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:
- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spent six days this week in the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, assuring allies of the United States’ commitment to the region. During his trip, Secretary Hagel met or spoke with Saudi Arabian senior officials, the King of Bahrain, the Emir of Qatar, the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt’s foreign minister. Secretary Hagel’s trip also included a visit to the previously classified Combined Air and Space Operations Center in Qatar, from which U.S. and partner militaries have coordinated their surveillance and attack missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- In his speech before the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain on Saturday, Secretary Hagel outlined U.S. policies and U.S. military presence in the Gulf region, assuring participants the U.S. would not alter its posture in the region as a result of the Iranian nuclear deal. This U.S. posture, according to Hagel, includes 35,000 troops in the Gulf area, and specifically “more than 10,000 forward-deployed soldiers in the region, along with heavy armor, artillery, and attack helicopters, to serve as a theater reserve and a bulwark against aggression.” Hagel also announced the United States hoped to sell arms to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a unit, and therefore pushed for greater defense coordination among GCC states. The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus examined Secretary Hagel’s trip more closely.
- During the Manama Dialogue, Secretary Hagel met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy and stated his support for Egypt’s roadmap and democratic transition. On Wednesday, the Chief of U.S. Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, met with Egyptian Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to discuss a set of regional and international issues of concern.
- The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing Tuesday on human rights abuses and religious persecution in Egypt. During the hearing, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, outlined (pdf) the commission’s numerous concerns regarding Egypt’s treatment of religious minorities. Jasser specifically recommended the U.S. not distribute any Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to Egypt unless the “government demonstrates that it is using some of the FMF funds to implement policies that protect freedom of religion and related rights in Egypt.”
- The House Armed Services Committee released the FY14 Defense Authorization Bill (pdf) that will likely pass both chambers. Some of the bill’s MENA-related provisions include up to USD 150 million in assistance for Jordanian border security and USD 283.7 million for Israeli missile defense, well above the USD 95.7 million requested by the administration.
- After Islamist rebels captured equipment from a warehouse belonging to the U.S.-backed Supreme Military Council, the United States and Britain announced Wednesday that they are temporarily suspending the delivery of non-lethal equipment to Northern Syria. This includes “medicine, vehicles, and communications equipment,” though humanitarian aid will continue unaffected.
- Both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at the 10th annual Saban Forum in Washington DC, addressing the Iranian nuclear deal and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Secretary Kerry headed back to the region on Thursday to continue negotiations, though both Israeli and Palestinian officials expressed skepticism about the U.S. security plan Kerry had proposed the previous week.
Other Security News from around the Region:
- The Gulf Cooperation Council announced Wednesday that it had established a unified military command, a joint Gulf police force and the Gulf Academy for Strategic and Security Studies. Specific details regarding the joint command and police forces have not been released.
- This week saw a number of clashes between students and security forces at Egyptian universities, with protestors demanding the release of fellow students arrested for demonstrating and accountability for the death of a protesting student in November.
- A car bomb struck an Egyptian police base in Ismailia on Thursday, wounding 35 officers.
- There were a number of reported U.S. drone strikes in Yemen this week, including a strike on Monday that killed three Al Qaeda suspects in Eastern Yemen and an unconfirmed strike on Tuesday that killed eight people in Southern Yemen. On Thursday, an apparent drone strike hit a wedding convoy and killed thirteen to seventeen people, possibly mistaking the procession for an Al Qaeda convoy.
- In an interview with Euronews, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan stated the security situation in the country has seen significant developments in the last three months, as the country’s police and military forces begin to take shape.
- 220 Libyan soldiers represented the first group of approximately 3,000 soldiers to travel to Turkey this week for three-and-a-half months of military training. Turkey is just one of a number of countries, including Britain, Italy and the U.S., that offers training to Libya’s military.
- Forces aligned with the Syrian government are attempting to gain control of a highway connecting Damascus and the coast that would be used to transport Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal to be destroyed. The BBC’s Jim Muir noted that all sides of the conflict are attempting to solidify their military gains ahead of the Geneva peace talks in January.
- The United Nations-OPCW mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons is still lacking some necessary equipment such as armored vehicles to transport Syria’s chemical weapons. The international community fears that such equipment could enhance the government’s military strength.