Four U.S. State Department officials have been disciplined after a report cited failures in the September 11 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attacks. According to State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, "The Accountability Review Board identified the performance of four officials, three in the Bureau of the Diplomatic Security and one in the Bureau of Near East Asia Affairs." Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell, Charlene Lamb and Raymond Maxwell, both deputy assistant secretaries, and one other unnamed official in the diplomatic security bureau resigned on Wednesday. According to the inquiry panel, the officials were responsible for "grossly inadequate" security at the Benghazi consulate and lacked "leadership and management ability." The report also cited a lack of coordination between the State Department's Diplomatic Security and Near East Affairs bureaus. The inquiry could prompt debate on the military's role in protecting U.S. diplomats abroad.
A United Nations panel has said that the conflict in Syria has become "overtly sectarian." The panel provided an interim report on developments in the conflict in the past two months to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The panel said feeling at risk, communities are arming themselves and "ethnic and religious minority groups have increasingly aligned themselves with parties to the conflict, deepening sectarian divides." The most severe division is between Syria's Sunni Muslim majority and President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect, a Shiite Muslim minority. However other sects are increasing getting pulled into the conflict. Many opposition fighters interviewed in the inquiry were aligned with Islamist militias rather than the Free Syrian Army. Additionally, al Qaeda is capitalizing on deteriorating conditions in Syria and is building its presence. The al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, recently designated by the United States as a terrorist organization, is exploiting divisions and recruiting Sunnis. The Islamist militant group has claimed responsibility for deadly bombings in Damascus and Aleppo. Meanwhile, after days of fighting in the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, the Free Syrian Army has reported it has taken the camp from government forces, and it is back under Palestinian control. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency estimates about 100,000 Palestinians fled the camp due to the fierce clashes, but was called by the FSA to return on Thursday.
Arguments and Analysis
Israeli settlement plans should shake up American policymakers (Michael Cohen, +972 Magazine)
If there is one singular, yet frustratingly unattainable idea that has animated the Arab-Israeli peace process for the past two decades it is that of a two-state solution to the conflict - a Zionist and a Palestinian state living next to each other in peace within the confines of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
It is an aspiration mouthed by all sides in the conflict - by the current Israeli prime minister, the head of the Palestinian Authority and U.S. and European policymakers - even if confidence in the achievement of this long-sought after goal seems more distant than ever, even if the present Israeli government has demonstrated little apparent interest in seeing its realization and even if we are perhaps further away from its realization at any point since Oslo.
The fact that the two-state solution is receding is too rarely uttered. For this reason, the recent announcement by the Israeli government that it intends to ramp up settlement growth in the West Bank, and begin construction planning in the E1 area, which connects Jerusalem to the Israeli settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, is both so controversial and also so clarifying.
Egypt's Economic Winter (Ben Heineman Jr., The Atlantic)
"The international media have made a huge story out of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's power-consolidating decrees and the balloting on his proposed constitution. How the fundamental political disputes -- between factions of the religious and secular, Islamic and Christian, and civilian and military, and between rich and poor and urban and rural -- will be resolved in the Middle East's most populous nation is seen as a harbinger for the political impact of the Arab Spring.
A companion story has received much less mainstream media attention: Egypt's escalating economic crisis since the Tahrir Square uprising. Yet the question of whether and how Egypt deals with these economic issues is deeply intertwined with the salient political questions, and has significant implications for the future. Indeed, a lack of economic opportunity was arguably as significant a cause of the Egyptian "revolution" as political repression.
The downward spiral of the Egyptian economy is reflected in almost every economic indicator. GDP growth has declined from over 5 percent to under 2 percent. Unemployment has climbed to 12 percent, with half of those aged 15-24 lacking jobs. Inflation has spiked to over 10 percent. Foreign direct investment has withered from $2.9 billion in the first quarter of 2011 to $219 million in the first quarter of 2012. Foreign currency reserves have dropped from $35 billion to about $15 billion, as both tourism and foreign investment have suffered a precipitous decline. The total market value of stocks traded on Egyptian exchanges has declined by more than half. The budget deficit has climbed to 11 percent of GDP. Twenty-five percent of the government's $84 billion in annual outlays subsidize food and energy, not just for the poor but for better-off Egyptians. Yet the number of those who are poor or near poor has climbed to nearly 50 percent of the population of 80 million. These trends have continued unabated from a year ago."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
AFP/Getty Images/KAREN BLEIER
The Middle East Channel offers unique analysis and insights on this diverse and vital region of more than 400 million.