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The bimonthly LDESP Iraq News Update has transitioned to the monthly LDESP News Update From the Middle East. The Middle East update will include news coverage from Iran to Egypt. As with all LDESP news briefs, the information contained within the Middle East News update is to increase situational awareness concerning events that may affect your mission.
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Syrian government forces killed at least 95 civilians, many in cold blood, and destroyed hundreds of houses in a two-week offensive in the northern province of Idlib during ceasefire negotiations, Human Rights Watch said on 2 May. The New York-based advocacy group said war crimes were committed during the offensive against opposition strongholds in March and April as international peace envoy Kofi Annan was trying to end Syria’s year-long conflict. (…) In each attack, government forces used numerous tanks and helicopters and would stay in towns for one to three days before proceeding to the next town, the statement said. Graffiti left by soldiers in all the affected towns indicate the operation was led by the 76th Armoured Brigade, it added. (…) Opposition fighters were present in all the towns that were attacked in Idlib and in some cases tried to prevent the army from advancing, HRW said, adding that in most cases the fighters withdrew quickly when they realized they were significantly outnumbered and had no means to resist tanks and artillery. (Reuters)
As Syria’s revolution drags into its second year amid few signs that a U.N.-mandated cease-fire plan will end the violence, evidence is mounting that Islamist extremists are seeking to commandeer what began as a non-ideological uprising aimed at securing greater political freedom. Activists and rebel soldiers based inside Syria say a small but growing number of Islamist radicals affiliated with global jihadi movements have been arriving in opposition strongholds in recent weeks and attempting to rally support among disaffected residents. Western diplomats say they have tracked a steady trickle of jihadists flowing into Syria from Iraq, and Jordan’s government in April detained at least four alleged Jordanian militants accused of trying to sneak into Syria to join the revolutionaries. A previously unknown group calling itself the al-Nusra Front has asserted responsibility for bombings in the cities of Damascus and Aleppo using language and imagery reminiscent of the statements and videos put out by al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations in Iraq, although no evidence of the group’s existence has surfaced other than the videos and statements it has posted on the Internet. Syrian activists and Western officials say the militants appear to be making little headway in recruiting supporters within the ranks of the still largely secular protest movement, whose unifying goal is the ouster of the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad. (…)The diplomats say dozens of jihadis have been detected crossing the border from Iraq into Syria, some of them Syrians who had previously volunteered to fight in Iraq and others Iraqi. There may also be other foreign nationals among them, reversing the journey they took into Iraq years ago when jihadis flowed across the border to fight the now-departed Americans. (The Washington Post)
Short to medium term economic outlook of GCC countries is positive due to strong external balances and rising oil prices, but these economies should watch out for potential fiscal imbalances creeping in as a result of the excessive public spending and the rising budget break even oil prices, the International Monetary Fund said on 2 May. In 2012, GCC’s GDP growth is projected to average almost 5 per cent, as oil prices are expected to average about $115 per barrel. While the real GDP of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are projected to grow more than 6 per cent, the UAE and Bahrain are projected to grow at 2.3 per cent and 2 per cent respectively. (…) Aided by higher oil prices, the GCC’s combined current account surplus reahed $400 billion in 2011, almost double the 2010 level. This increase helped lift their official reserve position above the $1 trillion mark, the IMF said. Non-oil GDP growth is also expected to rise in all GCC countries. On aggregate, non-oil GDP growth is projected to accelerate to almost 4.5 percent in 2012, largely on the back of heightened construction activity as increased government spending takes effect. As a result, non-oil GDP is expected to be around three-quarters of overall GDP growth by 2013. (Gulf News)
A senior International Monetary Fund official said on 2 May the fund remains willing to consider a much-needed $3.2 billion aid package for Egypt but is waiting for sufficient consensus from political leaders in Cairo. The IMF wants Egypt’s interim military-backed government and elected officials to put together a comprehensive economic recovery plan before it agrees to provide aid. Masood Ahmed, the director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia department, said Egypt has made some progress on meeting the fund’s conditions. But he suggested more work is needed. Ahmed said the plan, which would include IMF funds and other foreign aid to meet budget shortfalls, should address economic imbalances within the country while protecting the poor and generating confidence among foreign investors. (…) Egypt’s Islamist-dominated parliament in April rejected the military-appointed Cabinet’s economic plan, setting back efforts to secure the IMF funding. (…) The IMF loan will not be enough to cover all Egypt’s financing needs. Additional aid packages from the European Union, the oil-rich Arab Gulf states and other sources depend on Cairo’s ability to secure the IMF loan. (The Washington Post, Associated Press)
A Modern Silk Road between Asia And The Middle East
When Christy Lee, a South Korean investment banker, was dispatched to the Gulf four years ago to drum up business, her friends in Seoul had a hard time taking the assignment seriously. (…) Now, when Ms. Lee talks about the Gulf, people listen. She has started her own firm, Daewon Advisory Services, with offices in Seoul and Abu Dhabi. (…) Ms. Lee is one of a growing number of entrepreneurs and other people who have carved out roles as intermediaries between Asia and the Gulf, reviving in modern form — real estate projects, joint ventures, and investment deals — the centuries-old link between the Middle East and Asia known as the Silk Road. (…) In more recent times, as the West waxed in wealth and China waned, the old routes waned with it. But now the pendulum is swinging back and the Middle East — especially the Gulf region — is again growing much closer to Asia. Trade between Asia and the Middle East rose 700 percent in the decade ending in 2010, and more than half of the region’s trade is now with Asia, said Farouk Soussa, chief Middle East economist at Citi in Dubai. Booming trade is leading to growing investment as well as political and cultural ties. Not long ago it would have been a total shock for Abu Dhabi to order nuclear reactors from South Korea. (The New York Times)