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New and Noteworthy Middle East Coverage in the West

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In this new weekly series, Joseph Braude surveys significant coverage of Arab and Islamic matters over the past week in American and other English-language publications.

Inside expose of Russia’s Sputnik News details the outlet’s deliberate distortions of Middle East reportage. American journalist Andrew Feinberg, recently fired by the Russian government-operated Sputnik News, has published an expose about the experience in Politico. He writes of his boss at the network, Peter Martinichev, “Every morning I’d submit my questions via email, and his reply would almost always dismiss them in favor of his own replacement questions on other topics, with no regard to whether they were based on reality or not.” Among other examples, he describes how Martinichev pressured him to promulgate bogus claims that gas attacks in Syria were perpetrated by Syrian rebels, not the Assad regime.

American observer warns of a double-edged sword in the war on ISIS. Andrew Bernard at The American Interest has assessed the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces’ plan to oust ISIS from the oil-rich Deir Ezzor province of Syria. He writes, “The oil fields east of Deir ez-Zour still earn the group as much as $1 million each day, money that ISIS is now desperately trying to transfer out of the country. Whether that money will be used to fund attacks in Europe or to renew the insurgency in Iraq and Syria is unclear, but ISIS clearly has the means to continue their campaign of violence indefinitely. As their spate of car ramming attacks has shown, ISIS’ fanatics can produce mass slaughter for the cost of a van rental.”

United Nations predicts that Raqqa will fall in October. London’s The Guardian reports: “The last ISIS stronghold in Syria, will fall by the end of October, allowing credible democratic elections to be held within a year, according to the UN special envoy for the country. Setting out a highly optimistic scenario for the end of the civil war, Staffan de Mistura said the country would face a ‘moment of truth’ after the reclaiming of Raqqa. ‘If the international community helps both the opposition and the government by pushing [them] to accept a real negotiation, then within a year it would be a possibility of having a truly credible election.’”

New report bitterly indicts the Trump Administration’s Iran policy. In a published research paper, the Middle East Media Research Institute in Washington observes that “Trump has come to accept Iranian regional expansionism under the cover of the war on ISIS. … In the first three months of Trump’s term, Tehran was apprehensive about what his Iran policy would be. It significantly dialed back its provocations — both its verbal threats and its naval forays against U.S. vessels in the Gulf — and even cancelled the launch of a ballistic missile, removing the missile from its launching pad on the eve of Iran’s Revolution Day on February 10, after the Trump administration announced that Iran was being “put on notice.” … Three months later, Iran has changed its approach: It is stepping up its naval provocations; its anti-U.S. discourse is again in evidence — including the “Death to America” chant; and its verbal threats against the U.S. are increasing. Additionally, the same missile which was taken off the launching pad last February was launched on July 27, 2017, in disregard of the U.S.’s warning.”

In the tech industry, U.S. sanctions on Iran are seen to be having unintended consequences. Paul Pilar writes in The National Interest, “Apple is attempting to shut down apps developed by Iranians for use on iPhones inside Iran [because] sanctions prohibit Apple from selling its phones in Iran. Impeding the full use by Iranians of their iPhones does absolutely nothing to weaken the Iranian regime. … As with many of the U.S. sanctions, the overall effect on the Iranian economy is to weaken portions of that economy that are outside the regime and to strengthen the regime’s influence over other parts, including the economic activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

Noted American foreign affairs scholar calls for a new American approach to rebuilding failed states. Writing in The American Interest, Seth D. Kaplan, a professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS and advisor to the World Bank, United Nations, USAID, and the U.S. State Department, suggested as follows: “The U.S. government [should] break the habit of focusing on the central state, and come to better appreciate that the disaggregation of power is sometimes essential to stability. Partnering with local leaders based on a deeper understanding of local landscapes and actors is essential. Diplomacy, development, and defense (3D) will all need to … recognize the importance of focusing on a wide variety of actors across a landscape instead of just those jockeying for power in capitals; that tradeoffs between competing goals (for example, political order and competitive politics) is necessary; and that progress is liable to be incremental at best. In many cases, nascent local efforts to end conflicts and establish political order will need to be better protected from outside attempts to disrupt or capture them if they are to gain traction and grow in scale.”

A new push in Egypt for oil industry development wins international attention. According to Haley Zaremba of Asia Times, “This week Egypt signed three major exploration deals with oil giants Royal Dutch Shell and Apex worth at least $81.4 million. The hefty international contracts will kickstart a large-scale oil and gas exploration in 16 new fields in the oil-rich Western Desert. Earlier this month Egypt’s General Authority for Petroleum (EGPC) also announced that it would hold a tender for bids for oil exploration in the Eastern Desert. … UAE-based Renaissance Capital said that over half of the foreign $4.1 billion in direct investment in Egypt in the fourth quarter of 2016 went to the oil and gas sector.”

Former Israeli intelligence chief calls for an American preemptive strike on North Korea. The English-language Times of Israel reports: “Maj. Gen. (ret) Amos Yadlin told Israel’s 103 FM radio that the US should launch a preemptive strike against North Korea if it has the capability to do so in the wake of an apparent hydrogen bomb test by Pyongyang. … He also downplayed the significance of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions vis-a-vis the situation in Iran. ‘Iran is 20 years behind North Korea in nuclear development,’ Yadlin said. The Iranians ‘signed an agreement with the P5+1 that they are keeping… The issue of Iranian weapons will become relevant toward the end of the agreement, which allows Iran to have nuclear capabilities within a short time.’”

Turkey’s president rails against an American indictment of his bodyguards in Washington. Michael Friedson in The Media Line reports: “Videos that went viral clearly depicted [an] aggressive attack launched by officials in Erdogan’s own security detail … [on] protestors of Erdogan’s visit to Washington last May. Erdogan, seen in the videos apparently approving the attack, has denounced the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to indict the bodyguards, He called it a ‘scandalous expression of how justice works in America.’”

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Joseph Braude
Joseph Braude is anauthor, broadcaster and Middle East specialist, andadvisor to the Al-Mesbar Center for Studies and Research.

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