The Middle East Channel

Israeli prime minister advances elections

In a televised address Tuesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the conservative Likud party, announced he will dismantle the government. He also called for early parliamentary elections. He did not specify a date, but the elections are expected in be held February 2013, well in advance of the original October 2013 schedule. ...

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefs the press in Jerusalem on October 9, 2012. Netanyahu called an early election, telling a Jerusalem press conference it should be held "as fast as possible. AFP PHOTO/GALI TIBBON (Photo credit should read GALI TIBBON/AFP/GettyImages)

In a televised address Tuesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the conservative Likud party, announced he will dismantle the government. He also called for early parliamentary elections. He did not specify a date, but the elections are expected in be held February 2013, well in advance of the original October 2013 schedule. Netanyahu said the elections are necessary in light of a standoff in the Knesset over passing a new budget. This is the second time this year that Israel’s prime minister dissolved the government. In May, he announced early elections over a row over whether to draft religious students into the army. Elections were avoided, however, when the centrist Kadima party joined the coalition. Kadima, however, pulled out again two months later without resolving the debate on the military draft bill. Netanyahu is looking to capitalize on his current popularity and high poll numbers, as well as a weakened opposition, to win a third term as premier. He may, however, be challenged by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who would head the Kadima party to build a center-left bloc coalition. Conversely, a Netanyahu victory would likely bolster support for his aggressive policy on Iran and allow him to continue to largely avoid addressing the Palestinian conflict.  

Syria

The U.S. military has sent a task force of over 150 planners and other specialists to Jordan to assist in dealing with the Syrian crisis. The planners’ tasks will primarily invovlve handling refugee flows, already estimated at 180,000; securing the border to prevent spillover from Syria; and preparing for scenarios including the loss of government control of chemical weapons. The U.S. government has avoided intervening in Syria other than providing nonlethal assistance, including communications equipment. However, the deployment to the outpost near Amman, less than 35 miles from the Syrian border, could play a critical role if U.S. policy were to shift. U.S. Pentagon and Central Command officials have declined to comment on the mission, in addition to a spokesman from the Jordanian embassy in Washington. Meanwhile, Turkey has warned Syria that it will respond with greater force if cross border shelling continues. The statement came about a week after Turkey retaliated after fire from Syrian forces hit the Turkish town of Akcakale, killing five civilians. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the military alliance has plans to defend Turkey if requested. In Syria, opposition forces reportedly took control over Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province, a strategic town on the main highway connecting Damascus with Aleppo. If the Syrian army does lose Maaret al-Numan, it will hinder its ability to send reinforcements to aid in the longstanding battle in Aleppo. The jihadist militant group, al-Nasra Front, has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing targeting the Air force Intelligence complex in the Damascus suburb of Harasta. The facility is notorious for its detention and torture of opposition members. Fierce fighting also continued in the city of Homs.

Headlines

  • Russia has negotiated a $4.2 billion arms sale to Iraq becoming the country’s second biggest arms supplier after the United States.
  • The battle over whether Libya or the International Criminal Court will try Muammar al-Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, continued Tuesday with a hearing at The Hague.

Arguments and Analysis

It’s Not Just About Us‘ (Tom Friedman, The New York Times)

Ever since the onset of the Arab awakening, the U.S. has been looking for ways to connect with the Arab youths who spearheaded the revolutions; 60 percent of the Arab world is under age 25. If it were up to me, I’d put Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, in charge of American policy in the Arab-Muslim world. Because we need to phase out of the cold war business of selling arms there to keep "strongmen" on our side and in power, and we need to get into the business of sponsoring a "Race to the Top" in the Arab-Muslim world that, instead, can help empower institutions and strong people, who would voluntarily want to be on our side.

Iraq’s Endless Humanitarian Crisis‘ (Irena L. Sargsyan, The National Interest)

"Insurgencies and civil wars often gain attention in the United States only when waves of violence batter urban frontlines abroad. But once the combat ends and the cameras go home, interest here swiftly recedes. Yet, the lingering effects of the fighting-particularly on human capital-have profound strategic implications for the stability, democracy and prosperity of a state emerging from war."

Syrian massacre is veiled in silence‘ (Michael Peel, The Financial Times)
"Daraya’s continuing anguish says much about the evolution – or regression – of Syria’s 18-month-old conflict and the world’s attitudes to it. More than a month after what local people say was the massacre of at least 500 people, the town is in a ghastly limbo, still surrounded by regime forces and aware that another blow could fall at any time with hardly anyone watching.

When 108 people were slaughtered in the central Syrian district of Houla in May, it was widely talked of as a possible turning point in international attitudes to what has now become a war; when several times that number were reported dead in Daraya over several days in late August, it triggered a brief round of condemnation – and then near-silence.

As a diplomat who covers Syria put it: "It’s like the Syrian conflict has become something with which the international community can live.""

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey  

 Twitter: @casey_mary

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