MENA Week in Review - May 9, 2014

Middle East and North Africa

Several groups requested additional U.S. security assistance this week: Syria’s opposition asked for antiaircraft missiles for vetted Syrian rebels, while some Iraqi officials requested that the U.S. begin armed drone strikes against al-Qaeda-inspired groups in Iraq. Below is a roundup these stories and some of the other top articles and news highlights from around the Middle East and North Africa over the last week:

United States security assistance stories:

  • As Iraqi forces continue to battle militants in Anbar province, Foreign Policy reports that some Iraqi officials want the U.S. to carry out drone strikes against these militants. The U.S. has delivered Iraq a variety of arms and equipment – including surveillance drones – since the Anbar clashes broke out, but for Iraq to receive armed drones, U.S. forces would have to operate them. And while Iraq has not allowed operational U.S. military personnel in its territory, Foreign Policy writes that Iraq might be revisiting this policy. Nonetheless, the U.S. National Security Council responded to the story by writing, "We have not received a formal request to operate armed drones over Iraq … Nor is there debate in the administration about diverting armed drones over Iraq or planning to do so."
  • Al Monitor translated an informative interview between Azzaman and the head of the U.S. Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, General Michael Bednarek. In the interview General Bednarek detailed past and upcoming U.S. arms deliveries to Iraq, touched upon U.S. intelligence sharing in the form of aerial photography, and gave an update regarding the transfer of Apache helicopters to Iraqi forces.
  • During his visit to Washington, DC, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, asked U.S. lawmakers and administration officials to provide vetted Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft missiles. Earlier in the week, the State Department granted Jarba’s delegation diplomatic status, although the new status has more symbolic than legal ramifications. The State Department also announced an additional $27 million in nonlethal assistance to the opposition.
  • National Security Advisor Susan Rice visited Israel on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss regional security issues. While Rice’s meetings addressed negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, the White House clarified that the visit “would not produce any new developments” with regards to the negotiations. During her visit, Rice announced that the U.S. would renew its investment in Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense system, stating that the U.S. has contributed nearly $900 million to the system’s development.
  • Reuters reports that U.S. and Israeli officials will likely start negotiating an extension to the United States’ annual military aid package during Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s trip to the country next week. The current agreement provides Israel with about three billion in annual assistance and runs through 2017. Reuters writes that Israel hopes to boost the annual package to about $3.2 – 3.5 billion, while the U.S. hopes to reduce the assistance to $2.8 billion annually after 2017. 


Other top security stories:

  • The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday to open another investigation of the Benghazi attacks in September 2012. The vote was partisan in nature, with all Republicans supporting the inquiry and all but seven Democrats opposing it. Earlier in the week, the New York Times tracked the number of times lawmakers (mostly Republicans) have spoken about the Benghazi attacks in the past year, noting their relative silence on the topic until last month.
  • Former Egyptian Chief of Staff and favored presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave a number of interviews and prepared speeches this week, resulting in a few noteworthy comments:
    • Sisi stated that the former U.S. ambassador to Cairo asked him to delay the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, though Sisi refused this request. Sisi also predicted better relations with the United States following the May 26-27 presidential elections.
    • In the same interview, Sisi admitted that some human rights violations occurred during the security forces’ recent operations. However, Sisi still expressed his support for Egypt’s new and controversial counterterror law, stating: “I say that anything needed for security and stability we will do.”
  • Yemeni security forces and allied tribes conducted another major counterterror operation this week, capturing a significant al-Qaeda stronghold in the southern part of Yemen. Reuters referred to the mission as “the most concerted drive against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) … in nearly two years.” This operation followed an intensive counterterror effort three weeks ago that received significant U.S. operational support.