MENA Week in Review – September 6

Below is a roundup of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the MENA region over the last week:

U.S. Policy in Syria:

  • The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss authorizing U.S. military action in Syria. Secretary of State Kerry, Secretary of Defense Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey participated in both hearings, delivering testimony and answering questions. President Obama has decided that limited military strikes would be the best response to the chemical attacks reportedly conducted by Syrian government forces, but he announced on Saturday that he would seek authorization from Congress prior to military action.
  • The administration’s plan for Syria took a step forward Wednesday when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed 10-7 a resolution approving punitive military action in Syria. The rest of the Senate will take up the issue when it returns from recess next week. The resolution permits U.S. military action to deter and degrade Syria’s ability to use such weapons and to prevent the potential transfer of the weapons to terrorist groups. The resolution limits the authority to 60 days (with a possible one-time, 30 day extension) and prohibits the use of U.S. ground forces.
  • President Obama ordered the Pentagon on Friday to expand its list of potential targets in Syria, with the New York Times writing: “Mr. Obama, officials said, is now determined to put more emphasis on the ‘degrade’ part of what the administration has said is the goal of a military strike against Syria — to ‘deter and degrade’ Mr. Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons.”
  • While debates about a potential U.S. strike continue, the New York Times detailed the “brutality” of many of the rebels, which has hindered U.S. backing for the rebels. During the House hearing, Secretary Kerry stated that only 15 to 20 percent of the rebels are “bad guys.” Earlier, President Obama told Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Graham (R-SC) that “a covert effort by the United States to arm and train Syrian rebels was beginning to yield results.”

Egypt:

  • CNN reported Thursday that President Obama’s national security team recommended the administration suspend U.S. aid to Egypt, including all security assistance not funding security operations in the Sinai or along the border with Gaza.
  • Egyptian Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim survived an assassination attempt on Thursday. While the New York Times noted that some Egyptians fear the attack will lead to era of “Islamist insurgency,” the Muslim Brotherhood denounced the attack.
  • Last weekend, the Egyptian military destroyed several homes and tunnels along the Gaza border, according to the Associated Press. The AP wrote that the military is trying to create buffer zone near the border in an effort to consolidate control over the Sinai Peninsula.

Other news:

  • Russia’s news agency reported that Russia will not negotiate new arms agreements with Iran until Iran drops litigation over Russia’s cancelation of Iran’s S-300 surface-to-air missile order. Russia canceled the order in 2010 over concerns with Iran’s nuclear program.
  • The Los Angeles Times noted that new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is trying to promote a more moderate foreign policy, pointing to his modest comments on the potential U.S. attack on Iranian-ally Syria and to his efforts to place nuclear negotiations under his administration rather than the Ayatollah controlled Supreme National Security Council.
  • Five Saudis accused of having ties to Al Qaeda were put on trial in Yemen on Wednesday. Last Friday, three Libyans were also arrested in Sana’a for ties to Al Qaeda.
  • 52 people were killed in Camp Ashraf in Iraq last weekend, in an attack that Iranian dissidents living in the camp blame on Iraqi security forces. The State Department condemned the attack and pushed for a full investigation.
  • After negotiations between secular opposition parties and Ennahda’s Islamist-led government failed to reach a political settlement, the secularist opposition vowed to stage more protests to bring down the Tunisian government on Wednesday.
  • The daughter of former Libyan Interior Minister under Gaddafi was kidnapped by militia members from her own tribe to protect her from other militia groups. The militia, the First Special Reinforcement Unit (FSRU), falls under the Supreme Security Committee, a group of militias set up by the new interior ministry to provide security around the country.
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