Assaults by Palestinians against Israelis have surged in the past two days, coinciding with Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel. Yesterday, a man wielding a knife stabbed and killed Taylor Allen Force, an American tourist, and wounded 12 others on the Jaffa waterfront before being shot. Today, another knife-wielding assailant was shot when he attacked Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, and in Jerusalem two gunmen wounded a man when they opened fire on cars before being shot and killed by police. Biden criticized Palestinian leaders for not condemning the violence. “The kind of violence we saw yesterday, the failure to condemn it, the rhetoric that incites that violence, the retribution that it generates, has to stop,” Biden said today. An Israeli security official said he did not see a connection between the uptick in violence and Vice President Biden’s visit.
Biden is in Israel to help negotiate the next package of U.S. defense aid to Israel. The current plan, which expires in 2018, is worth approximately $3 billion annually. Israel has requested the next 10-year arrangement be worth $5 billion annually, but the United States has reportedly offered a deal worth $3.7 billion. Talks to finalize an agreement are ongoing and Israeli officials have suggested they could continue into the next year.
Saudi Arabia and Yemen Agree to Border Truce
Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthi rebels have agreed to a ceasefire along the Saudi-Yemeni border after quiet negotiations. In accordance with the arrangement, the Saudi government is allowing humanitarian aid to enter northern Yemen through the Alb border crossing, Saudi state media reports. The talks also yielded a prisoner swap; a Saudi soldier was released in exchange for seven Yemenis detained at the Saudi border. The Saudi-led coalition intervening in Yemen said it hoped the arrangement would help “reach a UN-brokered political solution,” but it is unclear how the agreement will affect the rest of the conflict. Yesterday, a senior Iranian military official suggested Iran could provide ground troops and advisors to the Houthis, as it has for Syria’s Assad regime.
- The U.S. military announced that it believes Omar al-Shishani, a senior military leader for the Islamic State, was killed in a drone strike against an Islamic State position near al-Shaddadeh, Syria, which was captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition last month.
- Tunisian troops carried out a series of overnight raids in Ben Guerdan, the site of a deadly attack by militants on Monday; at least seven militants were killed and 10 more arrested in the raids.
- Iran test-launched two more missiles this morning, according to Iranian state media; the U.S. State Department said yesterday that it will review Iran’s claims of new missile tests to determine whether they violate U.N. Security Council resolutions and will make an “appropriate response.”
- U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said that the current ceasefire in Syria will sustain itself and does not need renewing before the resumption of proximity talks on Monday in Geneva; those talks are slated to continue until March 24.
- The Macedonian government has completely shut its border with Greece to refugees trying to move toward northern Europe; the move increases pressure on the European Union to complete negotiations with Turkey on a new arrangement to manage the refugee crisis.
Arguments and Analysis
“Protests Sweep across Syria During Ceasefire” (Saleem al-Omar, SyriaSource)
“In spite of the armed opposition’s weakened situation after the Russian intervention, most military commanders joined the demonstrations. Numerous leaders of armed groups participated in the protests in Maaret al-Nu’man in the eastern Idlib suburbs, including Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed Saoud, commander of the 13th Division of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). ‘The regime is rethinking its position and gathering its strength during ceasefire. We are also regrouping. My participation in this protest is a clear sign that the main task entrusted to us is protecting peaceful protestors during times of peace and war. These innocent people demanded the Assad’s departure. There is no way around that,’ said Saoud. ‘We support and the respect the ceasefire. Our presence among peaceful protestors is a key proof of this position.’”
“How Tunisia’s military has changed during its transition to democracy” (Sharan Grewal, Monkey Cage)
“As the military’s power has increased, Tunisia’s leaders have been keen to promote loyal officers. Privileging loyalists is not a new strategy, but the changing face of Tunisia’s political leadership has spelled a changing demographic composition of the top brass. Prior to the revolution, senior officers most often hailed from Tunis and the Sahel — the wealthy coastal region, which includes Sousse, Monastir and Mahdia, from which Bourguiba and Ben Ali hailed. These areas amounted to just 24 percent of Tunisia’s population yet claimed nearly 40 percent of the officers promoted to the Supreme Council of the Armies under Ben Ali. However, Tunisia’s post-revolution leaders gained much of their support from the marginalized interior. In the wake of Egypt’s July 2013 coup, these leaders, especially President Moncef Marzouki, ensured the military’s loyalty by reshuffling the top brass to bring in officers from these historically underprivileged regions, signaling the end of the favoritism of Tunis and the Sahel. Perhaps the sharpest break with the Ben Ali era has been the entrance of retired officers into Tunisia’s robust civil society. Retired officers have capitalized on the newfound freedom of association to form a number of civil society organizations, lobbying the government and shaping the public debate over the military and its needs.”
-J. Dana Stuster
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images