Syrian rebels appear to have shot down a Syrian or Russian warplane in the contested Talat al-Iss highland area south of Aleppo. Several rebel groups operate in the area, including Jabhat al-Nusra, which is not party to the country’s partial ceasefire. It is not clear how rebels shot down the plane, and country’s supplying the rebels have been reluctant to provide surface-to-air weapons.
Elsewhere in Syria, the Islamic State continues to face growing pressure from both rebel and Assad regime forces. Free Syrian Army rebels are closing in on the Islamic State-occupied city of al-Rai, north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, and have captured 16 villages in recent days. Regime forces have also continued their assault on Islamic State positions near Palmyra, and Syrian state media has reported that the Islamic State has counterattacked in Deir al-Zour with chemical weapons. The activist journalist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently reports that crime is increasing in the Islamic State’s de facto capital, suggesting that the group is losing control of its population.
The United States is considering sending an additional “several dozen” Special Operations forces to Syria to accelerate the campaign against the Islamic State in eastern Syria; approximately 50 U.S. commandos are already operating in the area. Peace talks in Geneva are set to resume on April 11, though some delegates will not arrive for several days after the start of discussions, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said today. The delay is on account of Syrian parliamentary elections, which come days after a group of Alawite community and religious leaders issued a “declaration of identity reform” distancing themselves from the Assad regime.
Saudi Arabia Lays Out Economic Plan, New Investments in Egypt
Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed the details of the country’s ambitious economic reform program with Bloomberg last week. Components of the plan include a green card-like system for foreign workers, restructuring subsidies, and imposing levies on sugary drinks and luxury items, in addition to a previously announced value-added tax. Saudi officials expect the plan to generate more than $100 billion a year to fund a sovereign wealth fund to underwrite the diversification of the country’s economy away from oil dependence, though the plan includes near-term debt increases. King Salman will travel to Egypt this week to shore up relations with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Saudi Arabia is expected to announce a $20 billion deal to finance Egypt’s oil needs, as well as another $5 billion in other investments.
- Turkey will receive another 200 deported “irregular” refugees from Greece tomorrow as it continues to implement a controversial arrangement with the European Union to manage the flow of refugees.
- Russia will reportedly begin delivering S-300 air defense missiles to Iran in the next few days; Iran and Russia agreed on the sale of the missiles in 2007, but the delivery was delayed by the implementation international sanctions targeting Iran.
- An Israeli electric utility company has reduced its supply to the West Bank cities of Jericho and Bethlehem due to the $460 million in unpaid debt owed to the company by the Palestinian Authority.
- The U.S. Navy said Monday that it intercepted a weapons shipment from Iran that was likely en route to Houthi rebels in Yemen; the sailors were released after the United States confiscated rocket-propelled grenades, .50-caliber rifles, and 1,500 Kalashnikov rifles.
- A delegation of Egyptian prosecutors and policemen will fly to Italy this week to present the findings of their investigation into the death of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni; Egypt claims that Regeni was killed by a criminal gang that impersonated police to abduct foreigners, though evidence suggests Egypt’s Ministry of the Interior may have been involved.
Arguments and Analysis
“Yemen’s ‘Peaceful’ Transition from Autocracy: Could it have succeeded?” (Helen Lackner, International Institute for Democracy and Election Assistance)
“Given his role as number one spoiler, it is clear that Saleh’s continued presence in Yemen and, more importantly, his continued leadership of the GPC and his control of the elite forces played the main role in the failure of the transition. In November 2011, Saleh was too strong to be excluded, as was demonstrated by his ability then to insist on the immunity clause, but the situation changed later. In 2012, when he was weaker and when there was significant popular enthusiasm for the transition, it would have been possible to gradually undermine his political position by removing him as head of the GPC, thus removing his civilian support. Instead he successfully undermined Hadi’s attempts to control the GPC, through direct and indirect activities, preventing Hadi from establishing a power base within this large and important political entity in the country.”
“Turkey’s downward spiral and the scuffles at Erdogan’s Brookings speech” (Kemal Kirisci, Order from Chaos)
“Hypersensitivity to criticism was, meanwhile, on full display outside Brookings that day. Erdoğan’s security detail behaved unacceptably — they roughed up protesters outside the building and tried to drag away ‘undesired’ journalists, an approach typical of the Russians or Chinese. Brookings extended its hospitality to Erdoğan, and because he was an invited guest went to considerable lengths to accommodate his massive entourage and treat him with respect. But his security detail abused Brookings’s hospitality. They picked fist fights with demonstrators and attempted to evict Turkish journalists. Brookings staff, including the President Strobe Talbott, had to escort the journalists back into the building. At one point, according to one eye-witness, Talbott had to threaten to cancel the event if they did not desist with their thuggish behavior. Unfortunately, Erdoğan’s visit to Brookings and the capital of the world’s leading democracy will be remembered more for these incidents than for the talk itself. It was a sad day indeed that in an institution with a longstanding tradition of receiving leaders from all corners of the world, the talk by the president of Turkey — a NATO ally — was the one to cause such commotion. Veteran Brookings employees could not remember a similar experience at any point in the last decade. The president and his security detail clearly failed to recognize the protests for what they were: a natural and accepted activity in a democracy rather than an imagined conspiracy against Turkey. Moreover, they apparently failed to recognize that they were not on their home turf — ironically, it is a core principle in Turkish culture one shows utmost respect for his host.”
-J. Dana Stuster
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images