Welcome to Middle East Live.
Here’s a roundup of the latest developments, speculation and analysis:
• Syria’s President Bashar Assad has been looking into the possibility of claiming political asylum for himself, his family and his associates in Latin America, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. There is little confirmation for the claim but Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal al-Miqdad, held meetings in Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador over the past week. Assad vowed in an interview with Russia Today last month that he would never be forced into exile and that he would “live and die in Syria.”
• Nato has agreed to send Patriot missiles to Turkey to defend against a possible Syrian missile attack and voiced grave concern about reports that Damascus may be preparing to use chemical weapons. “To the Turkish people we say: We are determined to defend you and your territory. To anyone who would want to attack Turkey we say: Don’t even think about it,” Nato’s secretary-general, Anders-Fogh Rasmussen, said after the 28-nation alliance foreign ministers took the decision at a meeting in Brussels.
• The US is ready to launch military action in Syria “within days” if President Assad resorts to mobilising chemical weapons, an official told the Times. The official stressed that the action is not imminent, but said:
It won’t require major movement to make action happen. The muscle is already there to be flexed. It’s premature to say what could happen if a decision is made to intervene. That hasn’t taken shape, we’ve not reached that kind of decision. There are a lot of options, but it [military action] could be launched rapidly, within days.
• The former Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi is on his way to the United States after apparently defecting, the Guardian has learned. Makdissi, the most senior Christian official yet to abandon Bashar al-Assad’s regime, was reported on Monday to have variously been sacked or defected and to have arrived in London, where he used to serve in the Syrian embassy. But usually reliable diplomatic sources revealed on Tuesday that he is en route for – or already in – the US after managing to leave the Syrian capital, Damascus, for Beirut.
The mandated and classified report must include detailed evaluations of the resources needed and potential effectiveness of at least three military options: deploying Patriot missiles to neighboring countries, establishing no-fly zones over Syrian population centers, and conducting limited airstrikes aimed at Assad’s air power assets.
• Egyptian security forces have clashed with opponents of Mohamed Morsi who gathered outside the presidential palace in Cairo to protest against his assumption of new powers. Opponents say the drafting of a new constitution has been rushed and is a move towards dictatorial rule. Morsi has called for a referendum on the draft constitution on 15 December.
• The public prosecutor referred a complaint against three former presidential candidates to the country’s state prosecution service for espionage and plotting against the state. The complaint against Mohamed ElBaradei, Hamdein Sabahy and Amr Moussa, as well as Wafd party leader Sayed Badawi, was filed by Hamed Sadek, a lawyer who is accusing the opposition figureheads of being embroiled in a “Zionist plot” to overthrow the Islamist-led government of Mohamed Morsi.
A yes vote would enshrine a national charter that is packed with vague clauses, would weaken citizens’ rights, provide for an over-strong presidency and greatly empower unelected religious authorities. But it would also pave the way for fresh legislative elections and set legal limits to Morsi’s now-unbound executive power. A no vote would represent a blunt rebuff to Morsi’s and the Islamists’ ambitions. But it would also return the draft constitution to the same flawed body that passed it, and effectively prolong Morsi’s ‘temporary’ dictatorial authority. Just now, either choice looks terrible.