January 22nd, 2012
11:26 PM ET

Danin: How to help Syria without intervening militarily

Editor's Note: Robert M. Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a former Director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council. 

By Robert M. Danin - Special to CNN

The Arab League’s decision on Sunday to renew its monitors’ mandate consigns Syria to further bloodshed and the pan-Arab body back to its longstanding position of irrelevance.  Arab League representatives argue that they’ve ratcheted up the pressure by calling on President Bashar al-Assad to surrender power to a deputy, form a national unity government, and hold multi-party elections. But who can take this call seriously?

Damascus agreed last November to the Arab League’s original plan to pull back its heavy weapons from Syria’s cities, halt attacks on protesters, open talks with the opposition, and allow human rights workers and journalists into Syria.  The Syrian regime did little other than let in a fraction of the Arab League monitoring team into the country and restrict their movements.  In the one month that those Arab League monitors were in Syria, Assad’s savagery only increased along with the daily rate of Syrians killed. FULL POST

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Topics: Syria
Danin: The dictators' rogue sons
Saif al-Islam Gadhafi on March 4, 2011.
December 7th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

Danin: The dictators' rogue sons

Editor's Note: Robert M. Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a former Director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council. This article is reprinted with permission of the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Robert Danin.

By Robert M. Danin

Bashar al-Assad, Gamal Mubarak, and Saif al-Islam share a number of things in common. For starters, all were groomed by their fathers to succeed them in ruling Syria, Egypt, and Libya respectively. Second, all were heralded as reformers, men who would help propel their countries, economically and politically, into the twenty-first century. Third, when protests hit their countries, each of them advocated a ruthless and violent response to the unrest.

In Syria’s case, since Assad was already in power, he has been able to continue the brutal policies of his father. In Egypt’s case, Gamal’s recommendation to forcibly quell unrest did not win over the military, though he now languishes in prison facing charges of inciting police forces and organizing thugs to attack and kill Tahrir Square protesters in late January and early February. In Libya, Saif’s bloody approach earned him an International Criminal Court indictment for crimes against humanity, including murder, bombing, and shooting protesters in February. FULL POST

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Topics: Middle East
Danin: Is Saudi Arabia next?
Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.
December 2nd, 2011
11:25 AM ET

Danin: Is Saudi Arabia next?

Editor's Note: Robert M. Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a former Director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council. This article is reprinted with permission of the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Robert Danin.

By Robert M. Danin - Special to CNN

Recent demonstrations and violence in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province that left four people dead and nine others wounded raise the question: Is Saudi Arabia the next country that will encounter the wave of popular unrest sweeping the Arab world?

Already the Arab uprisings’ effects have been felt in Saudi Arabia. In February and March, soon after Mubarak’s overthrow in Egypt, Saudi Facebook activists began calling for a revolution and declared a “Day of Rage” for March 11, emulating the youth activists in Egypt and Tunisia. However, the “Day of Rage” fizzled out, and demonstrations were held only in the Eastern Province, home to Saudi’s restive Shia minority. FULL POST

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Topics: Protests • Saudi Arabia
New dangers after the Israel-Hamas prisoner swap
Gilad Shalit. (Getty Images)
October 19th, 2011
08:26 PM ET

New dangers after the Israel-Hamas prisoner swap

Editor's Note: Robert M. Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and a former Director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council.

By Robert M. Danin - Special to CNN

PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas returned to Ramallah last month from New York triumphant, having defiantly stood up to the United States and others by submitting Palestine’s application for statehood to the United Nations Security Council. On Tuesday, in contrast, Abbas doubtlessly felt politically deflated as he welcomed newly freed prisoners whose release was engineered by his two political adversaries - Hamas and Israel.

Such are the vagaries of rapidly shifting Israeli-Palestinian politics. One moment Abbas is up, the next he feels compelled to host his rivals’ supporters whose violent actions ran precisely contrary to his own political approach. Last week I provided a first look at the immediate implications of the Shalit exchange. Now, as the dust settles further from the drama of the prisoner exchange, certain realities come into clearer focus:

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Topics: Israel
UN vote: A detour off the path to Palestinian statehood
Palestinians rally outside the UN building in the West Bank city of Ramallah on September 8, 2011 as they kick off a campaign of support for their bid to become the 194th state to join the United Nations. (Getty Images)
September 15th, 2011
10:45 AM ET

UN vote: A detour off the path to Palestinian statehood

Editor's Note: Robert M. Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and a former Director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council.

By Robert M. Danin, Foreign Affairs

The Palestinians' effort to attain international statehood recognition at the United Nations in September is aimed at enhancing their leverage in future negotiations with Israel. In a candid May 16 op-ed in the New York Times, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and chair of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), acknowledged as much. "Palestine would be negotiating from the position of one United Nations member whose territory is militarily occupied by another," he said, "and not as a vanquished people."

Ironically, this effort, if successful, could achieve the very position Palestine could have attained long ago at a much lower price. Phase II of the 2003 Quartet Roadmap for Peace offered the option of creating "an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders" as a stepping stone to a negotiated permanent final-status agreement. The Palestinian leadership long rejected this option, fearing that that establishing a state prior to resolving all outstanding final status issues with Israel would leave them unresolved in perpetuity. Now they have effectively reversed course, hoping for just such an outcome. Only now, the Palestinians are pursuing this goal outside of any international diplomatic effort, rather than within one. FULL POST

August 18th, 2011
05:00 PM ET

Oil sanctions may harm Syrians without weakening Assad

Editor's NoteRobert Danin is the Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This is his First Take.

By Robert Danin, CFR.org

With President Obama's call on Bashar al-Assad to step aside, Syria becomes the third Arab country his administration has targeted for regime change this year. Having started his presidency seeking conciliation with Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi, and Assad, Obama has become the champion of their removal, part of a larger regional approach toward democratic change.

Forcing Assad to step down, however, will be difficult. In Egypt, the words of the United States carried significant weight. But in Syria, as in Libya, those calls will have little resonance and may be manipulated to bolster support for a regime that champions itself the last bastion of Arab nationalism and anti-Western imperialism. FULL POST

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Topics: Syria
Netanyahu and Obama's dueling speeches
May 24th, 2011
04:50 PM ET

Netanyahu and Obama's dueling speeches

Editor's NoteRobert Danin is the Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This is his First Take.

By Robert Danin

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address today before Congress in many ways mirrored President Barack Obama's Middle East speech at the State Department May 19.

Like Obama, Netanyahu first addressed the issues of Middle East democracy, then Iran (Obama spoke about Middle East economic support instead), and then finally the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both leaders outlined their respective visions of the core elements necessary for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Each discussed Jerusalem, borders, security arrangements, and the steps Palestinians would need to take to best make peace.

But most important, both leaders avoided any clear pathway out of the stalemate that marks the current absence of a peace process.

FULL POST

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Topics: Israel • Palestinian Authority
Obama’s Wilsonian call will invite skepticism
May 19th, 2011
04:03 PM ET

Obama’s Wilsonian call will invite skepticism

Editor's NoteRobert Danin is the Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Check out CFR.org's expert roundup of reactions to President Obama's speech.

By Robert Danin, CFR.org

In America’s debate over how to react to the six-month long Arab uprisings –whether to pursue pure national interests or advance American ideals –President Obama today unambiguously embraced the ideals of self-determination for the peoples of the Middle East.

The bold Wilsonian approach towards the region may inspire some, especially in Syria, where the regime remarkably allowed the President’s speech to be aired. Iranians too, who had felt neglected, may take new inspiration from the President’s corrective to the people of Iran by noting the uprising there in June 2009. The region’s Kurds may wonder whether the President’s repeated invocation of self-determination applies to them.

But President’s remarks will also fuel the charges of inconsistency that his Administration has tried to bat down throughout this year.

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Topics: Middle East • President Obama
May 13th, 2011
08:01 PM ET

George Mitchell resigns: No Israeli-Palestinian peace any time soon

Editor's NoteRobert Danin is the Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and this is his First Take.

By Robert Danin, CFR.org

Senator George Mitchell's resignation as the Obama administration's Middle East envoy makes formal what was clear for some time - the president's goal of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement by September is unattainable and negotiations are not about to resume any time soon.

President Barack Obama appointed Mitchell to be envoy two days after the January 20, 2009, inauguration to signal the new administration's commitment to peacemaking. At the time, Obama identified Middle East peace as a "national security priority" and negotiations as the path toward realizing that objective.

Mitchell was heralded as the perfect fit, due to his skill in facilitating Northern Ireland peace talks and his authorship of the high-profile 2001 international report on the causes of the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada. FULL POST

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Topics: Diplomacy • Israel • Palestinian Authority • United States