Relations between Bahrain and the United States reached a new level of volatility this week as the kingdom's cabinet approved a parliamentary proposal to, as Information Minister Samira Rajab said, "put an end to the interference of U.S. Ambassador Thomas Krajeski in Bahrain's internal affairs." The Bahraini cabinet's endorsement of a proposal to stop Krajeski from "interfering in domestic affairs" and meeting government opponents is a significant move that should do more than raise eyebrows in Washington.
While U.S. diplomats have been repeatedly attacked by the pro-government media and by the country's parliament for being too close to the pro-democracy opposition, attacks which included personal threats, this is different. This wasn't a crackpot newspaper or a loose cannon member of parliament saying this, but rather the cabinet, which includes the prime minister and the crown crince. The crown prince was supposed to be Washington's friend -- the young western-educated heir to the throne, the reformer in the family, the guy of the future -- whom the U.S. government had banked on to champion democratic reform in Bahrain.
In the wake of reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad allegedly used sarin, a chemical weapon, it appears that U.S. President Barack Obama is on the brink of providing the Syrian opposition with lethal weapons. But it certainly does not seem that the Obama administration pursued the full range of nonlethal options available, particularly those involving the international community. Here's an idea: To affect meaningful and decisive change in Syria, which is suffering from a humanitarian catastrophe, the international community should use all available diplomatic and economic leverage to choke off the arms, resources, and money flowing to the regime.
A new Human Rights First report reveals that at least a dozen countries -- including Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Angola, Georgia, Lebanon, Cyprus, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates -- are continuing to provide the Assad regime with weapons, fuel, military technology, and access to financial markets. The paper provides both a unique overview of Assad's third-party supporters and a roadmap the U.S. government can follow to crack down on them. The U.S. government should use diplomacy to try to influence the countries providing these resources as well as the countries allowing these resources to pass through their jurisdiction. In addition, the U.S. Treasury should use existing authority under the Syria sanctions regime to designate those entities continuing to support the Assad regime and block them from the U.S. marketplace.
AFP/Getty Images/LOUAI BESHARA
A car bomb exploded in a bustling area of central Damascus, killing 15 people and wounding at least 53, according to Syrian state news. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) attributed the blast to a booby-trapped car located near Sabaa Bahrat Square and Shahbander street, both of which are residential and commercial areas. The blast caused extensive damage, blowing out windows from nearby buildings and setting several cars on fire. AFP reports that gunfire was exchanged shortly after the explosion. In mid-February, a car bomb exploded in Damascus near the Baath party headquarters and the Russian embassy. Meanwhile, the government launched several attacks on opposition-held positions throughout the country in attempts to regain lost territory. They reclaimed control of Aziza, a town near the city's military airport. Syrian warplanes attacked Alepoo, Latakia, Deir Ezzor, in addition to other locations. An airstrike on Sunday in Aleppo killed at least 12 civilians. SOHR reported that the opposition fighters helping to control these areas withdrew after they ran out of ammunition. Meanwhile, the United Nations continues to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use. "The use of chemical weapons by any side, under any circumstances, would constitute an outrageous crime with dire consequences and constitute a crime against humanity," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said. He added that an inspection team is waiting in Cyprus for permission to enter Syria and begin their investigation.
--By Jennifer Parker
Thousands of Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron. The protesters were mourning the deaths of two teenagers, Amer Nassar and his cousin, Naji Balbisy, who were killed by Israeli soldiers during protests ignited by the death of a 64 year-old Palestinian prisoner who had cancer. Palestinians accuse Israel of delaying Maissara Abu Hamdiyeh's diagnosis and treatment; but Israel maintains its medical care for Abu Hamdiyeh was forthcoming. Many of the protesters called for a third intifada and twenty-one Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets and tear gas during the clashes. According to Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, "It seems that Israel wants to spark chaos in the Palestinian territories...Israel, on every occasion, is using lethal force against peaceful young protesters, and peaceful demonstrations are being suppressed with the power of weapons. This is not acceptable at all." Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, replied that "We are concerned that there are elements in the P.A. that seem to refuse to jettison the harsh language of confrontation, and try to exploit different incidents to stir up trouble." The protests come days before Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to travel to the region. Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid for 800,000 Gazans, has suspended its food distribution services in Gaza after protesters stormed its compound in anger over aid cutbacks.
The Syrian government verbally attacked Jordan and Turkey for their roles in the country's civil war. Broadcast via the state news media, Syria accused the Turkish prime minister of lying and warned Jordan they were "playing with fire" by providing the opposition with arms and training. In an interview to be broadcast on Friday, Bashar al-Assad lashed out at the Arab League, saying the group "lacks legitimacy." "Real legitimacy is not accorded by organizations or foreign officials...legitimacy is that which is granted by the people," Assad added. Meanwhile, Filippo Grandi, commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said that refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war are inadequately provided for and on the verge of overwhelming the resources of the United Nations and their host countries. "This is the type of crisis that humanitarian agencies at some point cannot handle any more," he said. "It's unmanageable and dangerous." Meanwhile, a slew of rockets hit Barzeh district, a neighborhood in northeast Damascus. At least five people died and many others were buried under the debris. According to the Local Coordination Committees, there were fierce clashes in Zabadany and Abadeh, both suburbs of Damascus. Opposition groups have reported that at least 132 people were killed yesterday.
Iran and world powers resumed nuclear talks in Kazakhstan. Iran announced that it will present a new proposal for its nuclear program.
A fight between Muslim and Buddhist detainees at an immigration center in Indonesia killed eight people and wounded 15 others.
Saudi Arabia has sentenced a man to paralysis for the stabbing and paralysis of his childhood friend ten years ago. According to Saudi media, the perpetrator could be paralyzed if he is not able to pay the victim adequate compensation.
--By Jennifer Parker
Members of Syria's opposition have seized an air defense base near Dara'a province that controls a highway used by President Bashar al-Assad's regime to resupply his troops, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The base, which was home to the 49th battalion, is located near the Jordanian border, a strategically important area. The capture of the military base adds to other territorial gains made by the opposition, including parts of the north near the Turkish border, the east near the Iraq border, and pockets of Aleppo. Additionally, Dara'a is the birthplace of the Syrian uprising. Meanwhile, the Syrian government, whose army has been depleted by fighting and defections, is sending guerrilla fighters to Iran for secret training at a combat base there, according to activists and soldiers. The irregular militias are comprised of ethnic minorities loyal to President Assad. Iran has reportedly trained up to 50,000 guerilla fighters.
Arguments and Analysis
Syria Has a Massive Rape Crisis (Lauren Wolfe, The Atlantic)
"Although most coverage of the Syrian civil war tends to focus on the fighting between the two sides, this war, like most, has a more insidious dimension: rape has been reportedly used widely as a tool of control, intimidation, and humiliation throughout the conflict. And its effects, while not always fatal, are creating a nation of traumatized survivors -- everyone from the direct victims of the attacks to their children, who may have witnessed or been otherwise affected by what has been perpetrated on their relatives.
Men are more than just witnesses to sexualized violence in Syria; they are experiencing it directly as well. Forty-three of the reports on our map - about 20 percent -- involve attacks against men and boys, all of whom are between the ages of 11 and 56. Nearly half of the reports about men involve rape, while a quarter detail sexualized violence without penetration, such as shocks to the genitals. Sixteen percent of the men who have been raped in our reports were allegedly violated by multiple attackers.
A Libyan Report Card (Robert Kaplan, Stratfor)
"In the starkest terms, a state is defined by a bureaucratic hierarchy that monopolizes the use of force over a specific geography. Ideally, nobody need fear the authorities except those who break the law. And because the authorities monopolize violence, nobody need fear his fellow man. Of course, tyrannical states induce general fear among much of the population. And weak states have a difficult time monopolizing the use of force -- the reason why they are weak in the first place. By these standards, many states in the world are weak. And Libya has gone from being a tyrannical state to being barely a state at all.
Given the calls for intervention in Syria, let's consider Libya, where a modest intervention was tried.
The authorities in the capital of Tripoli openly acknowledge the fact that they do not monopolize the use of force and have wisely opted for compromise and arbitration in eastern Libya (the Benghazi region) and in the far-flung Sahara to the south. It is difficult to predict whether Libyan affairs will carry on in the form of a benign and relatively mild anarchy (with some institutions working and others not) or will advance in the direction of a more coherent democratic state. Of course, a descent into worse chaos cannot be ruled out.
Libya's fundamental problem is that rather than comprising a compact cluster of demography like the Nile Valley, it is but a vague geographical expression -- a monumentally vast desert and coastal region between historic Egypt and Greater Carthage (Tunisia). Because Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt are geographically associated with specific knots of civilization going back to antiquity, they did not require suffocating forms of tyranny to hold them together like Libya, and to a lesser extent like Algeria, which for decades during the height of the Cold War had a radical socialist regime. For Libya, Moammar Gadhafi's regime was, in fact, anarchy masquerading as tyranny."
--By Jennifer Parker
AFP/Getty Images/BULENT KILIC
The Islamic State of Iraq, a militant jihadist group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for a massacre of nine Iraqi guards and 48 Syrian soldiers who sought respite in Iraq from Syria's civil war. The massacre is considered one the conflict's most deadly episodes of cross-border fighting. The U.S. has condemned this attack as an act of "terrorism" because it claims some of the Syrian troops sought medical treatment in Iraq. Meanwhile, Syria's grand mufti, Sheik Ahmad Badr al-Deen Hassoun, has issued a religious decree urging Syrian parents to enlist their children in the Syrian Army. The grand mufti is a Sunni and also closely linked to the Assad regime. His decree is significant for two reasons: it appeared to call for jihad; and it suggests the Assad regime lacks a sufficient supply of soldiers, prompting concerns that Assad may enforce compulsory service into the armed forces. This speculation is corroborated by reports that the Syrian government is recruiting and training Syrian women to become soldiers in a force named the "Lionesses for National Defense." A video posted to Russia Today's Arabic channel shows women marching in army fatigues, carrying Kalashnikov rifles, chanting slogans in support of the Syrian regime. Their duties consist largely of checkpoint control.
AFP/Getty Images/ANWAR AMRO
After 23 months of fighting, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's grip on power is increasingly tenuous. Fearing its greatest ally could be ousted, Iran has reportedly begun forming large sectarian militias in Syria to bolster the regime in the short term, and also to preserve its influence should Assad be overthrown. With so much at stake, Iran will only continue to increase such efforts as the regime's position becomes more vulnerable. These militias pose a huge threat -- it is imperative that the United States and the international community try to prevent the formation of a Syrian style-Hezbollah by bringing Iran into peace mediations led by the U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
The United States has been understandably reluctant to agree to the idea of including Iran which was initially advocated by Brahimi's predecessor Kofi Annan. Washington believes Iran has played a destructive role in Syria and expects it to only pursue its own interests in negotiations, even if it comes at the expense of the Syrian people. However, continuing to exclude Iran is highly imprudent. The United States must consider whether it is better to try and incentivise Iran to use its influence productively in concert with international efforts to stabilize Syria, or exclude it from the peace process and risk a perpetuation of the current chaos.
Pablo Tosco/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran welcomes a renewed offer from the United States for direct talks on its nuclear program. Salehi's statement came on Sunday at the Munich Security Conference a day after Vice President Joe Biden said the United States is ready to hold bilateral talks "when the Iranian leadership, Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] is serious." Salehi said that the United States should show an "authentic, fair and real intention to resolve the issue" and should stop making threats against Iran while offering negotiations. As foreign minister, Salehi does not have the authority to commit to talks with the United States, which is a decision made by the supreme leader, and western officials remain skeptical. Iran has repeatedly backed out of talks, and while Salehi said Iran looks favorably upon a proposal for another round of talks with the United Nations Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany on February 25 and 26 in Kazakhstan, it has not yet committed to sending a delegation. If talks do resume at the end of February, it would mean the end to eight months of stalled diplomacy.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused Israel of trying to "destabilize" Syria while Iran said Israel will regret its "latest aggression." Assad spoke on Syrian TV on Sunday, for the first time commenting on last Wednesday's reported Israeli attack. Syrian media claimed an Israeli strike hit a military research facility, while anonymous U.S. officials said an airstrike hit a military weapons convoy headed to supply arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Also on Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak alluded to his country's responsibility for the airstrike saying while he cannot add to anything stated in the news about the attack in Syria, that it is "proof when we said something we mean it." Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili said Israel "will regret this recent aggression" at a news conference in Damascus a day after a meeting with Assad. Jalili did not specify as to whether Syria or Iran have planned a military response. Jalili also said that Iran supports talks in Damascus between Assad and the Syrian opposition. Iran participated along with Russia and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in talks with the head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Moaz Alkhatib, on Saturday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, "This is an important step" as previously the coalition rejected any talks with the Syrian regime. However, Walid al-Bunni, a member of the opposition coalition, said the meeting "was unsuccessful."
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