve it. Maliki’s move came as militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) threatened to move on Baghdad today after a surprise offense against northern Iraq on Monday in which Isis fighters took Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, sending over half a million residents fleeing. Read more »

This Week: Israeli-Palestinian Escalation, Egyptian and Syrian Elections

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, June 5, 2014
Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah (6th L) and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (5th L) pose for a group photo with Palestinian ministers during a swearing-in ceremony of the technocratic government, in the West Bank city of Ramallah June 2, 2014 (Torokman/Courtesy Reuters). Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah (6th L) and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (5th L) pose for a group photo with Palestinian ministers during a swearing-in ceremony of the technocratic government, in the West Bank city of Ramallah June 2, 2014 (Torokman/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Israel-Palestine.  Palestinian officials responded strongly to Israel’s announcement last night of plans for nearly 1,500 new housing units. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for president Mahmoud Abbas, warned that Palestine will “respond in an unprecedented way,” while PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi released a statement today threatening to go the UN. Read more »

This Week: Egyptians Vote, Libyans Demonstrate, and the Pope Visits the Holy Land

by Robert M. Danin Friday, May 30, 2014
Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, on his way to celebrate a mass in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 25, 2014 (Amareen/Courtesy Reuters). Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, on his way to celebrate a mass in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 25, 2014 (Amareen/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Egypt. Security forces on Friday dispersed demonstrations across the country of Morsi supporters protesting General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s victory in this week’s presidential election. Sisi reportedly won nearly 95 percent of the vote. Presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, who came in third in 2012, conceded defeat yesterday, calling the official voter turnout figures an “insult to Egyptians’ intelligence.” Read more »

Syria By the Numbers VII

by Robert M. Danin Friday, May 23, 2014
Family and friends of a Free Syrian Army fighter attend his funeral, after he died in clashes with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, in a graveyard in Aleppo's Karm al-Jabal district November 23, 2013 (Barakat/Courtesy Reuters). Family and friends of a Free Syrian Army fighter attend his funeral, after he died in clashes with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, in a graveyard in Aleppo's Karm al-Jabal district November 23, 2013 (Barakat/Courtesy Reuters).

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) recently announced that the death toll from Syria’s brutal conflict has exceeded 160,000 people. That figure marks an increase of more than 10,000 people killed in less than two months. At the beginning of April, SOHR had put the death toll at just over 150,000 people. Read more »

This Week: Syria’s Friends, Libya’s Military, and Iran’s Negotiations

by Robert M. Danin Friday, May 16, 2014
UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi pauses during a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva January 27, 2014 (Balibouse/Courtesy Reuters). UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi pauses during a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva January 27, 2014 (Balibouse/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Syria. The Friends of Syria group met in London yesterday and issued a communique that denounced Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s plan to hold elections on June 3 and agreed to increase support to the moderate opposition. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed frustration about the Syrian regime’s control over access to international humanitarian aid and said he had seen data indicating the Syrian government recent use of chlorine as a chemical weapon. Read more »

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

by Robert M. Danin Friday, 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). 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. Read more »

Voices From the Region: Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia

by Robert M. Danin Friday, May 2, 2014
An explosion is seen during a car bomb attack at a Shi'ite political organization's rally in Baghdad, April 25, 2014 (al-Sudani/Courtesy Reuters). An explosion is seen during a car bomb attack at a Shi'ite political organization's rally in Baghdad, April 25, 2014 (al-Sudani/Courtesy Reuters).

“My life? I don’t have one. Explosions, blast walls blocking the ways, no services. And because of all this my business has stopped.” –Firas Younis, an Iraqi retail store owner in Mosul, Iraq

“They’re the same —Sissi and Sabbahi…[both men are] egoists who are obsessed with Nasser’s image.” –Reda Saad, a businessman in the Egyptian city of Fayoum Read more »

This Week: Palestinian Unity, GCC-Qatar Comity, and Syrian Duplicity

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, April 24, 2014
Foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council's countries attend a meeting in the Saudi port city of Jeddah September 10, 2013 (Al Qarni/Courtesy Reuters). Foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council's countries attend a meeting in the Saudi port city of Jeddah September 10, 2013 (Al Qarni/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Palestinian Unity. The Israeli cabinet voted unanimously to suspend peace talks with the Palestinian Authority today because of the unity agreement announced yesterday between Fatah and Hamas. Rejecting the notion of negotiating with a government “backed by Hamas,” prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Whoever chooses the terrorism of Hamas does not want peace.” The deadline for the completion of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations set nine months ago by Secretary of State Kerry expires on April 29. See my analysis of the Palestinian reconciliation agreement in my blog post from yesterday. Read more »

The Fatah-Hamas Gaza Palestinian Unity Agreement

by Robert M. Danin Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh shakes hands with President Mahmoud Abbas after handing him an agreed list of ministers for a new unity government, in Gaza March 15, 2007 in this picture released by the Palestinian Press Office (PPO) (Abu Askar/Courtesy Reuters). Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh shakes hands with President Mahmoud Abbas after handing him an agreed list of ministers for a new unity government, in Gaza March 15, 2007 in this picture released by the Palestinian Press Office (PPO) (Abu Askar/Courtesy Reuters).

Hamas and Fatah have once again reached an agreement to overcome their split, claiming they will form a unity government within five weeks and hold general elections by December. There is little reason to believe that the unity agreement reached today in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah is any more credible, or stands any better chance of implementation, than the previous failed unity agreements between the two parties penned in Cairo and Doha. The fundamental issues that divide them remain: Hamas is interested in an Islamist agenda while Fatah opposes it. Read more »