The Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs :
The Geopolitical Importance of Syria
SI Analysis: Engagement with Syria seems to be a priority for many different parties with varying and vying interest of late. There have been ongoing discussions by the US and Israel considering opening talks with Damascus on issues as varied as economic expansion, resolving the conflict over the Golan Heights and curbing the transfer of arms and support to Hezbollah and Hamas. But Washington and Tel Aviv are not alone. Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr expressed a desire to create an Arab alliance with Damascus on a visit with President Bashir Assad, suggesting he is interested in other regional alliances that will fill the vacuum left by the US as it continues to withdraw. Russia too reiterated its interest to reopen a Soviet-era naval base in the Mediterranean port town on Tartus, (though in light of Russia"s dwindling reserves, it remains to be seen whether this can be accomplished). And Turkey announced its intentions to pursue a strategic agreement with Damascus, a significant change for two countries who were on the brink of war only a decade ago. Geopolitical maneuvering is in full swing in the region as the US withdraws from Iraq and as Iran continues its effort to expand its regional influence. Israel will certainly be uneasy that such developments may compromise its security.
SI Analysis: US Secretary of State Clinton returned from India after securing nuclear, defense, seucity, energy, space and arms agreements. India is gleeful that the Bush-era policy -- that overlooked its status as a non-signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty -- remains for all intensive purposes in effect. This is because the US needs India as an ally: to pursue peace talks with Pakistan and wants to secure its alliance as a counter-force to China's growth in Asia.
Speculation of the Week: Hezbollah sparking Lebanese-Israeli Tensions
SI Analysis: Rhetoric on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border has been growing in recent weeks and most recently there have been reports of skirmishes on and around the border. This is a follow-up to the arrest and break-up of a massive alleged Israeli spy ring in Lebanon, over a month ago. While some analysts suggest that Israel is reeling and therefore a bit jumpy since its intelligence network has been greatly undermined. Lebanon has expressed surprisingly unified concern of late for its security and territorial integrity with regards to Israel. Israel however is eager that UN Interim Force (UNIFIL) proceed with its mandate to disarm Hezbollah. What is important to note here however is that things are different in Lebanon from two years ago when conflict broke out between Hezbollah and Israel: Lebanon is more politically stable and more politically unified. Even the pro-Western March 14th Coalition leadership has expressed concern about Israel's recent activity along the border. What this means is that if a conflict were to erupt it would pit Israel against the whole of Lebanon and not just the very heavily re-armed southern-based Shia minority, which could lead to an all-out war. Aware of this, Hezbollah is playing a high-stakes bluff with Israel: the current tension has been contrived by Hezbollah to avoid disarmament and inspections. Expect more of this.
Somalia Conflict Causing Regional Concern
SI Analysis: Kenya expressed concern over the increased number of Somali refugees in Kenyan camps. Moreover, analysts say that the border with Kenya is porous allowing for a flow of militants and arms to continue to nourish the conflict and risk its spread throughout the whole Horn of Africa.
Careful US Policy on Ukraine and Georgia
SI Analysis: US VP Biden traveled to Ukraine and Georgia to reassure the former Soviet states of US support of their fledgling democracies. However rhetoric was much toned down from the previous administration, notably not calling for immediate NATO expansion.
SI Analysis: The ongoing conflict between Army-backed secularists and the former Islamists-leadership regained headlines as Turkey begins a retrials of members of the army accused of plotting a coup against the government led by President Abdul Gul and PM Recip Erdogan, whose AKP party has links to an Islamist past.
SI Analysis on Afghanistan and Pakistan: Independent militias fighting the Taliban in the Pakistani region of Dir request aid from the Pakistani military, but it unclear whether Pakistan is willing or able to provide such assistance. Afghan security forces have made significant progress in competency of late, as illustrated in the recent thwarting suicide bomb attempts.
SI Analysis on Iraq: The security transition from the US to Iraq under the terms of the bilateral security pact is all in all going well. Notably, Iraqi security forces are making extra efforts to protect the Christian minorities who have been under attack of late. Elections in the Kurdish provinces of Dahuk, Sulaimaniya and Erbi will be held on Saturday.
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