from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

This Week: Israeli-Hamas Brinkmanship and Iraqi Political Progress

July 17, 2014

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United States

Diplomacy and International Institutions


Palestinian Territories

Political Movements

Significant Developments.

Israel-Gaza. Late on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered IDF troops to begin ground operations in Gaza. Israel and Hamas had intensified both their fighting and indirect negotiations earlier in the day following a temporary five-hour humanitarian cease-fire requested by the United Nations. Israeli officials, Hamas representatives, and PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas were all in Cairo for meetings with Egyptian mediators. Israeli and Palestinian officials called talk of a new impending cease-fire agreement premature as the Israeli cabinet prepared to meet on Friday to discuss expanding its military operations in Gaza. Since the end of the cease-fire, over one hundred rockets and mortar shells have been fired at Israel; Israeli airstrikes killed four Palestinian children, three in Zeitoun and one in Khan Yunis. Last night, Israel foiled an infiltration attempt, killing eight Hamas militants who had entered Israel through a tunnel.

Iraq. The Iraqi parliament elected Sunni lawmaker Salim al-Juburi to be speaker on Tuesday in the first step towards forming a new government. The parliament has thirty days from speaker’s election to pick a new president, and an additional fifteen days to elect a prime minister. An informal agreement, in place since 2003, dictates that the speaker be a Sunni, the president a Kurd, and the prime minister a Shiite.

Meanwhile, ISIS attacks continued this week with two suicide bombings, one inside Baghdad and one on the outskirts, killing nine people today. ISIS forces also resisted the Iraqi army’s offensive to retake Tikrit on Tuesday. The New York Times reported this week that a classified military assessment of Iraq’s security forces indicates that many units are so deeply infiltrated by Sunni extremist informants or Shia personnel backed by Iran that any Americans assigned to advise them could be at risk. To the south, Saudi Arabia continued to bolster security along its border with Iraq this week, sending an additional 2,000 troops as the threat of a spillover from the ISIS insurgency mounts.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Iran. President Barack Obama suggested yesterday that negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program are likely to be extended beyond their July 20 deadline. Obama said that while “real progress” has been made, there are “significant gaps” and “we have more work to do.” Secretary of State John Kerry spent three days in intensive talks with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna earlier this week. Zarif said in an interview on Monday that his country had presented a proposal that would accept freezing its capacity to produce nuclear fuel for several years in exchange for relief from sanctions.

Qatar. U.S. secretary of defense Chuck Hagel signed an arms deal on Monday with Qatari defense minister Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah valued at $11 billion. The agreement, which is reportedly the largest U.S. arms sale so far this year, includes Patriot missile batteries and Apache attack helicopters to strengthen Qatar’s missile defense systems.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere.

Libya. Tripoli’s international airport remained under attack today following days of shelling by militias hoping to unseat the Zintan militia which has controlled the airport since the fall of Tripoli in 2011. Government spokesman Ahmed Lamine said on Tuesday that the attacks, which began on Sunday, destroyed ninety percent of the planes parked at the airport. The UN evacuated its remaining staff from Libya on Monday after the attacks shut down the airport and sealed off the capital. At least fifteen people have been killed in Tripoli and Benghazi since Sunday. Meanwhile, Fareha al-Barqawi, a member of Libya’s liberal-leaning bloc in parliament, was shot dead in the city of Darna today.

Syria. Bashar al-Assad was sworn in yesterday for his third seven-year term as Syria’s president. He dismissed all criticisms of the June 3 election in which he received 88.7 percent of the vote and said his government would continue fighting “terrorists.” Meanwhile, in a unanimous vote on Monday, the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the deployment of emergency aid convoys across the Turkish, Jordanian, and Iraqi borders into Syria without waiting for prior approval from Syrian authorities. The Assad administration had previously insisted that all aid be channeled through Damascus.

Egypt. Consistent with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s promise to crack down on perpetrators of sexual assault, a court sentenced seven men to life in prison and two men to twenty years yesterday. Meanwhile, earlier this week, a court lifted the ban that had prevented leading members of former President Hosni Mubarak’s party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), to run for office in local and parliamentary elections. The NDP was dissolved in 2011.

Yemen. Houthi rebels and army troops fought in two major clashes this week. In the northern province of Al-Jawf, thirty-four people were killed on Tuesday after fighting after Houthi rebels tried to regain control of a military site the army had captured days earlier. On the same day, Houthi fighters attacked a military base in Sanaa, killing two soldiers. The attacks follow the Houthi takeover of the city of Amran last week. The UN Security Council called upon the rebels to leave Amran last Friday, threatening to impose sanctions on those who impeded Yemen’s political transition.

Tunisia. At least fourteen Tunisian soldiers were killed and twenty wounded in two attacks by gunmen on military checkpoints near the Algerian border yesterday. Since April, thousands of troops have been deployed to the area to combat al-Qaeda—affiliated fighters who fled there after the French intervention in Mali last year.