This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… February 2nd-10th, 2012.

  • Human Rights Watch alleged that authorities in Iran are intimidating and arresting relatives and friends of Persian-language journalists working abroad on Friday; while American spy chiefs told Congress that they believed Iran’s leaders are now more willing to attack the US in response to real or perceived American actions that threaten their government. The Revolutionary Guards reportedly began carrying out military exercises in the south on Saturday amid rising tensions over their nuclear programme and rumours of a possible strike by Israel or the US. On Sunday, authorities warned that any country used to launch airstrikes against its nuclear bases would face retaliation. On Monday, American President Obama signed an executive order imposing tougher sanctions on Iran and its central bank and also said he does not think Israel has decided whether to attack Iran over its alleged nuclear program, though American Defense Secretary Panetta reportedly believes there is a growing possibility that Israel will attack Iran as early as April. On Tuesday, lawmakers reportedly summoned President Ahmadinejad to respond to a long list of complaints, particularly his handling of the economy; the Foreign Ministry denounced the new US sanctions as “psychological war” and said they will have no impact on the course of the country’s nuclear program; while authorities reportedly made a new deal on oil payments with India, who will make 45 percent of payments for Iranian crude in rupees in the face of disrupted regular payment channels. On Wednesday, the ambassador to Russia announced that Iran is capable of striking US military forces around the world if attacked by the US and that Russia is to resume arms exports to the country under a recent understanding, but will comply with international law in doing so; a regime-linked website, Alef, allegedly produced an article calling on Iran to use its missile arsenal to kill all of Israel’s Jews, describing how it could be done; while the country’s energy minister announced that it should invest in renewable energy to preserve its hydrocarbon reserves in the face of tightening sanctions that are making it increasingly difficult to sell oil. On Friday, Amir Oren reported that an Israeli Strike on Iran would be less likely than some people would think. The Atlantic ran two articles that discussed whether military action is justified against Iran, or whether diplomacy is the better option, especially in light of the fact that the US intelligence community said they were not even sure that Iran was trying to build a nuclear weapon.
  • Two people were reportedly wounded in Palestine in the Gaza Strip on Friday following Israeli airstrikes only hours after a visit by UN SG Ban Ki-moon, five other airstrikes are said to have targeted tunnels and fields; while an Israeli soldier stranded after a raid in occupied territory was allegedly escorted to safety by a Palestinian man in the same village that troops had targeted. On Monday, Hamas endorsed a proposal by Qatar in which Palestinian Authority President Abbas will assume the role of PM and lead an interim national consensus government in preparations for elections in the West Bank that unites Fatah and Hamas factions; while Israeli PM Netanyahu said that President Abbas had chosen to “abandon the way of peace” by reaching a power-sharing deal with Hamas and that he had to choose between “peace with Hamas, or peace with Israel”. On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki moon urged President Abbas not to abandon talks with Israel. On Wednesday, the Gaza-based leadership of Hamas challenged the reconciliation deal signed by the group’s political chief in exile, threatening to split the peace between the two groups. On Thursday, banks, ports and the stock market remained closed for a second day in Israel as half a million workers continued a general strike while the government and main labour union held talks over the status of contract workers.
  • Human Right Watch released a new report on Thursday that claims that security forces in Yemen stormed and shelled hospitals, evicting patients at gunpoint, and beating medics during an assault on the protest movement that killed at least 120 people in Taizz last year and called upon the US, the EU and the Persian Gulf states to publicly acknowledge that the domestic immunity granted to Saleh and his aides has no legal effect outside the country. On Friday, one militant was allegedly killed in an attack on an army base in the southern Abyan province. On Saturday, Al Jazeera filed a report on the growing power of the Houthis group not that Saleh is set to leave power. On Monday, authorities began a publicity campaign to get citizens to vote in the upcoming Presidential election that has only one candidate, the current VP. On Tuesday, outgoing President Saleh said he will return to the country before the election to install his successor finishes, raising concerns about his commitment to the peal deal that would oust him from power. On Wednesday, at least 10 tribesmen were reportedly killed in the north during clashes with Shi’ite rebels, after the tribesmen accused the Houthis of trying to grab more territory; while army defectors and protesters are continually calling upon leading military officials, including Saleh’s half bother who is commander of the air force, to also give up power. On Thursday, Yemeni troops reportedly killed two people when they opened fire at a protest in the southern province of Dalea that was calling for a boycott of the upcoming election.
  • Israel’s deputy foreign minister announced on Friday that President al-Assad of Syria  will fall from power eventually, but that the process could be “long and bloody” as he had outside support from Iran and “no real challenge” from the international community; while Human Rights Watch alleged that the Syrian government forces have been torturing children as young as 13 in a new report. On Saturday, both Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called upon al-Assad to step down, citing a potential violation of the country’s sovereignty—a move that provoked massive international condemnation; Tunisia began the procedure to withdraw its recognition of the Syria leadership, expelling the Syrian ambassador; American President Obama called upon the UN Security Council to stand up against Assad’s “relentless brutality” and act as a credible advocate for human rights, pledging support to the Syrian people; more than 200 people were reportedly killed by Syrian forces in the city of Homs, claims that Syrian state media vehemently denies; French President Sarkozy said it was consulting with Arab and European countries to create a contact group on Syria to help find a resolution; the head of the Arab Parliament called for Arab countries to expel their Syrian ambassadors and sever all diplomatic relations with Syria over the crackdown on protesters; a crowd of Syrians stormed their embassy in Cairo, while protests broke out outside Syrian missions in Britain, Germany and the US. On Sunday, Islamists in Jordan called upon the world’s Muslims and Arabs to boycott Russian and Chinese products following their veto of the UN resolution; while US Secretary of State Clinton called upon “friends of diplomatic Syria” to unite against Assad. On Monday, the United States vowed to block funding and arms supplies to the country and talked about offering support to the Free Syrian Army, ranging from medical supplies and weaponry to intelligence and reconnaissance surveillance; the US closed its embassy in Syria; China’s leading party newspaper defended their country’s rejection of the UN resolution, citing the failures of western campaigns in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq and the error of forced regime changes; Syrian and Libyan protesters hurled rocks, eggs and tomatoes at the Chinese embassy in Tripoli; Russia expressed its anger about what it called Western “hysteria” over their use of the veto; the bombardment of Homs continued, allegedly killing at least 50 people; an explosion ripped through an oil pipeline in the city of Homs; Syrian army defectors announced the formation of a higher military council to “liberate” the country from Assad’s rule; while the Free Syrian Army announced they have no other choice now but to fight to free the country from Assad’s grips after China and Russia’s veto. On Tuesday, attacks on Homs reportedly continued; German police reportedly arrested two men on suspicion they were spying on Syrian opposition groups within their country; Russia’s Foreign Minister is set to lead a Russian diplomatic mission to Syria and hold talks with Assad; and many major European states, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Britain and the US all  recalled their Syrian ambassadors in protest. On Wednesday, reports suggested that the neighbouring Lebanese army was arresting anyone trying to cross the border, regardless of whether they were injured or not; the bombardment of Homs continued as tanks reportedly moved into the Inshaat neighbourhood and shelled the district with more than 200 rockets, with at least 47 civilians allegedly killed in the attacks, including three unarmed families; the American Pentagon was reportedly drawing up contingency plans for intervention into Syria that include military action with allied NATO countries such as Turkey; Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister said that 11 kidnapped Iranians in Syria were released, but that 18 others were still being held hostage;  Doctors Without Borders alleged that authorities are using access to medical care as a weapon of persecution; the Turkish Foreign Minister announced his country is ready to host an international conference on the Syrian crisis; while the French Foreign Minister called Assad’s promises to Russia to implement reforms and end the crackdown against protesters a “manipulation”. On Thursday, Syrian troops reportedly sealed off the population of a rebel stronghold within Homs and continued to bombard it using tanks, helicopters and artillery, killing as many as 110 people; both Germany and Libya expelled Syrian diplomats from their respective countries; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the UN’s failure to agree to a resolution on the country is disastrous and is encouraging the Syrian government to “step up its war on its people”; the Turkish ambassador warned the EU that Assad still has support from the middle class and that the opposition is fragmented, raising the risk of a slide into full-scale civil war that could inflame the whole region; Russian President Medvedev and French President Sarkozy reportedly had a phone conversation over the Syrian crisis; while the UN and Arab League were considering sending a joint observer mission to the country. The Atlantic ran an interesting article by Daniel Serwer that suggested that the Syrian rebels would be better to put down their guns and continue with a non-violent strategy if they want to unseat the Assad regime.
  • The Islamist-led opposition in Kuwait won a landslide majority in snap polls this week, securing 34 seats in the 50-member Parliament. Parliament was dissolved in December over alleged corruption and bitter disputes between the opposition MPs and the government. On Monday, the emir asked the outgoing PM Sheikh Jaber to form a new cabinet, after his caretaker cabinet resigned following the election.
  • Thousands held a peaceful anti-government protest in the capital of Bahrain on Friday, demanding the release of political prisoners and political reforms. On Saturday, a rare political forum was held to try to bridge the deep rifts in the country; while Al Jazeera reported that almost a year since the crackdown on demonstrators began, little has changed in the country and protests are actually growing. On Sunday, thousands began a week-long rally in a Shia village, 10 days ahead of the first anniversary of the start of pro-democracy protests. Violence and protests reportedly escalated over the week, with masked teenagers wielding iron bars and petrol bombs facing off against riot police. On Thursday, a jailed rights activist has allegedly gone back on a hunger strike until he is released; while a senior American official said the country has taken important steps towards reform, but still needs to do more to heal the rifts, however, it seems they have little problems with continuing their arms sales to Bahrain.
  • Prosecutors in Jordan have ordered the detention of a former intelligence chief over corruption related charges stemming from his time in office from 2005-2008 in the latest step in an anti-graft campaign.
  • A sticky bomb attached to the car injured one man in central Baquba, Iraq on Friday; four militants attacked an Asiacell equipment building, knocking out service to the mobile phone operator with explosives in Mosul; gunmen in a car opened fire, killing a civilian in Muqdadiya; and a roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol in south-western Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding seven others. On Saturday, two teenagers were killed while trying to plant a bomb in western Mosul; police found the bodies of two men who had been shot in the head in Mosul; a bomb exploded on a bus, wounding one passenger in northeastern Baghdad; a sticky bomb attached to a car killed a member of a government-backed Sahwa militia in central Baquba; and a bomb planted in front of the house of a Sahwa member went off and wounded him and one of his family members in Udhaim. On Monday, three mortar rounds hit buildings housing displaced Kurds, killing one and wounding 13 in Balad Ruz; a roadside bomb exploded next to a car, injuring the driver in Abu Saida; a roadside bomb wounded three in Mahmudiya; and a sticky bomb attached to a police lieutenant-colonel’s car seriously injured him in Jalawla. On Tuesday, the American State Department announced it is preparing to slash the enormous diplomatic presence it had planned for the country by as much as half. On Wednesday, Iraq’s Justice Ministry announced that 14 Iraqis, most of them al-Qaeda members, were executed for terrorism and criminal offenses. Human Rights Watch sharply criticized the Iraqi authorities for their executions, now numbered at over 65 since the beginning of the year.

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