from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

Middle East Matters This Week: Israel, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Iraq

March 14, 2013

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Significant Developments

Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared poised to form a new government today with Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, and Naftali Bennett, leader of the Habayit Hayehudi party. The coalition agreement is expected to be signed tomorrow. Lapid will become Israel’s finance minister and Bennett is set to be appointed minister of economy and trade. Tzipi Livni, head of the Hatnuah party, is also a part of the new government and will become the justice minister with a special role in negotiations with the Palestinians. The new coalition, to be formed just before President Obama visits Israel, will be the first to exclude the ultra-orthodox parties in over a decade.

Syria. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius warned today that France and Britain will push the European Union to end an embargo on supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition. Meanwhile, Syrian government warplanes bombarded rebel positions throughout the country today, after mortar shells hit a residential area in Damascus on Wednesday, killing three people and wounding over fifty. On Saturday, Syrian rebels released twenty-one UN peacekeepers after holding them for three days. The peacekeepers had been monitoring the truce between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights.

Egypt. A fact-finding commission, established by Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi to look into the deaths of nearly nine hundred protestors during the revolution, concluded that the police were responsible for nearly all of the killings. Meanwhile, an Egyptian legal body representing Morsi appealed the Administrative Court’s ruling on Wednesday that suspended parliamentary elections. The Supreme Administrative Court will hold a hearing for the appeal on March 17.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Presidential Visit. The White House is in the final stages of preparation for President Obama’s trip next week to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. The president is set to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, March 20. He will spend three days in the region before returning to Washington. It will be the president’s first visit to Israel since taking office in 2008.

Syria. According to Der Spiegel and the Guardian, U.S. trainers are assisting Syrian rebels in Jordan. Some of the Americans are reportedly uniformed, although it is unclear if they are from theUS military or from private firms.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Tunisia. Lawmakers approved the new Tunisian government yesterday to serve as a caretaker until elections can be held later in the year. The approval of the new government was overshadowed by the death of Adel Kedhri, a twenty-seven year-old cigarette vendor, who set himself on fire on Tuesday, reportedly because of his dire economic circumstances.

Bahrain. Thousands of protesters clashed with security forces in Manama today during demonstrations marking the second anniversary of the Saudi-led Gulf intervention in Bahrain’s Arab Spring inspired unrest. Two police officers were sentenced to ten years in prison on Tuesday for the fatal beating of a protester during the country’s unrest in 2011, which killed more than sixty people. The sentences are some of the harshest handed down against security forces for abuses during the unrest.

Kuwait-Iraq. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Iraq yesterday to remove all obstacles hindering the completion of the Iraq-Kuwait Boundary Maintenance Project. On Monday, Kuwait expressed dismay over a clash between Iraqi protesters and security forces in the border town of Um Qasr, which disrupted the process of repairing border markers.

Iraq. Explosions ripped through Baghdad today killing at least twenty-five people. No one has claimed responsibility yet for the seemingly coordinated attacks consisting of two car bombs, a suicide bomber, and an raid against the Justice Ministry. Attacks throughout Iraq killed another twelve people on Monday.

This Week in History

Next week marks the tenth anniversary of the war in Iraq. On March 20, 2003, U.S.-led forces initiated an air campaign against Iraq with the goal of toppling Saddam Hussein. The ground invasion, mostly from the south, began soon after. President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1, 2003 and Saddam Hussein was captured on December 13, 2003. See CFR president Richard Haass’ retrospective on the war in an interview with