Below is a roundup of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the MENA region over the last week:
- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, recommended increasing security assistance and arms sales to Lebanese and Iraqi security forces. Dempsey explained, “Militarily, what we’re doing is assisting our partners in the region, the neighbors of Syria, to ensure that they’re prepared to account for the potential spillover effects.”
- The Wall Street Journal provided additional details on the U.S. plan to ship arms to the Syrian rebels. According to the WSJ, the CIA has been moving weapons to Jordan, where the agency will spend two weeks vetting potential recipients and then providing arms training to them. About 100 fighters will enter Syria each month under this program, beginning in August. Last weekend Secretary of State John Kerry attended a Friends of Syria meeting in Saudi Arabia, where participants pledged “to provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground.” Specific details about this support remain unclear.
- On Thursday June 20, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced a bill “to prohibit the President from using any funds on activities that would escalate U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war,” hoping to ban U.S. arms transfers to the Syrian rebels. A similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on Tuesday June 25. (Text of the Senate and House bills)
- Emily Hawthorne provides additional reactions and analysis about last week’s announcement that the U.S. will provide military assistance to the Syrian rebels on our blog.
- A senior official in the Iraqi government welcomed Gen. Dempsey’s recommendation for additional arms sales and training to the country. “Because of the high risks the region faces, I think there should be bigger cooperation and coordination between all countries threatened by terrorism,” the media adviser for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told the Associated Press. The official’s comments come after another violent week in Iraq, in which dozens of people were killed in multiple attacks.
- The U.N. Special Envoy to Baghdad, Martin Kobler, expressed concern this week over the worsening violence and sectarianism in Iraq. While acknowledging that regional instability and ongoing sanctions have negatively impacted Iraq, Kobler stated, “But on the other side, many of the problems of Iraq are homemade… The Sunni-Shiite conflict, the Arab-Kurdish conflict, the situation in the disputed internal boundaries, the elections in Kirkuk — these, in principle, are homemade problems.”
- The U.S. military’s court of appeals overturned the conviction of Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins, who was charged with a 2006 kidnapping and murder of a retired Iraqi police officer.
- Experts indicate that the Jordanian public will likely be suspicious of the recent deployment of U.S. military weapons and troops to the country after the conclusion of the Eager Lion Exercise. The deputy house speaker, Khalil Atiyeh, stated, “As deputies representing Jordanian people, we do not accept U.S. or any other foreign troops in Jordan. Jordanians do not think there are threats from Syria.” Earlier in the week the Jordanian Prime Minister said that American troops would not be used to prepare for a war with Syria, but rather to boost the defense of the country.
- Days before planned opposition demonstrations, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi gave a lengthy speech on Wednesday, June 26, during which he praised the army and the police and emphasized his control over Egypt’s security forces. Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attended the speech in a show of support for the embattled president after al-Sisi declared on Sunday that the army would not let Egypt fall into “a dark tunnel of conflict.”
- Egyptian authorities cracked down this week on smuggling between Sinai and Gaza, though analysts are unclear whether this crackdown is in preparations of the June 30th opposition protests or a shift in policy to tighten the security forces’ hold over the lawless boarder region. Earlier in the week, Cairo based journalist Ashraf Khalil profiled the Sinai region for TIME World, arguing that the Egyptian government and public should do more to ease the instability in the peninsula.
- Al-Jazeera reports that President Morsi’s, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s, foreign policy lacks an overall strategic vision despite his frequent international trips.
- The international community remains uncertain what direction Qatar’s new Emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, will take with his country’s foreign policy. Qatar’s wealth and internal stability give it foreign policy independence, largely free of international or domestic constraints.
- The U.S. navy has no “Plan B” if conditions in Bahrain force the Navy to move its Fifth Fleet Headquarters out of the country, which has been struggling with protests and unrest for almost two years, writes Commander Rich McDaniel in a report for the Brookings Institute. Cdr. McDaniel calls the Bahraini base the “most important U.S. strategic Base” in the Middle East. U.S. officials denied the Navy was unprepared.
- Clashes broke out between the Lebanese army and fighters loyal to radical Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, which represents the worst fighting involving the Lebanese army in years. Following the clashes, a video circulated of several soldiers abusing a suspect during an interrogation, and judicial authorities claim some soldiers have been arrested for mistreating the detainee. In response to the clashes, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon urged Lebanon’s armed forces to “fully respect the authority of the state and its institutions under the leadership of President Sleiman.” Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized that the U.S. is fully committed to ensuring Lebanon’s security and sovereignty in a phone call with President Sleiman shortly after the fighting.
- The trial of the 4 suspects in the 2005 bombing which killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri will start “in the very near future,” according to the Acting Registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The suspects will be tried in absentia, since two years after their indictment in the bombing they remain at large.
This post was co-written by Leslie Adkins and Daniel Resnick