Middle East update: November 13 2018


At least six people were injured on Tuesday when a bomb exploded on a bus in the city of Homs. So far nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack, which is the second bus bombing in Homs this year.

Robert O’Brien, the State Department’s hostage envoy, publicly called on Russia and Iran on Tuesday to help secure the release of Austin Tice, a journalist who was taken captive in Syria in 2012, probably by the Assad government. There’s been no proof of life give in Tice’s case since shortly after he was taken, but neither has there been any evidence that he’s been killed so his family and the US government continue to operate on the belief that he’s alive and being held.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is preparing to begin apportioning blame for Syrian chemical weapons attacks in February. To this point the OPCW has only had a mandate to investigate whether a chemical weapons attack had taken place, but its member states voted in June to give it the authority to assign responsibility–over objections from Iran, Russia, and Syria.


There’s a sliver of hope for diplomacy in Hudaydah, as Tuesday brought a lull in fighting and an apparent (at least according to the UK) commitment from the Saudi-led coalition to allow wounded Houthi rebels to be evacuated from the country for medical treatment. The Houthi demand for medical evacuation was one of the things that caused September’s attempt at United Nations-led peace talks to break down, so this decision could remove a big hurdle to renewed negotiations.

This is not to say that there was no violence at all on Tuesday. The main entrance to Hudaydah’s seaport was reportedly hit by two airstrikes, while coalition airstrikes on the Hudaydah suburb of Jarahi reportedly killed at least nine civilians.


The Turkish military says its airstrikes in northern Iraq on Tuesday killed at least 19 PKK militants.


Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi told reporters on Tuesday that ISIS militants in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province are attempting to cross into Iraq to escape the US-Syrian Democratic Forces offensive there. Abdul Mahdi said that the Iraqi military is preventing them from crossing the border.


The US Treasury Department sanctioned four people it says “coordinate” Hezbollah’s operations in Iraq, as well as Jawad Nasrallah, the son of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri told reporters on Tuesday that he blames Hezbollah for delaying the formation of a new Lebanese government. Hezbollah is insisting that Hariri’s Future Movement party give one of its cabinet offices to a Sunni party aligned with Hezbollah, as a reflection of the Future Movement’s losses and Hezbollah’s gains in the country’s May election. Hariri is refusing, and what seemed like a minor dispute that would be cleared up fairly easily is now becoming a major political crisis.


Gaza’s worst fighting since the 2014 war appears to be over, for now:

Palestinian factions in Gaza said they had agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel on Tuesday, after the worst outbreak of violence since the two sides fought a 50-day war in the summer of 2014, though analysts warned the security situation remained fragile.

By sundown, the exchange of fire that had rocked Gaza and surrounding Israeli communities with relentless explosions had appeared to stop. The “joint operations room” of armed factions in Gaza — including the armed wing of the militant group Hamas, which rules the territory — said that a ceasefire had been reached and would remain in place “as long as it is committed to by the Zionist enemy.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his security cabinet met for six hours. When they emerged, they did not confirm the agreement, only saying that the Israeli military had been “instructed to continue its operations as necessary,” but Israeli news outlets reported that a ceasefire had been agreed to.

So basically both sides are in a “fire only if fired upon” mode now, which is definitely progress. The volume of fire, especially on the Palestinian side, was almost unprecedented, with hundreds of rockets landing all over Israel and the West Bank. As it stands now, the Israelis killed seven people and wounded 26 in Gaza, while Hamas et al wounded 18 people and killed one–a Palestinian living just outside of Hebron.

Apart from a good deal of bad blood among civilians on both sides of the conflict, this ceasefire in theory takes everybody back to where they were before Israeli special forces botched one of their frequent surveillance missions in Gaza on Sunday and kicked off all the shooting. Both Israeli and Hamas officials were trying to push toward a broader Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, and really the biggest reason for optimism that this ceasefire will hold is that neither side seems to have wanted this clash to happen in the first place. Israel sees the possibility of a more comprehensive ceasefire with Hamas as a chance to end the Gaza protests and the international criticism Israel has earned with its violent response to them, and Hamas must know that the only thing a new Gaza war would do is leave a lot of Gazans dead and conditions in the city even more wretched than they already are.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday leveled his most pointed criticisms yet at Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman over the Jamal Khashoggi killing:

Speaking to Turkish reporters while traveling back from Paris, where he met with leaders from France, Germany and the United States, Mr. Erdogan said the crown price was failing to follow through on his promise to expose the truth about the disappearance and death of Mr. Khashoggi.

“The crown prince says, ‘I am going to clarify the incident and do what is necessary,’” Mr. Erdogan said in the published remarks. “The crown prince tells this to my special representatives, and we are waiting patiently.”

Erdoğan is demanding that the Saudis reveal who ordered Khashoggi’s death, which will of course be impossible for them if it was MBS himself. He also confirmed that his government has shared the audio of Khashoggi’s murder to several other governments, describing the Saudi representative as “so shocked” upon hearing the recording that he said the killer must have taken heroin to be able to carry out the murder.


John Bolton says that the Trump administration plans to “squeeze” Iran “until the pips squeak.” Somehow this man is the national security advisor and not in an institution for the criminally insane. Those sounds aren’t pips squeaking, by the way, they’re Iranians who can’t get insulin dying.

One thought on “Middle East update: November 13 2018

  1. Turkey shot missiles in northern Iraq***
    Thanks for everything you do. This is one of my favorite places to come for news.

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