The Middle East Channel

Obama Discusses Iran, Gaza, and Settlements with Netanyahu

U.S. President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday at the White House, where the discussion focused on Iran’s contentious nuclear development program as well as Israeli and Palestinian relations. Netanyahu pushed against a nuclear deal that would leave Iran as a "threshold nuclear power." However, Obama shifted the conversation to ...

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday at the White House, where the discussion focused on Iran’s contentious nuclear development program as well as Israeli and Palestinian relations. Netanyahu pushed against a nuclear deal that would leave Iran as a "threshold nuclear power." However, Obama shifted the conversation to the Gaza conflict expressing concerns over the numbers of Palestinian civilian casualties. The president additionally raised objections to Israeli settlement construction. The meeting came after reports the Israeli government gave final approval to plans to build 2,600 new homes in the Givat Hamatos settlement between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The White House and State Department quickly condemned the plans saying the move risked distancing Israel from its allies. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have drafted a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for the end of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem by November 2016. The draft resolution is likely to be met with opposition, particularly from the United States, and is not expected to pass should it come to a vote.

Syria-Iraq

Fighting and coalition air strikes have continued near the Syrian town of Kobani, though Islamic State militants are still advancing toward the predominantly Kurdish town near the Turkish border. The Turkish parliament is expected to pass a resolution on Thursday authorizing the military to deploy to Iraq and Syria and allowing foreign troops to use bases in Turkey. Meanwhile, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported two car bombings outside an elementary school in the western city of Homs killed at least 45 people. In the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq, Denmark has approved sending fighter jets to join coalition forces in airstrikes. The United Nations released a report citing massive violations and abuses committed by Islamic State militants in Iraq. According to the report, at least 9,347 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the year, though over half of the deaths occurred since Islamic State militants began seizing territory in June.

Headlines

  • Bahrain has arrested human rights activist Nabeel Rajab over Twitter postings the interior ministry said "denigrated government institutions."
  • At an emergency meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Gulf Arab states issued a statement demanding the restoration of government control in Yemen as Houthi rebels have refused to leave the capital of Sanaa.

Arguments and Analysis

Homeward Bound‘ (Daniel Byman and Jeremy Shapiro, Foreign Affairs)

"But the threat presented by foreign fighters has been exaggerated, just as it was during several other conflicts in recent years. Over the last decade, the Iraq war in particular prompted similar warnings about a possible backlash that ultimately failed to materialize. In fact, the vast majority of Western Muslims who set out to fight in the Middle East today will not come back as terrorists. Many of them will never go home at all, instead dying in combat or joining new military campaigns elsewhere, or they will return disillusioned and not interested in bringing the violence with them. Even among the rare individuals who do harbor such intentions, most will be less dangerous than they are feared to be because they will attract the attention of authorities before they can strike. It is telling that in the last two years alone, European security officials have disrupted at least five terrorist plots with possible links to Syrian foreign fighters, in locales ranging from Kosovo to the United Kingdom."

Netanyahu’s Convenient Lies About ISIS and Hamas‘ (Nathan J. Brown, Forward)

"The rise of ISIS and its rivalry with other groups does pose a challenge but in a less direct way than Netanyahu suggests. In a visit earlier this month to Jordan, I found Da’ash (as ISIS is known according to its Arabic acronym) on everybody’s lips regardless of an individual’s political affiliation. Those of an Islamist bent regarded the upstart as a challenge and a rival, not an ally.

There seems to be some level of sympathy for Da’ash not because of the barbarity of its behavior but for its ability to threaten an international order that is seen as unjust. I spoke with Jordanian officials who seemed more concerned with the interest Da’ash generated among disaffected Jordanians than its actual core supporters.

But that places the leadership of some of the groups Netanyahu identifies in a very awkward position. On the one hand, they reject Da’ash’s ideas, methods, textual interpretations and agenda. On the other hand, they note that Da’ash defiance strikes some chords among the youth and that its actions grab agenda-setting attention. Their response is therefore somewhat guarded – to criticize Da’ash’s deeds and doctrines but in tones that fall far short of the horrified revulsion expressed elsewhere. The result sounds cagey and calculated – because it is."

The curious case of the Khorasan group‘ (Roula Khalaf, Financial Times)

"Khorasan, it turns out, exists and does not exist at the same time. The name coined by the US – the first appearance was in The New York Times a few days before the strikes – refers to a cell of veteran al-Qaeda operatives with bomb-making expertise who were apparently sent to Syria by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaeda chief and successor to Osama bin Laden, to work with the Nusrah Front. The US strikes are believed to have killed Muhsin al-Fadli, the cell’s leader, who was very close to bin Laden.

What is less clear, however, is that this cell refers to itself as the Khorasan group – or that it considers itself a cell at all. Nusrah militants say the operatives were dispatched to Syria and charged with training and improving the capabilities of the al-Qaeda affiliate, perhaps to better compete with Isis (the US says Khorasan were plotting imminent overseas attacks)."

— Mary Casey

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