The Middle East Channel

President Obama arrives in Israel for first official visit

U.S. President Barack Obama has arrived in Israel for his first visit since taking office. He was welcomed at Ben Gurion airport by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Upon his arrival, President Obama said the United States "stands with Israel" and "Our alliance is eternal." He also said the United States ...

AFP/Getty Images/MANDEL NGAN
AFP/Getty Images/MANDEL NGAN

U.S. President Barack Obama has arrived in Israel for his first visit since taking office. He was welcomed at Ben Gurion airport by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Upon his arrival, President Obama said the United States "stands with Israel" and "Our alliance is eternal." He also said the United States would "never lose sight of an Israel at peace with its neighbors." However, expectations are low for any headway in the peace process during the trip and Obama previously stated his goal was to listen to Israeli and Palestinian officials. He will attend meetings with Netanyahu on Wednesday, which are expected to be dominated by discussion of Syria and Iran's nuclear development program. Additionally, on Thursday evening, he will deliver a speech aimed at repairing his image among the Israeli public. He will also travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Palestinians in Ramallah and Bethlehem have assembled in protest of the visit, and clashes were reported Wednesday between demonstrators and security officials.

Syria

The Syrian government and opposition fighters are trading blame over an alleged chemical weapon strike in the Khan al-Assal area of the northern Aleppo province on Tuesday. The first report came from Syria's state news agency, SANA, which stated "terrorists" fired a rocket "containing chemical materials" killing 16 people and injuring 86, later raising the death toll to 25. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 26 people were killed in a strike in Khan al-Assal, including 16 Syrian soldiers. However, the group's director said he could only "confirm that there was a rocket attack but not that any chemicals were used." Two opposition commanders have blamed the Syrian regime for a chemical weapons attack -- one commander said he witnessed the bombing from a government warplane. He said the explosions emitted a gas that appeared to cause suffocation. Neither side has documentation, and U.S. officials said there is no evidence that a chemical weapon has been used. U.S. President Barack Obama has warned the Syrian government that a chemical attack would be crossing a "red line" that could provoke a U.S. military intervention. A U.S. administration official said the White House had "no information suggesting opposition groups have chemical weapons capability." Meanwhile, five Syrian shells landed in Lebanon on Wednesday despite a warning from Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. Syrian soldiers have regularly fired at opposition fighters who they believe have taken refuge near the border in Lebanese territory, and the strikes are increasing concerns that the conflict will spread into the neighboring country.

U.S. President Barack Obama has arrived in Israel for his first visit since taking office. He was welcomed at Ben Gurion airport by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Upon his arrival, President Obama said the United States "stands with Israel" and "Our alliance is eternal." He also said the United States would "never lose sight of an Israel at peace with its neighbors." However, expectations are low for any headway in the peace process during the trip and Obama previously stated his goal was to listen to Israeli and Palestinian officials. He will attend meetings with Netanyahu on Wednesday, which are expected to be dominated by discussion of Syria and Iran’s nuclear development program. Additionally, on Thursday evening, he will deliver a speech aimed at repairing his image among the Israeli public. He will also travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Palestinians in Ramallah and Bethlehem have assembled in protest of the visit, and clashes were reported Wednesday between demonstrators and security officials.

Syria

The Syrian government and opposition fighters are trading blame over an alleged chemical weapon strike in the Khan al-Assal area of the northern Aleppo province on Tuesday. The first report came from Syria’s state news agency, SANA, which stated "terrorists" fired a rocket "containing chemical materials" killing 16 people and injuring 86, later raising the death toll to 25. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 26 people were killed in a strike in Khan al-Assal, including 16 Syrian soldiers. However, the group’s director said he could only "confirm that there was a rocket attack but not that any chemicals were used." Two opposition commanders have blamed the Syrian regime for a chemical weapons attack — one commander said he witnessed the bombing from a government warplane. He said the explosions emitted a gas that appeared to cause suffocation. Neither side has documentation, and U.S. officials said there is no evidence that a chemical weapon has been used. U.S. President Barack Obama has warned the Syrian government that a chemical attack would be crossing a "red line" that could provoke a U.S. military intervention. A U.S. administration official said the White House had "no information suggesting opposition groups have chemical weapons capability." Meanwhile, five Syrian shells landed in Lebanon on Wednesday despite a warning from Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. Syrian soldiers have regularly fired at opposition fighters who they believe have taken refuge near the border in Lebanese territory, and the strikes are increasing concerns that the conflict will spread into the neighboring country.

Headlines

  • The Islamic State of Iraq, the Iraqi wing of al Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for a wave of attacks on Tuesday that killed 65 people, saying they were in retaliation for executions of Sunni prisoners.
  • Turkish government and AK party offices in Istanbul and Ankara came under bomb and missile attacks on Wednesday in what could be an attempt to derail a ceasefire between Turkey and Kurdish militants.
  • Saudi Arabia has arrested 16 Saudis in addition to an Iranian and a Lebanese citizen for spying for "a foreign country" in a move that could increase tensions with Iran. 

Arguments and Analysis

Iraq war: make it impossible to inflict such barbarism again (Seumas Milne, The Guardian)

"If anyone doubted what kind of Iraq has been bequeathed by a decade of US-sponsored occupation and war, today’s deadly sectarian bomb attacks around Baghdad against bus queues and markets should have set them straight. Ten years to the day after American and British troops launched an unprovoked attack on a false pretext – and more than a year since the last combat troops were withdrawn – the conflict they unleashed shows no sign of winding down.

Civilians are still being killed at a rate of at least 4,000 a year, and police at about 1,000. As in the days when US and British forces directly ran the country, torture is rampant, thousands are imprisoned without trial, and disappearances and state killings are routine.

Meanwhile power and sewage systems barely function, more than a third of adults are unemployed, state corruption has become an institutionalised kleptocracy and trade unionists are tried for calling strikes and demonstrations (the oil workers’ leader is in court in Basra on that charge tomorrow). In recent months, mass protests in Sunni areas have threatened to tip over into violence, or even renewed civil war."

Ten Years After (The New York Times)

"Ten years after it began, the Iraq war still haunts the United States in the nearly 4,500 troops who died there; the more than 30,000 American wounded who have come home; the more than $2 trillion spent on combat operations and reconstruction, which inflated the deficit; and in the lessons learned about the limits of American leadership and power.

It haunts Iraq too, where the total number of casualties is believed to have surpassed 100,000 but has never been officially determined; and where one strongman was traded for another, albeit under a more pluralistic system with a democratic veneer. The country is increasingly influenced by Iran and buffeted by the regional turmoil caused by the Arab Spring.

…Yet none of the Bush administration’s war architects have been called to account for their mistakes, and even now, many are invited to speak on policy issues as if they were not responsible for one of the worst strategic blunders in Am
erican foreign policy. In a video posted recently by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Wolfowitz said he still believed the war was the right thing to do. Will he and his partners ever have the humility to admit that it was wrong to prosecute this war?

The lessons of Iraq, however, seem to fade when it comes to Iran. Many of the conservatives who strongly supported the charge into Iraq are fanning calls for United States military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. President Obama has also been threatening "all options" if negotiations to curb Iran’s ambitions are not successful, and many lawmakers seem ready to take action against Iran soon.

The Iraq war was unnecessary, costly and damaging on every level. It was based on faulty intelligence manipulated for ideological reasons. The terrible human and economic costs over the past 10 years show why that must never happen again."

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

More from Foreign Policy

The Taliban delegation leaves the hotel after meeting with representatives of Russia, China, the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Qatar in Moscow on March 19.

China and the Taliban Begin Their Romance

Beijing has its eyes set on using Afghanistan as a strategic corridor once U.S. troops are out of the way.

An Afghan security member pours gasoline over a pile of seized drugs and alcoholic drinks

The Taliban Are Breaking Bad

Meth is even more profitable than heroin—and is turbocharging the insurgency.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses the U.N. Security Council from her office in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 4, 2020.

Belarus’s Unlikely New Leader

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya didn’t set out to challenge a brutal dictatorship.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid

What the Taliban Takeover Means for India

Kabul’s swift collapse leaves New Delhi with significant security concerns.