Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

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

President Obama’s March Summit with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

by Robert M. Danin Friday, February 28, 2014
U.S. president Barack Obama meets with Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, May 18, 2009 (Downing/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. president Barack Obama meets with Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, May 18, 2009 (Downing/Courtesy Reuters).

President Barack Obama hosts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on Monday. The last time the two leaders met together—September 30, 2013, in the same Oval Office—Obama had big news for the Israeli leader: his administration had been engaged in secret high-level negotiations for the previous seven months with Israel’s most menacing adversary, Iran. Read more »

Syria By the Numbers VI

by Robert M. Danin Wednesday, February 19, 2014
A man reacts at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's president Bashar al-Assad in Masaken Hanano in Aleppo February 6, 2014 (Katan/Courtesy Reuters). A man reacts at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's president Bashar al-Assad in Masaken Hanano in Aleppo February 6, 2014 (Katan/Courtesy Reuters).

Last month, the United Nations announced that it had stopped updating its official death toll from Syria’s conflict due to an inability to verify sources. The UN’s last estimate of over 100,000 people killed was released in late July 2013.

Here at Middle East Matters, I have continued to compile data from Syria’s brutal conflict. Our sources include the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), and the Syrian Revolution Martyr Database, as well as refugee numbers from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Read more »

This Week: Syria’s Machinations, Egypt’s Presidency, and Iran’s Bravado

by Robert M. Danin Thursday, February 13, 2014
Syria's UN ambassador Bashar Ja'afari (R) talks with Russian ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin before members of the United Nations Security Council take part in a vote on a resolution eradicating Syria's chemical arsenal during a Security Council meeting during the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York September 27, 2013 (Bedford/Courtesy Reuters). Syria's UN ambassador Bashar Ja'afari (R) talks with Russian ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin before members of the United Nations Security Council take part in a vote on a resolution eradicating Syria's chemical arsenal during a Security Council meeting during the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York September 27, 2013 (Bedford/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Syria. Russia today presented a draft resolution on Syrian humanitarian aid access that includes a condemnation of “terrorism” to the UN Security Council. Yesterday, Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov rejected a proposed resolution on humanitarian aid access drafted by Australia, Jordan, and Luxembourg that demanded “all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, immediately end the sieges of the Old City of Homs.” Read more »

The Obama Administration’s Upcoming Arab Outreach

by Robert M. Danin Tuesday, February 11, 2014
U.S. president Barack Obama (R) meets with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington June 29, 2010 (Downing/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. president Barack Obama (R) meets with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington June 29, 2010 (Downing/Courtesy Reuters).

President Obama meets King Abdullah of Jordan on Friday in California. The president will also travel to Saudi Arabia in March, just after Secretary of State John Kerry makes a special stop in the United Arab Emirates.

All three of these events are part of a larger whole: an attempt by the Obama administration to reassure key American Arab allies that the United States is not retreating from the Middle East or going soft on its leadership role in the world. This effort was exemplified by the extraordinary joint plea by Secretaries Hagel and Kerry recently at the Munich Security Conference to skeptical European partners. Read more »

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 »