from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

This Week: Turkey’s Dilemma and Egypt’s Beheadings

October 8, 2014

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Significant Developments

Turkey-Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday called on the U.S.-led coalition to supply arms and training to opposition ground troops in Syria, arguing that “Kobani [was] about to fall” to ISIS. Erdogan nonetheless refused to commit Turkish ground forces. The Turkish leader’s decision to withhold ground troops, stemming primarily from a refusal to engage with affiliates of the PKK, sparked clashes between Kurdish protesters and security forces throughout Turkey. More than 19 people were killed and 36 injured in the confrontations Tuesday night and Turkish authorities imposed curfews in six provinces. Meanwhile, ISIS is poised to take the town of Kobani, where over 12,000 Kurdish civilians are currently trapped. The U.S.-led coalition has conducted 11 airstrikes against ISIS troops around Kobani this week, but Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby said today that, “airstrikes alone are not ... going to save the town of Kobani.”

Egypt. The Sinai-based extremist Islamist group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, released a video on Monday showing members of the group beheading three Egyptian nationals and shooting to death a fourth. The group accused the three Egyptians who were beheaded of collaborating with Israeli Intelligence. The Egyptian who was shot dead reportedly confessed to serving as an informant for the Egyptian military. The video also included clips of recent speeches by ISIS leaders, implying that Ansar Beit al-Maqdis may be forging closer ties with the group. Egyptian military officials yesterday claimed the army killed 16 members of the group in operations targeting the militia’s hideouts.

U.S. Foreign Policy

UAE-Turkey-Saudi Arabia. Vice President Joseph Biden called Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi on Sunday to apologize for comments made during a foreign policy speech at Harvard last Thursday. Biden had told a questioner that the United States’ biggest issue in its fight against ISIS and Syria was “America’s allies in the region.” He further accused the UAE of “funneling” weapons to Syrian rebels, enabling them to fall into the hands of extremists. It was the second apology of the weekend for Biden, who called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday to make amends for comments made during the same speech about Turkey allowing foreign fighters to cross its borders. A senior White House official confirmed on Monday that Biden was also reaching out to apologize to Saudi Arabia.

Iraq-Syria. U.S. Central Command released figures on Monday indicating that the Pentagon has spent over $1.1 billion on U.S. army and navy operations in Iraq and Syria since the middle of June. Officials speculate that daily costs have totaled between $7 and $10 million dollars since then. Costs increased noticeably once U.S. airstrikes began over Iraq in August and continued to rise when military operations were extended to Syria in September.

Israel. The White House responded strongly on Monday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suggestion the day before on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that criticism of Israel’s settlement activity was contrary to “American values.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest retorted that “American values” were responsible for providing “unwavering support to Israel” and that U.S. funding for the Iron Dome had ensured the safety of Israeli citizens from Hamas rockets in the Gaza conflict this summer. President Barack Obama had warned that the building of new settlements risked “poison[ing] the atmosphere” with Palestinians and the Arab World.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Yemen. Houthi rebels rejected the nomination of Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak as new prime minister on Tuesday. The Houthis did not consider him sufficiently independent since he is a top aide of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. In other news, security officials in Yemen reported today the occurrence of six simultaneous attacks on security bases and government offices in the south of the capital, Sana’a. The blasts, which killed twenty-nine people, have been attributed to alleged al-Qaeda militants.

Iraq. Dutch F-16 fighter planes carried out their first strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq on Tuesday in support of the U.S.-led coalition. The strikes allegedly destroyed several vehicles, and may also have succeeding in killing ISIS fighters. Meanwhile, the Canadian parliament voted to join the international coalition in airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.

Israel-ISIS. Police in Nazareth retrieved around two dozen flags bearing the ISIS logo from the city’s industrial area. Police have begun investigating potential uses and owners. Israel officially banned forging relationships with anyone affiliated with ISIS in September. Israeli police recently apprehended two ISIS supporters: a 24 year old teacher, who confessed to smuggling ISIS and jihad-related material from Jordan; and a Palestinian woman prisoner who praised ISIS to other prisoners.

Israeli officials complained to the Swedish ambassador to Jerusalem on Monday to object to Sweden’s new prime minister’s decision to recognize a state of Palestine. The new center-right government, led by Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, would be the first member of the EU to recognize a Palestinian state. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision “counter-productive,” while officials in Washington called the announcement “premature.”

Lebanon. Hezbollah claimed responsibility yesterday for planting a bomb on Lebanon’s southern border that injured two Israeli soldiers. The explosion came two days after Israeli soldiers fired at a Lebanese Army post. In retaliation, the Israeli army fired artillery close to residential areas along the border. Today the U.S. embassy in Beirut in Lebanon called on Hezbollah and the Lebanese army to support the United Nations peacekeeping efforts to maintain quiet on the ground.

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