MENA Week in Review – December 6, 2013

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:

United States Policy:

  • In a call with Egyptian Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressed concern over the recently passed protest law and the arrests of several political activists. The European Union’s chief diplomat, Catherine Ashton, also criticized the law. Secretary Hagel did praise Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts in the Sinai and discussed other areas of defense cooperation.
  • Credit: U.S. Defense Department

    Credit: U.S. Defense Department

    Secretary Hagel traveled to Bahrain on Thursday to participate in the upcoming Manama Dialogue.  According to the Defense Department, Hagel will affirm that U.S. defense posture in the region remains unchanged, that the U.S. is committed to supporting partner militaries in the region, and that the U.S. hopes to strengthen military ties with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. Hagel is also aiming to reassure the GCC states that the U.S. remains “very clear eyed” about its nuclear pact with Iran.

  • Yemen’s Defense Minister visited the State Department on Tuesday for the second session of the U.S.-Yemen Strategic Dialogue. Topics discussed by the civilian and defense policymakers present at the meeting included: “promot[ing] bilateral political-military relations,” “restructur[ing] [Yemen’s] military and security services,” and coordinating “on security issues and assistance.”
  • Senator John McCain (R-AZ) visited Libya this week and stated that the United States is “very optimistic” about Libya’s future and “confident that we have plans now for training and equipment for the Libyan military.”
    • On Sunday, the Washington Post published a lengthy article about the planned U.S. training of Libya’s General Purpose Force, quoting American and regional experts who warn that the U.S. must ensure that the force is not seen as partisan or exclusionary. In addition, the Project on Middle East Democracy published a policy brief about the need for the U.S. to assist security sector reform in Libya.
  • As part of Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Israel, General John Allen, former commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and current adviser to Kerry, briefed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the U.S. vision of how to maintain Israeli security following a peace agreement with the Palestinians. According to Israeli security analyst Ron Ben Yeshai, Allen’s proposal likely included enhancing Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian security cooperation, U.S. forces possibly taking over Israeli radar stations in the West Bank, and that the international observer force along the Jordanian border consist mainly of U.S. troops (Hebrew).
  • On Thursday U.S. officials stated that the Defense Department is preparing a plan to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons at sea on a modified U.S. ship.
  • The U.S. is enhancing its outreach to Islamist rebel groups in Syria, according to the Wall Street Journal. The U.S. is reportedly trying to encourage their support for the upcoming Geneva talks, in part to undermine Al Qaeda militants unaffiliated with the Islamist rebels and partly because the western-backed, secular rebels are losing ground to both Al Qaeda and the Syrian regime.

Egypt:

  • Egypt’s constitutional drafting body finished amending Egypt’s constitution, which now needs to be signed by the president and agreed to in a national referendum. According to a number of helpful overviews, security provisions in the constitution stipulate that the military must approve the defense minister’s appointment for the next two terms and that military trials for civilians are permitted under certain circumstances. A number of civil society groups opposed the draft, in part due to the military trials provision, which was defended by the Assembly spokesperson.

Yemen:

  • On Thursday morning, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for a coordinated attack on the Ministry of Defense in Sanaa. A gunfight at a hospital inside the complex began shortly after a suicide bombing at the entrance to the complex. The attack resulted in 52 deaths, including foreign medical staff based at the hospital. The U.S. military raised its regional alert status after the attack, while pledging its full support for Yemeni partners.

Lebanon:

  • The Lebanese government put the Army in charge of internal security in Tripoli for six months on Monday, after sectarian clashes in the restive city killed 12 over the weekend. The Daily Star noted that such a measure was last implemented during the Lebanese Civil War between 1975 and 1990.

GCC – Iran Relations: 

  • Following the six-month agreement between Iran and the P5+1, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman this week in order to improve relations with GCC states. During a stop in Oman, Zarif specifically said that Saudi Arabia and Iran should improve relations, as Saudi-Iranian cooperation could “promote peace and stability in the region.”
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