MENA Week in Review – October 18

Below is a roundup of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the Middle East and North Africa over the last week:

Egypt:

  • Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi spoke on the phone on Monday to discuss the security relationship between the United Stated and Egypt. Following last week’s decision to suspend some U.S. assistance to Egypt, Egypt’s Foreign Minister spoke of “turmoil” in the relationship between the countries on Wednesday, while the chairman of Egypt’s constitution amending committee noted a deterioration in Egypt’s relations with the West since the military ousted former President Morsi.
  • The Egyptian cabinet approved a new “Protest Law” last Thursday and submitted it for the interim president’s approval. The law, which requires police approval prior to holding a demonstration and sanctions the expanded use of force by security forces if they are in a situation of “self defense,” was criticized by a number of human rights and political groups in Egypt. The Atlantic Council has a roundup of noteworthy Egyptian reactions to the law.
  • Israel’s Channel 2 reported on Monday that Israeli officials had “directly and bluntly” urged Washington not to cancel any assistance to Egypt.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates:

  • The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of USD 10.8 billion in proposed arm sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The sale comprises of various missiles and support systems that would improve a fighter aircraft’s capability to strike targets from beyond the range of an opponent’s ground-based air defenses.

Libya:

  • Abu Anas al Libi, the suspected Al Qaeda operative captured in Tripoli by U.S. special forces early last week, was brought to trial on Tuesday in New York, where he pled not guilty to a number of charges. The Libya Herald reported on Wednesday that U.S. officials have yet to confirm or deny any connection between the capturing of al-Libi and the brief kidnapping of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan last week.

Yemen:

  • Yemen’s Al Qaeda branch claimed credit on Monday for an attack on a Yemeni army base last month. Al Qaeda also claimed that the base hosted operations for U.S. drones, stating it was one of a number of such facilities in the country. Yemeni officials strongly denied this assertion.

Iraq:

  • Attacks targeting both Shiite and Sunni communities in Iraq continued this week, with the most deadly bombings on Thursday killing at least 61 people, predominately in Shiite neighborhoods.
  • The White House announced on Wednesday that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will meet with President Barack Obama November 1 to discuss the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement.
  • Russia began delivering Mi-28NE Night Hunter attack helicopters to Iraq as part of a multi-billion dollar deal signed by the two countries in 2012.
  • Iraq and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding on naval cooperation, outlining a general framework to share more experience, training, and equipment in the Persian Gulf.

Iran:

  • The P5+1 and Iran announced on Wednesday that they held “substantive” and “forward looking” talks about Iran’s nuclear program, and that the sides will meet again in November. In a background briefing on the negotiations, a senior U.S. official noted that the talks included “detailed technical discussions at a level we have not had before.” Despite this progress, Members of Congress expressed desire for additional concessions and actions by Iran before considering sanction relief, while some members even pushed for additional sanctions to be implemented in the meantime.
  • Prior to the P5+1 meeting, U.S. officials held “useful” bilateral talks with members of Iran’s negotiating team on Tuesday.

Syria:

  • The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said on Thursday that it should be able to meet a November 1 deadline to oversee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons production capabilities, having visited nearly half of the 20 chemical weapons production sites declared by Syria.

Israel:

  • The Israeli Army revealed that it had discovered two tunnels running from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Sunday and Tuesday. On Sunday, Israel referred to the tunnel as a “terror tunnel” and accused Hamas of preparing to carry out attacks on Israel. As a response, Israel suspended the flow of most building material into Gaza.
  • Israel conducted its second major Air Force exercise in two weeks on Monday, apparently signaling to Iran that Israel is still open to taking unilateral military action against the country’s nuclear program.
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