Week in Review: MENA - April, 4 2014

Middle East and North Africa

U.S. lawmakers and other officials have been heavily engaged in the MENA region this week, crafting legislation on Iran as the next round of nuclear negotiations approaches, threatening to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority as peace talks stall, discussing future security cooperation with Israel and the Gulf states, and considering security matters with Algerian officials in Algiers. 

United States Policy:

  • Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) are working on a new terrorism-related sanctions bill that would target Hezbollah and Iran in an effort to disrupt their support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
  • Members of the House of Representatives are threatening to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) after President Abbas announced his intention to apply to 15 different United Nations treaties. The 2015 budget request calls for $370 million in economic aid to the PA, as well as $70 million in International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) funds, for a total of $440 million of heavily conditioned aid.
  • Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) is proposing new legislation that would ban Iran’s new ambassador to the U.N. from entering and working in the United States. The bill is meant to preclude the possibility that the new ambassador, Hamid Abutalebi, who is a member of the group that took 52 Americans hostage in Iran in 1979, would be able to fulfill his appointment. The bill, H.R. 4357, is a House counterpart to Senate legislation offered on Wednesday by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
  • President Obama travelled to Saudi Arabia last week and reassured the Saudis of the United States’ commitment to supporting the moderate opposition in Syria. Cooperation between the two countries has been strained over what Saudi Arabia considers an insufficient assistance program to the rebels, whom it is planning on arming.
  • Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, told the U.N. Security Council that Syria has packed about 40 percent of its chemical weapons arsenal in preparation for its transfer and eventual destruction.
  • Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with a team of Israeli officials on Monday to discuss security cooperation options not only with the United States but with Gulf countries as well, including Saudi Arabia. Regarding the United States, Defense News reports that Israel agreed to a deferred payment plan (under which Israel would only need to pay interest and fees over the course of the agreement) “to take on more than $2 billion in commercial debt for near-term buys of V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and other Pentagon-approved weaponry.” Regarding cooperation with Arab states, Gen. Dempsey raised the possibility of intelligence sharing, joint counterterrorism training, support for Syrian rebels as points of mutual interest that may bring Israel and its Arab counterparts in the Gulf to work together. Israel and the Gulf also share a common suspicion of Iran’s nuclear program.
  • Secretary of State John Kerry met with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Thursday, discussing better security and economic cooperation as part of the U.S.-Algeria Strategic Dialogue.
  • Tunisia’s interim Prime Minister, Mehdi Jomaa, is visiting Washington to meet with Obama administration officials with the hope of securing a stronger bilateral relationship with the United States.
  • The New York Times reported that Lukman Faily, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, was advocating for a more engaged U.S. relationship with Iraq that includes “greater intelligence sharing about security threats; more people-to-people exchanges in fields like culture, education and health care; and expedited delivery of billions of dollars in weapons and equipment that the Iraqi government has ordered.”


Other top security stories:

  • The Lebanese Army vowed to combat the growing threat of “terrorism” after a suicide bombing struck a checkpoint in Arsal, a small town near the Syrian border. Lebanon continues to be plagued with violence spilling over the border.
  • Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, defended Hezbollah’s role in the Syrian civil war and called on his fellow Lebanese to support Hezbollah’s defense of the country against what he sees as the threat of Sunni rebel groups.
  • A suicide bombing and an attack by gunmen left eight Iraqi soldiers dead in the Sunni town of Tikrit. The attacks occurred weeks before an Iraqi national parliamentary election is scheduled to proceed.
  • Human Rights Watch called on Secretary of State John Kerry not to resume military aid to Egypt. The advocacy group mentioned that Egypt continues to violate basic humanitarian and democratic rights that do not warrant a resumption of U.S. aid.