Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

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

This Week: Syria’s Fighting, Iran’s Windfall, and Iraq’s Violence

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, February 6, 2014
A member of Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra mans a checkpoint on the border crossing between Syria and Jordan, which they claim to have taken control of, in Daraa December 26, 2013 (Khassawneh/Courtesy Reuters). A member of Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra mans a checkpoint on the border crossing between Syria and Jordan, which they claim to have taken control of, in Daraa December 26, 2013 (Khassawneh/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Syria. The United Nations and Syria agreed today to allow humanitarian aid into the besieged old city of Homs, and to allow women and children safe passage out. The agreement came just hours after Syrian rebels announced a new campaign in Aleppo against government forces which escalated its air assault earlier this week. Read more »

This Week: Syria’s Negotiations, Egypt’s Entrenchment, and Iran’s Inspections

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, January 30, 2014
U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi addresses a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva January 27, 2014 (Balibouse/Courtesy Reuters). U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi addresses a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva January 27, 2014 (Balibouse/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Syria. The first ever talks between the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime continue in Switzerland, with the Syrian government hinting yesterday it may be willing to accede to the 2012 Geneva I communique as a road map for the future. However, the Damascus government and the Syrian opposition fundamentally disagree over how to implement the document and its call for a political transition in Syria. Read more »

This Week: Syria II Launched, Iran Sanctions Eased, and Turkey’s Judiciary Purged

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, January 23, 2014
Senior Syrian opposition member Haitham al-Maleh sits alone during the second session of the Geneva-2 peace conference in Montreux January 22, 2014 (Saidi/Courtesy Reuters). Senior Syrian opposition member Haitham al-Maleh sits alone during the second session of the Geneva-2 peace conference in Montreux January 22, 2014 (Saidi/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Syria. UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met separately today with delegations from Syria’s government and opposition today to prepare for face-to-face talks slated for tomorrow. The Geneva II peace conference got off to a rocky start yesterday when Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Muallem and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon clashed during their opening remarks. Read more »

This Week: Egypt’s Constitutional Referendum, Syria’s Peace Conference, and Iraq’s Unity Setback

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, January 16, 2014
Officials count ballots after polls closed in Cairo, January 15, 2014 (El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). Officials count ballots after polls closed in Cairo, January 15, 2014 (El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Egypt. Egyptian state media reported today that over 95 percent of those who participated in the two-day constitutional referendum voted in favor of the new charter. Estimated turnout rates fluctuate wildly, ranging from an Interior Ministry official’s report of more than 55 percent to state media reports of just over 36 percent. Read more »

Israel’s Ariel Sharon: Always Seizing the Offensive

by Robert M. Danin Saturday, January 11, 2014
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon speaks to the media during a news conference in Tel Aviv December 1, 2005 (Magen/Courtesy Reuters). Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon speaks to the media during a news conference in Tel Aviv December 1, 2005 (Magen/Courtesy Reuters).

Former prime minister Ariel Sharon began every meeting I ever attended with U.S. officials with a greeting that always made me chuckle: “You are mostly welcome.” That welcome revealed his flawed English and perfectly reflected his ambivalence and apprehension about American efforts: He recognized that the United States was the best friend Israel had ever known. But he was ever suspicious that Washington might pressure him into something he did not want to do. Read more »

This Week: Syrian Pre-Negotiations, Egyptian Convictions, and more U.S. Shuttle Diplomacy

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, January 9, 2014
Members of Syrian opposition groups stand after visiting the former mosque of Cordoba during a consultative meeting in Cordoba, southern Spain January 9, 2014 (del Pozo/Courtesy Reuters). Members of Syrian opposition groups stand after visiting the former mosque of Cordoba during a consultative meeting in Cordoba, southern Spain January 9, 2014 (del Pozo/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Syria. Representatives from various Syrian opposition groups– including some Islamist factions– met in Cordoba, Spain today to try to forge common ground before the scheduled peace talks with the Assad regime on January 22 in Switzerland. Secretary of State John Kerry floated the idea earlier this week that Iran could play a role from the sidelines, saying that, “Can their mission that is already in Geneva…be there in order to help the process? It may be that there are ways that could happen.” Read more »

This Week: Syrian War Crimes, Iranian Talks, and Egyptian Acquitals

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, December 19, 2013
Residents react while calling for help as they hold an injured man that survived shelling after what activists said was an air strike from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Takeek Al-Bab area of Aleppo, December 17, 2013 (AboBrahim/Courtesy Reuters). Residents react while calling for help as they hold an injured man that survived shelling after what activists said was an air strike from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Takeek Al-Bab area of Aleppo, December 17, 2013 (AboBrahim/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Syria. UN investigators reported today that the Assad regime has been conducting extensive and systemic abductions that constitute a war crime and “widespread campaign of terror against the civilian population.” Amnesty International released a separate report alleging widespread torture and executions and documenting secret prisons operated by the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL) throughout rebel-held areas of Syria. Read more »

Voices From Syria

by Robert M. Danin Friday, December 13, 2013
Syrian refugees from the town of Qara gather around a fire to keep themselves warm in a Syrian refugee camp on the Lebanese border town of Arsal, in eastern Bekaa Valley December 12, 2013 (Haju/Courtesy Reuters). Syrian refugees from the town of Qara gather around a fire to keep themselves warm in a Syrian refugee camp on the Lebanese border town of Arsal, in eastern Bekaa Valley December 12, 2013 (Haju/Courtesy Reuters).

“We came here in the winter but it would have been better if we had stayed in Syria. At least if you die, you die in your own house.” –Ibrahim, 27, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon

“The fear of permanence is very embedded in the Lebanese political psyche…We had Palestinian refugees who were supposed to stay here for a month in 1948, and now they are a population of 500,000. And we went through a fifteen-year civil war where the Palestinians were a large player.” –Makram Malaeb, a manager in the Syrian refugee crisis unit at the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs Read more »

This Week: Egypt’s Constitution, Iran’s Diplomacy, and Syria’s War Crimes

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, December 5, 2013
Amr Moussa, head of the assembly writing Egypt's new constitution,speaks after they finished their vote at the Shura Council in Cairo December 1, 2013 (Courtesy Reuters). Amr Moussa, head of the assembly writing Egypt's new constitution,speaks after they finished their vote at the Shura Council in Cairo December 1, 2013 (Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Egypt. Egypt’s Salafist Islamist party, al-Nour, announced its support today for the just completed draft constitution, despite an amendment that bans religiously based political parties. The draft constitution would remove most opposition to the current state of military rule, and has been condemned both by supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi as well as human rights activitists who fear that it unduly enshrines the military’s predominant position in Egyptian politics. Read more »