Mideast Weekly Roundup

By Saturday, February 13, 2016

During Iran’s Feb. 11 Revolution Day parade, members of the Iranian Basij paramilitary reenacted the recent capture of 10 U.S. sailors in the Persian Gulf. As part of the public mockery of the sailors – who inadvertently strayed out of international waters and into Iranian waters before their capture in January – groups of shackled Iranians dressed in military fatigues were led through the streets of Tehran. Some knelt on the ground with their hands behind their heads as guns were pointed at them. Others had bags placed over their heads. On the 37th anniversary of the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution, some attendees also carried anti-Western placards and many shouted “Death to America and Israel.”

A video broadcasted on Iranian State TV Feb. 10 reportedly shows one of the U.S. sailors’ crying during his brief capture in Iran. The man was among the 10 Americans detained when their ships entered Iran territory. Speaking about the video, U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Kevin Stephens commented, “As Secretary [of State] John Kerry has said, we are disgusted by the exploitation of our sailors in Iranian propaganda.” Adding that the United States would not have released such a video if the roles were reversed, he called the Jan. 12 detention of the American sailors “outrageous and unacceptable.” According to U.S. military personnel, the U.S. Navy has assisted Iranian sailors in distress in the Gulf region seven times since 2012.

The United States and Russia – among the other countries participating in the Syrian peace talks – have tentatively agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria’s civil war. According to Kerry, the goal is to have a cease-fire in a week’s time, with a truce in place at the beginning of March. Complicating the talks is the fact that Russia and the United States are supporting opposites sides of the civil war, with Russia backing President Bashar Assad and the U.S. supporting some rebel groups. Both countries have said that they will continue their air strikes against the Islamic State even if a truce is agreed upon.

United States Defense Secretary Ashton Carter this week announced that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to step up their contributions to the fight against the Islamic State. Both countries said that they would revive their currently stalled air campaigns against ISIS and will provide additional special operations forces, to boost Arab contributions to the effort in the Middle East. These pledges were made during a Brussels meeting participated in by defense ministers from 49 nations. Most of the countries present agreed with U.S. requests to boost their efforts to combat ISIS.

The widow of senior Islamic State leader Abu Sayyaf has been charged for her role in the conspiracy that resulted in the death of American aid worker Kayla Mueller last February. Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar (also known as Umm Sayyaf), whose husband was killed in a U.S. raid last year, was charged in federal court with assisting to hold Mueller captive and for contributing to the young woman’s death. Prosecutors said that Bahar and her husband kept Mueller and several other female hostages captive, and that Bahar knew her husband was sexually molesting Mueller. Mueller was taken captive in 2013. It is not yet known if 25-year-old Bahar will be brought to the United States to stand trial.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his country’s intention to end its airstrikes against the Islamic State, saying that “the people terrorized by ISIL every day don’t need our vengeance, they need our help.” Calling the new endeavor against ISIS a “non-combat mission,” Trudeau clarified that Canada will expand its efforts to train local forces and rebuild areas of Iraq and Syria that have been torn apart by war. Additional Canadian military personnel will also be sent to the region to provide planning, targeting and intelligence expertise. “We will be supporting and empowering local forces to take their fight directly to ISIL so that … they can reclaim their homes, their land and their future,” Trudeau said.

In the wake of lifted sanctions against Iran and new worldwide interest in visiting that country, the U.S. State Department has replaced its travel warning for Iran issued on Aug. 5. In the Iran Travel Warning updated on Jan. 29, the department still warned U.S. citizens to “carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran,” and reiterated and highlighted the “risk of arrest and detention of U.S. citizens, particularly dual national Iranian-Americans, in Iran.” It still warned against all nonessential travel to Iran, saying that even after the P5+1’s nuclear agreement was made with Iran, that country has “continued to harass, arrest and detain U.S. citizens, in particular dual nationals.”

Indonesia has passed prison sentences for seven men suspected of supporting the Islamic State; this was the first time that country has jailed individuals for links to ISIS. An Indonesian court sentenced seven men to between three and five years in jail for recruiting and helping people travel to Syria to fight alongside ISIS. Although his verdict was called “too lenient” by a Jakarta-based security expert, the sentencing judge said that supporting the Islamic State should be considered an act of terrorism.

Hamas has barred United Nations senior employee Mahmoud Daher from leaving the Gaza Strip. The Islamic militant group had previously announced that international organizations would need a Hamas-issued exit permit when leaving Gaza to enter Israel. The United Nations had been exempt from acquiring that document. But Daher, who is the Palestinian head of the World Health Organization’s Gaza office, was not allowed to exit Gaza when attempting to do so on Feb. 11.

A Minnesota man called the “emir” of a group believed to have plotted to join the Islamic State pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group. Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame, 20, was the 10th person arrested in an investigation into ISIS recruits and supporters in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said that Warsame’s guilty plea was the “first step to help himself begin the process of rehabilitation and help our entire community begin to heal.”

Pro-Palestinians have voiced their opposition to the inclusion of a voucher good for an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel in the Oscar swag bag that is given to Academy Award nominees. The already valuable gift bags are now worth $220,000, thanks, in part, to the $55,000 trips, which include first-class air travel to Tel Aviv and a 10-day stay at a five-star hotel for the recipients and their plus-ones. The Israeli visits were gifted by the Israeli Tourism Ministry and travel company ExploreIsrael.com. Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said that the free trips will allow people in the film industry to experience Israel firsthand and not just through the media. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has called on the Oscar nominees to reject what they called Israel’s “propaganda trip.”

Jessie Owen Payne

Jessie Owen Payne is the Media Director of The Philos Project. Jessie graduated from Bob Jones University in 2008 with a BA in Radio and Television Broadcasting and a minor in Public Relations Journalism. She interned with Entercom Communications while in college, did freelance writing for The Greenville News in South Carolina, and worked as a staff reporter and editor for The Springville Journal and, later, The Sun News outside Buffalo, NY. Jessie’s passions include fashion, photography and travel. She currently lives with her husband Drew and two children, Logan and Ashtyn, in Greenville, S.C.