The Middle East Channel

Syrian pro-Assad commentator killed in southern Lebanon

Syrian pro-Assad commentator killed in southern Lebanon

Suspected rebel gunmen reportedly killed prominent pro-regime political analyst Mohammad Darra Jamo early Wednesday. Jamo, a Syrian Kurd, was a commentator who worked for Syrian state media. He appeared often on Hezbollah TV and radio broadcasts defending Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He was reportedly shot outside his home in the predominantly Shiite town of Sarafand, on the southern Lebanese coast. The incident was the first assassination of a pro-Assad figure in Lebanon since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011. However, the killing has followed several attacks in recent weeks in Lebanon against Hezbollah, which has become increasingly involved in fighting in Syria. On Tuesday, a Hezbollah convoy traveling from Lebanon was hit by a roadside bomb and ambushed near the Syrian border, killing one security official and wounding two other people. Meanwhile, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council the conflict in Syria has caused the worst refugee crisis in 20 years. He said refugee numbers had not risen "at such a frightening rate" since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The U.N. has estimated that over 93,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, with about 5,000 people being killed per month, and an average of 6,000 people flee the country each day.

The Muslim Brotherhood plans protests against Egypt’s new interim government

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has called for more mass protests on Wednesday as Egypt’s interim government begins its first day of work. The new cabinet was sworn in Tuesday after a night of fierce clashes between supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi and security forces. Hazem el-Beblawi will head up the government as prime minister, and General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will remain defense minister but additionally gains the post of first deputy prime minister. Of the 35 ministers, there is no representation from Islamist groups including the MB, which refused to participate, and the Salafi Nour Party, which originally supported the army’s transition plan. The list includes many secularists who held posts under Morsi, as well as members of the Mubarak regime and officials from the military-led government that ruled after Mubarak’s removal. It also includes three women, while most of Egypt’s past governments have had two at most. The MB has planned demonstrations in Cairo’s Rab’a El-Adawiyya Square to protest the interim government in what it has called a "day of steadfastness."

Headlines

  • Israel condemned a new EU policy against funding entities in West Bank settlements as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Jordan for his sixth trip to the region in efforts to reignite peace talks.
  • Yemen’s al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has confirmed its second in command, Saeed al-Shihri, was killed in a U.S. drone strike, however the group has reported his death two times previously.

Arguments and Analysis

For a New Approach to Iran‘ (William Luers, Thomas R. Pickering, and Jim Walsh, The New York Review of Books)

"Could this be the year for an engagement with Iran that ‘is honest and grounded in mutual respect,’ as President Obama proposed over four years ago? That goal seems unlikely without a shift in Iranian thinking and without a change in American diplomatic and political strategy. But two developments, one in Iran and one in the region, provide reason to think that diplomatic progress might be possible.

The first is Iran’s recent presidential election, which Hassan Rouhani won thanks to an alliance between Iran’s reformist and moderate camps. Together with the departure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this may provide the Obama administration the chance to start a new phase of relations with Iran. The second development is the war in Syria, which has the potential to grow into a region-wide Shia-Sunni conflict. This poses a direct threat to Iran’s vital interests, giving Tehran an incentive to reduce tensions with the international community.

Iran and the United States have many important differences, but an agreement on Iran’s nuclear capability should be a critical priority. This could open the door to conversations with Iran regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. A functioning US-Iranian relationship could also help advance diplomatic efforts on Syria.

Despite the new opportunities and incentives, the US and Iran have deep-seated and justifiable suspicions about each other. Their shared history has been one of missed opportunities and misperceptions. To overcome this distrust will require strong leadership at a time when the stakes are growing larger. Iran’s nuclear program continues to advance, and events in Syria could well move further out of control. Without a change in direction, the US could find itself in another war in the Middle East that would further weaken its economy and its political influence."

The Scourge of Mideast Skepticism‘ (Jeremy Ben-Ami, The New York Times)

"Secretary of State John Kerry has run into a buzz-saw of negativity as he strives to jump-start diplomacy to reach a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Critics claim he’s on a fool’s errand with little chance of success and call on him to spend more time on other matters.

The Israeli daily Haaretz says Kerry is a ‘freyer‘ — Israeli slang for sucker or dupe. A front-page New York Times analysis questions Kerry’s focus on Israeli-Palestinian peace as ‘chaos in the Middle East grows.’ Reuters calls his efforts ‘quixotic.’ The ‘expert class’ seems united in its belief that the chances of success are so low the secretary shouldn’t bother trying. The timing isn’t right. The leaders aren’t ready. The secretary should focus on Asia or engage more on Syria and Egypt.

I’m not surprised when such negativity comes from those who oppose a two-state solution. They don’t see resolving the conflict as either an existential necessity for Israel or an American national interest. But it irks me when so much of the intense negativity and cynicism comes from those who otherwise purport to share the secretary’s end goal."

Kuwait’s Hidden Hand in Syria‘ (Daniel R. DePetris, The National Interest)

"Private donors in Kuwait are proving to be a lifeline for Syria’s rebels.

It is often assumed that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been the most adamant about arming Syria’s fractious rebel movement. But there is growing evidence that clerics and opposition politicians in Kuwait have also been stepping up their own efforts in an attempt to collect as much cash for Bashar al-Assad’s opponents as possible. Millions of dollars in Kuwaiti dinars have reportedly been flown from Kuwait to Turkey and Jordan, where the cash is then distributed to the various branches of the Syrian resistance movement.

‘There is a great amount of sympathy on the part of the Kuwaiti people to provide any kind of assistance to the Syrian people whether inside or outside Syria,’ Kuwaiti foreign minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah told Reuters.

Along with tens of millions of people in the Arab world, the conflict, which has crossed the threshold of one hundred thousand dead, including women and the smallest of children, has torn at the heartstrings of ordinary citizens in the small Gulf Arab sheikhdom. The only difference, it seems, is that the Kuwaiti government is perfectly content with going its own way instead of following the lead of its Saudi and Qatari neighbors. Why rely on other states, they reason, when one can contribute independently and with no strings attached?"

–Mary Casey & Joshua Haber