President Donald Trump will meet Friday with oil executives from Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, and Continental Resources to discuss assisting the industry, possibly by imposing tariffs on Saudi oil imports, after the benchmark WTI fell nearly 70 percent since the beginning of 2020. To maximize global market share, Riyadh is drawing crude from its inventories in addition to ramping up production, with Aramco aiming to supply 13 million bpd. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday said that Russia is not holding talks with Saudi Arabia to stabilize oil prices and that Russian President Vladimir Putin has no immediate plans to contact the Saudi leadership.
An Iranian foreign ministry statement called the US deployment of patriot missiles in Iraq "counter to the official position of the Iraqi government, parliament, and people" and said the US should "respect the wishes of the Iraqi people and government and leave the country." Otherwise, the statement warned, US military activities in the region could result in "instability and disaster." The US is in the process of deploying four extra patriot missile defense systems across Iraq. Patriot systems have already arrived at the Ain al-Asad base and at a base in Erbil while two more remain in Kuwait awaiting deployment.
Without further clarification, President Trump on Wednesday tweeted: "Upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on U.S. troops and/or assets in Iraq. If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!"
Esmail Ghaani made his first public trip to Iraq Monday since succeeding Qassem Soleimani as commander of the Qods Force and met with leaders of pro-Iranian parties trying to prevent the US-friendly prime minister-designate, Adnan al-Zurfi, from forming a government. However, many Iraqi officials noted that Ghaani's poor command of Arabic and lack of personal relationships with key figures may hamper his efforts to unify the pro-Tehran parliamentary factions.
The Iraqi Oil Ministry announced Wednesday that March's lower oil prices translated into collecting only $2.9 billion in oil revenue last month, compared with $5.05 billion in February. Relying on oil revenue to cover more than 90 percent of the national budget, Baghdad will likely need to cut public sector salaries if the slump continues.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported last March's civilian death toll was the lowest since the civil war began. 67 of the 103 civilian casualties died from Russian aerial bombardment while only one civilian died at the hands of anti-regime forces, an execution by the jihadist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group.
The Interior Ministry Wednesday froze bank accounts municipalities were using to collect donations for local efforts to combat COVID-19. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan started his own national donation campaign on Monday and accused the opposition-controlled governments of Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir of trying to create a "state within a state." The Istanbul Municipality has filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse the Interior Ministry's action as the number of confirmed infections reached 15,679 and deaths 277.
A Turkish warship fired missiles at an agricultural area on the outskirts of the Libyan National Army (LNA)-controlled city of al-Ajaylat, causing no casualties. It is likely that al-Watiya Air Force Base was the intended target and the warship miscalculated when aiming its missiles. The Turkish government has been providing military support for months to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in its war against the LNA, commanded by Khalifa Haftar and loyal to the Tobruk-based House of Representatives.
23 mayors threatened to cut their affiliation with the GNA unless its prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, distributes in 48 hours the half-a-billion dinars earmarked for municipal COVID-19 relief efforts.
Blue and White Party chairman Benny Gantz is again threatening to introduce legislation that would prevent an indicted MK (i.e. Benjamin Netanyahu) from forming a government as coalition negotiations with Likud stumble over the latter's demands that the next government annex parts of the West Bank in the coming six months and Blue and White agree to a joint decision-making mechanism regarding judiciary and Justice Ministry appointments. Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked on Wednesday posted on Facebook: "If the developing government does not agree to apply sovereignty within a month without conditions, it has no right to exist."
Incumbent Health Minister Yaakov Litzman will continue to fulfill his responsibilities in quarantine after he and his wife tested positive for COVID-19.
Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett appeared Wednesday to condition COVID-19 aid to Gaza on Hamas releasing the bodies of IDF casualties, saying, "There is talk of the humanitarian world in Gaza - Israel also has humanitarian needs, which are mainly the recovery of the fallen." It is not clear if Bennett was referring to direct Israeli aid or the passage of international aid to Gaza through Israel.
On Tuesday, the Qatari Gaza Reconstruction Committee began disbursing $100 bill payouts to 100,000 needy families through Gaza's postal banks in a process planned to take two weeks. Doha authorized the grants as part of ceasefire understandings between Israel and militant groups in the Strip.
Muammar Al-Eryani, the information minister of Yemen's internationally recognized government, on Tuesday denounced Qatar and Al Jazeera for providing political and media support for the "Iranian project in Yemen & its Houthi proxy."
Egypt allocated an additional $64 million to its underfunded public health system, which increasingly relies on private donations for services and supplies. According to the World Bank, the poor quality of care has driven a majority of Egyptian patients to seek private medical care.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum