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March 29, 2013

Iran’s Long Leash

March 27, 2013 by

Syrian security officers gather at the scene in front of destroyed buildings where triple bombs exploded at the Saadallah al-Jabri square, in Aleppo, Syria, back in October of 2012. SANA/AP

Although all of Syria’s neighbors have been negatively impacted by the country’s crisis, Iraq’s sectarian tensions and the religious, historical and cultural bonds between Syrians and Iraqis connect the two states’ political fates. While many of Iraq’s Sunnis support the Syrian opposition, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki continues to lend considerable support to Damascus, not only as a proxy for Iran, but also fearing that Al Qaeda affiliates and anti-Shia groups may gain safe haven in a post-Assad Syria, and in turn wage war against Baghdad. Recent events suggest that the Syrian crisis may ultimately push Iraq back to renewed sectarian civil war.

Given Mr. Maliki’s orientation toward Iran and Syria, Washington realizes that Baghdad is not aligned with the interests of the U.S. and its regional allies. Despite the Obama Administration’s efforts to convince Iraq to deny Iran its airspace in an attempt to impede the flow of weapons to President Assad, Iraq continues to allow Iran’s shipments to occur. Baghdad has every reason to continue to support the transfer of Iranian weapons into Syria, because the rise of Sunni Islamists with an extremist ideology in Syria pose an existential threat to the post-Saddam Shia-led order in Iraq.

Any doubts about the interconnectedness of the Syrian crisis with Iraq were eliminated at the beginning of March following a bloody exchange along the border. Fighters from the Syrian Army sought refuge in Iraq and were escorted by an Iraqi military convoy to the al-Walid border crossing when they were attacked by Iraqi jihadists linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq. Damascus and Baghdad view the Sunni-majority Anbar Province with grave concern, considering that Jabhat Al-Nusra and like-minded Salafists in western Iraq have mutual interests, both within the two countries and the greater Middle East. There is every reason to expect further turmoil to arise along the Iraqi-Syrian border as the Syrian crisis continues.

During the U.S. occupation, the Iraqi and U.S. governments claimed that Damascus sponsored jihadist militants inside Syria for the purpose of waging deadly attacks against coalition forces in Iraq. Assad responded that the situation could not be controlled by the Syrian state given that the border is porous. The tables are now turned, and Assad must address the jihadists’ exploitation of the same porous border. Baghdad is today cooperating with the Assad regime to combat some of the same groups that threaten to turn Syria into a Wahabbi theocracy.

Beyond sectarianism, the Baghdad-Damascus alliance should be understood in terms of energy politics. Shortly before the commencement of the Arab Awakening, Qatari officials approached President Assad and proposed a natural gas pipeline that would transit Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, targeting European markets. To Doha’s disappointment, President Assad instead opted for an Iran-Iraq-Syria “Islamic Gas Pipeline” that would strengthen Damascus’ international alliances by aiding Tehran’s efforts to undermine western-imposed economic sanctions and promote Russian leverage over natural gas prices for the European Union, rather than seeing competition from Qatar put pressure on gas prices.

Considering that Qatar and Iran share the world’s largest natural gas field (South Pars/North Dome), President Assad’s inclination toward Iran was not well received in Doha, which envisions a Muslim Brotherhood-led political order replacing the Ba’athist regime in Damascus, thereby making the Qatari pipeline more likely to become a reality. Prime Minister Maliki knows that a Qatar/Saudi/Jordan/Syria pipeline would exclude Iraq and further isolate Iran in the process. Evidence of Baghdad and Doha being opposing stakeholders in Syria was evident when Iraq’s national security advisor traveled to Washington in early March and accused Qatar of sponsoring Jabhat Al-Nusra – designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department — in Syria.

The Syrian crisis has certainly added a new dimension to the complicated historical relationship between Iraq and Syria, as well as complicating regional energy issues and strengthening Iran’s hand in influencing events in the region. There is little reason to expect that either Iraq or Syria will stabilize in the near to medium term. On the contrary, there is every reason to believe that the diverse ethnic, religious and tribal mosaic that comprises both countries will only serve to make it less likely that a peaceful or predictable outcome is possible under current circumstances. Iraq and Syria will remain a battle ground, and Iran will continue to spin its web of influence in both countries and throughout the region.

A version of this article was previously published in The Huffington Post.

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President Obama in the Middle East

March 25, 2013 by

  • President Barack Obama meets National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, left, and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, in the conference room aboard Air Force One en route to Tel Aviv, Israel, March 20, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama pauses as the national anthem of the United States is played during the official arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 20, 2013. The President is flanked by Israeli President Shimon Peres, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk with members of the Israeli Defense Forces in front of an Iron Dome launcher unit at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 20, 2013. Chuck Kennedy/White House

  • President Barack Obama shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the official arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 20, 2013. Israeli President Shimon Peres stands at left. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama walks across the tarmac with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 20, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • Kelly Adams-Smith, Executive Secretary for NSS, left, and Danielle Crutchfield, Director of Scheduling and Advance, wait aboard a helicopter at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, before departing for Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. Air Force One is seen in the background. Chuck Kennedy/White House

  • President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres approach the stage for a joint press conference at the President’s residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. Chuck Kennedy/White House

  • President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres participate in a press conference at the President’s residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama greets members of Hora, a local children’s dance troupe, before departing Israeli President Shimon Peres’ residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama talks with senior advisors before a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. Pictured, from left, are: National Security Advisor Tom Donilon; Pete Rouse, Counselor to the President; Press Secretary Jay Carney; Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer; and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before a press conference at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama participates in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama, along with members of the American and Israeli delegations, listen to a musical performance following a working dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk the grounds at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama views the Dead Sea Scrolls at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama, accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, views the Dead Sea Scrolls at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama talks privately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after viewing the Dead Sea Scrolls at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority pause as the national anthem of the United States is played during an official arrival ceremony in the courtyard of the Mugata Presidential Compound in Ramallah, the West Bank, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority participate in a bilateral meeting at the Mugata Presidential Compound in Ramallah, the West Bank, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • Secretary of State John Kerry talks with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority at the Mugata Presidential Compound in Ramallah, the West Bank, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama participates in a press conference with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority at the Mugata Presidential Compound in Ramallah, the West Bank, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama watch a dance performance at the Al-Bireh Youth Resource Development Center in Ramallah, the West Bank, March 21, 2013. Dr. Samih Al-Abed, Chairman of the Board, Al-Bireh Youth Resource Development Center, left, and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority are seated with the President. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority at the Al-Bireh Youth Resource Development Center in Ramallah, the West Bank, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama participates in a youth roundtable at the Al-Bireh Youth Resource Development Center in Ramallah, the West Bank, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama departs aboard Marine One from the landing zone in Ramallah, the West Bank, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama walks on stage before delivering remarks at the Jerusalem Convention Center in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Jerusalem Convention Center in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. Chuck Kennedy/White House

  • Members of the audience listen as President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Jerusalem Convention Center in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama waves to the audience after delivering remarks at the Jerusalem Convention Center in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama shakes hands during a meet and greet at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama receives the Medal of Distinction from Israeli President Shimon Peres during a State Dinner at the President’s residence in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. Chuck Kennedy/White House

  • President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres toast during a State Dinner at the President’s residence in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama listens to a musical performance during a State Dinner hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama talks with guests before departing the President’s residence in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres at left. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama signs a guestbook after visiting the grave of Theodor Herzl during his visit to Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres stand with the President. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama pauses after placing a wreath at the grave of Yitzhak and Leah Rabin, during his visit to Mount Herzl, in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Standing with the President, from left, are: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Israeli President Shimon Peres; Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu; and Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama visits the Hall of Names during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Standing with the President, from left, are: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu; Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate; and Israeli President Shimon Peres. Chuck Kennedy/White House

  • President Barack Obama visits the Hall of Names during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Standing with the President, from left, are: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu; Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate; and Israeli President Shimon Peres. Chuck Kennedy/White House

  • President Barack Obama pauses after adjusting a wreath placed in the Hall of Remembrance during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Standing behind the President, from left, are: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Israeli President Shimon Peres; Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu; and Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. Chuck Kennedy/White House

  • President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look out a window before their lunch at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • Phil Gordon, White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region, left, Ambassador Dan Shapiro, center, and Prem Kumar, Acting Senior Director for Middle East and North Africa, confer in a hallway as President Barack Obama has lunch with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority enter the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the West Bank, March 22, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama lights candles as he tours the crypt containing the birthplace of Jesus during his visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the West Bank, March 22, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama tours the crypt containing the birthplace of Jesus during his visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the West Bank, March 22, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority talk following their tour of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the West Bank, March 22, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • Clergy watch as the President’s motorcade prepares to depart the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the West Bank, March 22, 2013. Chuck Kennedy/White House

  • President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres embrace during a departure ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 22, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • A motorcycle escort accompanies President Barack Obama’s motorcade as it arrives at the Al Hummar Palace n Amman, Jordan, March 22, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama is greeted by King Abdullah II of Jordan upon his arrival at Al Hummar Palace in Amman, Jordan, March 22, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • Members of the White House press corps pass in front of Jordanian soldiers mounted on camels during the official arrival ceremony at Al Hummar Palace in Amman, Jordan, March 22, 2013. Chuck Kennedy/White House

  • President Barack Obama and King Abdullah II of Jordan inspect the honor guard during the official arrival ceremony at Al Hummar Palace in Amman, Jordan, March 22, 2013. Chuck Kennedy/White House

  • President Barack Obama and King Abdullah II of Jordan stand at the dais as the honor guard is dismissed during the official arrival ceremony at Al Hummar Palace in Amman, Jordan, March 22, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • Jordanian guards prepare to open a door at the Al Hummar Palace in Amman, Jordan, March 22, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama and King Abdullah II of Jordan participate in a bilateral meeting at Al Hummar in Amman, Jordan, March 22, 2013. Secretary of State John Kerry is seated at left. Chuck Kennedy/White House

  • President Barack Obama and King Abdullah II 0f Jordan participate in a joint press conference at Al Hummar Palace in Amman, Jordan, March 22, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama shake hands during a meet and greet with U.S. Embassy staff at the Four Seasons Hotel in Amman, Jordan, March 23, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • A United States Secret Service agent stands watch as Marine One descends towards a landing zone near Petra, Jordan, March 23, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama views the area near the Treasury during a walking tour of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, March 23, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama watches as a vendor writes a name using colored sand in a bottle during a walking tour of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, March 23, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama and Dr. Suleiman A.D. Al Farajat, a University of Jordan tourism professor, jump from a ledge of the Nabataean Amphitheater during a walking tour the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, March 23, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • A Jordanian soldier stands watch from a portion of the Nabataean Amphitheater as President Barack Obama and Dr. Suleiman walk through the ancient city of Petra, Jordan, March 23, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

  • President Barack Obama’s motorcade departs the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, March 23, 2013. Chuck Kennedy/White House

  • King Abdullah II of Jordan waves to President Barack Obama as he boards Air Force One at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan, March 23, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

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Gimme Shelter: Jordan’s Refugee Past Makes for an Unsure Future

March 23, 2013 by

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the Royal Palace compound in Amman, Jordan, Feb. 5, 2013

President Barack Obama rounded out his recent visit to the Middle East with a quick stopover in Jordan. Over the course of the Arab Spring, Jordan has remained the peaceful outlier in Middle Eastern politics, but recent events have put that position in grave peril.

As governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria underwent violent upheaval or regime transition over the past two and a half years, Jordan has thus far defended itself against all challengers. Surrounded by conflict on all sides - Iraq to its east, Syria to its north, and Israel and Palestine to its west - Jordan now may be rightly viewed as the eye of the storm rather than its safe harbor.

Decades of war have resulted in a deluge of Palestinian, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees taking up residence and valuable resources in the capital, Amman, and across the country. Already lacking sufficient supplies of water and having to import all of their gas and oil, Jordanians are not prepared to spare what little they have, according to the International Monetary Fund.

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President Obama’s Jerusalem Speech

March 22, 2013 by

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Egypt Faces a Potentially Chaotic Summer

March 18, 2013 by

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Egyptian Defense Minister Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, on March 3, 2013

When an important leader of the political opposition hints that a military coup might be preferable to the current chaos, and when a major financial organization proposes an economic program certain to spark a social explosion, something is afoot. Is Egypt being primed for a coup?

It is hard to draw any other conclusion given the demands the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is making on the government of President Mohamed Morsi: regressive taxes, massive cuts in fuel subsidies, and hard-edged austerity measures whose weight will overwhelmingly fall on Egypt’s poor.

“Austerity measures at a time of political instability are simply unfeasible in Egypt,” says Tarek Radwan of the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “He [Morsi] is already facing civil disobedience in the streets, protests on a weekly, if not daily basis, clashes between protestors and security—he does not want to worsen the situation.”

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Iran: Mounting Evidence that Sanctions Have Failed

March 12, 2013 by

Iranians stand in a subway train headed to northern Tehran, on January 3, 2013

Testimony by senior-level U.S. military commanders before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week painted a bleak picture of the effectiveness of international sanctions at stopping Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. The testimony, and public polling results, also point to the sanctions’ unintended consequences.

Continuing economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation do not appear to be lessening Iran’s drive to become a nuclear weapons power. Ongoing efforts by Western powers to coax Iran into negotiations have also yielded little progress. In fact, Iran continues t0 stall while at the same time agreeing to negotiations in order to forestall any real international action, serving to increase regional tensions and the possibility of military intervention.

To read the full analysis, please visit LIGNET.com

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When it is More than a Game: Football Violence in Egypt

March 10, 2013 by

Egyptian riot police stand guard in Cairo Stadium during the first half of a match between Zamalek and Ismaili clubs in Cairo on February 1, 2012. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images via Foreign Policy

It is frenzied and continuing, but the riots in Egypt have become so regular as to suggest that the Arab Spring never stopped. The country, even post-Mubarak, is seething with insurrection. And the outlets of dissatisfaction, expressed via social media and the more physical aspect of sport, are everywhere.

The violence during the week in Egypt might be termed “football violence”, but the term is deceptive. Protests have taken place in Cairo near Tahrir Square and in Port Said, while demonstrators have attempted to block the Suez Canal. But initial accounts that they were all linked to football have become unreliable. What is certain is that a good portion of it has left a police station in flames, the headquarters of the Egyptian Football Federation in ruins and two people dead, being a response, in turn, to the violence that took place in February 2012 in Port Said stadium.

The trigger came in a Cairo court’s decision to uphold the death sentences of 21 fans accused of sparking riots that left 74 people, mostly Al-Ahly supporters, dead. Two senior policemen – former head of police security General Essam Samak and Brigadier General Mohammed Saaed – were sentenced to 15 years in prison. Saaed’s claim to infamy was his refusal to open the stadium gates as the riots broke. He was the man who stood idle with the keys.

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Turkey’s Limited Options with Israel

February 27, 2013 by

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Kuwaiti Prime Minister Nasir al-Muhammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah attend a Turkish-Arab Relations Conference in Kuwait in 2011. Image via Kuwait-Ra’ed Qutena

An Israeli-Turkish rapprochement is unmistakably underway, but unlike the heyday of their political alignment of the 1990’s, the revamped relationship is likely to be more guarded and will pose a greater challenge to Turkey rather than to Israel. Israeli media referenced a report by the Turkish newspaper Radikal with much interest, regarding secret talks between Turkey and Israel that could yield an Israeli apology for its army’s raid against the Turkish aid flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, which was on its way to Gaza in May 2010. The assault resulted in the death of 9 Turkish activists, including a US citizen.

The attack wrought a crisis unseen since the rise of the Turkish-Israeli alliance starting in 1984, followed by a full blown strategic partnership in 1996. But that crisis didn’t necessarily start at the Mavi Marmara deadly attack, or previous Israeli insults of Turkey. Nor did it begin with the Israeli so-called Operation Cast Lead against besieged Gaza in Dec 2008, which resulted in the death and wounding of thousands of Palestinians, mostly civilians.

According to the Radikal report (published in Feb 20 and cited by Israeli Haaretz two days later), Israel is willing to meet two of Turkey’s conditions for the resumption of full ties: an apology, and compensation to the families of the victims. “Turkey has also demanded Israel lift the siege,” on Gaza, Haaretz reported, citing Radikal, “but is prepared to drop that demand.”

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Conditions Ripe for a Palestinian Spring?

February 27, 2013 by

Activists gathered in Gaza for a rally to show disapproval of Palestinian governance by both Hamas and Fatah. Issam Rimawi/APA via The Electronic Intifada

The waves of mass demonstrations that swept through Tunisia and Egypt have so far passed the people of the Palestinian territories by. But those events have inspired a youth movement which may have a chance at mobilizing the masses in the first entirely nonviolent Palestinian resistance.  There is today a significant amount of frustration across a broad segment of Palestinian society. The peace process with Israel appears incurably stalled, and there is deep anger at the continued failure of Fatah and Hamas, the disputing political factions, to deliver on their promise of reconciliation.

“I’ve never seen the West Bank like this before, it’s a ticking time bomb,” says Fadi Elsalameen, a youth leader based in Hebron. “I’m predicting very soon you’ll see every sector of society join in a mass peaceful protest in Palestine.”

The leaders of Palestine’s “March 15” youth movement, a number of whom were interviewed for this article, have attempted to leverage growing discontent into large-scale protests. So far, they have been unable to replicate the success of their Cairo counterparts. The largest demonstration on 15 March 2011, from which the movement takes its name, saw only a couple of thousand turn out in Ramallah, and around 10,000 in Gaza City. “In Palestine, there’s protest fatigue,” says Robert Blecher, director of the Arab-Israeli project at the International Crisis Group. “It’s not going to catch fire until there’s a clear goal”.

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Syria: The World’s Next Genocide

February 21, 2013 by

Free Syrian Army fighter Mohammad Jaffar patrols a street in Bustan Al Basha, one of Aleppo’s most volatile front lines, Oct. 22, 2012. Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA

The situation in Syria is in a dire state. Since the uprising began in March, 2011, over 60,000 Syrians have been killed and 600,000 displaced. With a recent petition by 58 UN member states to refer Syria to the ICC and the head of Syria’s opposition being invited to Moscow, Bashar al-Assad’s days in power are numbered.  What would a post-Assad Syria look like? Would it even be peaceful? The sad reality is that the killings have just begun.

Assad bears sole responsibility for starting the unrest, but he does not bear sole responsibility for crimes already committed or for crimes yet to come. We will bear witness to the world’s next genocide against the 2.5 million Alawites and possibly other ethnic minorities once Assad is overthrown.  As the bloodshed continues, Syria is now entrenched along ethic and sectarian lines. Despite being a Sunni majority country, Syria’s economic, political and military leaders hail from the Alawite minority.

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Examining Israel’s Syria Bombing

February 18, 2013 by

An Israeli military jeep near the Israel-Lebanon border. Israeli forces attacked a convoy in Syria on January 29th heightening tensions in the region. Baz Ratner/Reuters via The Boston Globe

Now that the dust has settled—literally and figuratively—from Israel’s Jan. 29 air attack on Syria, the question is, why? According to Tel Aviv, the bombing was aimed at preventing the transfer of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-craft missiles to Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, which one former Israeli military intelligence officer said would be “a game-changer.” But there are major problems with that story.

First, it is highly unlikely that Damascus would turn such a system over to Hezbollah, in part because the Russians would almost certainly not have allowed it, and, secondly, because the SA-17 would not be terribly useful to the Lebanese Shiite organization. In fact, we don’t even know if an SA-17 was the target. The Syrians deny it, claiming it was a military research center 15 miles northwest of Damascus that was bombed, killing two and wounding five. The Israelis are refusing to say anything. The story that the anti-aircraft system was the objective comes mainly from unnamed “western officials.”

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Iraq’s Predicament

February 13, 2013 by

Bookseller market on Mutanabi Street. Larisa Epatko/PBS NewsHour

Soon after the joint US-British bombing campaign ‘Operation Desert Fox’ devastated parts of Iraq in Dec 1998, I was complaining to a friend in the lobby of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad.

I was disappointed with the fact that our busy schedule in Iraq – mostly visiting hospitals packed with injured or Depleted Uranium Victims - left me no time to purchase a few Arabic books for my little daughter back in the states. As I got ready to embark on the long bus journey back to Jordan, an Iraqi man with a thick moustache and a carefully designed beard approached me. “This is for your daughter,” he said with a smile as he handed me a plastic bag. The bag included over a dozen books with colorful images of traditional Iraqi children stories. I had never met that man before, nor did we ever meet again. He was a guest at the hotel and somehow he learned of my dilemma. As I profusely, but hurriedly thanked him before taking my seat on the bus, he insisted that no such words were needed. “We are brothers and your daughter is like my own,” he said.

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Food, Disposable Income, and Rising Political Violence

February 13, 2013 by

Over 1,600 IDP’s who had fled attacks receive emergency food and non-food items in Juba, Sudan. Tim McKulka/UN

Much of the focus of rising political violence in the world today has been linked to the process of political change, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.

There is ample reason to establish such a link, and it remains highly relevant, however the preoccupation with political change in MENA over the past two years has shifted focus from other equally important precursors of political violence throughout the world. Of all the other factors contributing to political violence, and there are many – including natural resource acquisition, refugee flows, and boundary disputes – perhaps the most pressing and growing challenge is posed by simply getting enough food to eat on a daily basis.

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2012 Gallup Poll on Iran Sanctions: Little Incentive, Little Support

February 10, 2013 by

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Timothy Geithner announcing new sanctions on Iran from the Treaty Room at the State Department in November 2011

International sanctions are often used as the stick component in a carrot and stick approach to resolve international diplomatic disputes, especially with non-compliant nation states that operate outside the normative behavioral standards. Iran has long flouted and disregarded international norms. In fact, it has come to relish its role as an uncooperative state, which views itself beyond reproach. Iran’s conduct, consequentially, has subjected it to increasing economic and military sanctions.

Sanctions against Iran were initiated under President Carter and have been in place since the late 1970s. Additional sanctions on economic and military assets continued under President Reagan, and saw an increase under President Bush as well as President Obama. All the while, Iran has still refused to cave into demands by the international community to change its malicious behavior or become transparent about it nuclear weapons development effort.

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Turkey’s Foreign Policy: No Longer Neutral, Far From a Leader

January 29, 2013 by

Responding to Turkey’s request for protection against a possible attack from Syria, the NATO Council mobilized six Patriot missile batteries to assist Ankara in defending the country’s south-east and south-central provinces. With materiel and personnel support becoming increasingly operational over the coming days, Turkey is further shifting its ‘zero problems with neighbors’ policy in favor of a proactive response to regional issues, which affords Ankara the opportunity to forge a new path in its foreign policy initiatives.

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