A U.S. Navy statement said eleven Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels on Wednesday harassed American ships conducting operations in the international waters of the North Arabian Gulf. "The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range and high speeds... dangerous and provocative actions [that] increased the risk of miscalculation and collision [and] not in accordance with the internationally recognized Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea." While the IRGCN has engaged in such behavior before, this is the first case in several years.
Emgage PAC, the largest Muslim lobby in the U.S., endorsed presumptive Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden after previously supporting Bernie Sanders. Biden welcomed the endorsement in a statement in which he promised to "immediately repeal Donald Trump's Muslim ban." Emgage PAC co-founder, attorney Khurrum Wahid, has represented terror suspects linked to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
During a Thursday briefing to the U.N. Security Council, U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths revealed that he has been in constant negotiations with the parties to the Yemeni civil war over the last two weeks regarding a nation-wide ceasefire as well as releasing prisoners, opening Sanaa International Airport, paying civil servant salaries, opening access roads, and ensuring the entry of ships carrying essential commodities into Hodeidah. Despite the Houthi rebels repeatedly breaching the unilateral two-week ceasefire declared on April 9 by the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition supporting it, Griffiths believes an agreement on the aforementioned issues is imminent.
U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock at a subsequent Security Council briefing complained that "restrictions imposed on staff and cargo movements – mostly in the [Houthi-controlled] north – continue to constrain our ability to maintain the high levels of aid that Yemenis need" and that the Houthis have only approved 13 out of 92 requested aid projects. Furthermore, due to inadequate funding, Lowcock warned that 31 out of the U.N.'s 41 aid programs in Yemen will start closing down in the next few weeks, including UNICEF assistance for up to 1 million displaced people and nutrition programs affecting 260,000 severely malnourished children.
In an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica published on Wednesday, the prime minister of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj, ruled out future negotiations with Libyan National Army commander Khalifa Haftar. Al-Sarraj claimed that he had previously agreed to a truce to focus on containing COVID-19, but that Haftar "saw in the pandemic an opportunity to attack us."
Prime Minister Hassan Diab promised Thursday that a government plan to pay off part of the national debt through a fee on bank deposits will only affect 2 percent of depositors, reportedly those with accounts containing $100,000 or more.
The Israeli government on Thursday evening approved a plan to reopen the economy starting Sunday. According to the proposal, trade, services, and manufacturing will reach 100 percent capacity by next week if businesses are able to adhere to health directives that include – inter alia – social distancing, wearing facemasks, and disinfecting public spaces every two hours.
After President Reuven Rivlin informed Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz that his mandate to form a government expired, Blue and White sources conveyed that Gantz might revisit introducing legislation preventing an indicted person from serving as prime minister and creating prime ministerial term limits, each of which would prevent Netanyahu from forming a government. Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman pressed Gantz to use the threat of the legislation as a pressure tactic in ongoing coalition negotiations. Gantz shelved the bills when his Israel Resilience faction of Blue and White split from Yesh Atid-Telem to create a unity government with Netanyahu rather than a left-wing government reliant on the Joint Arab List.
Due to COVID-19, the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf decided Thursday to keep al-Aqsa Mosque closed to worshippers during Ramadan.
Saudi Arabia executed Thursday Emad Abdelqawi al-Mansouri, a Yemeni al-Qaeda member who wounded three people during a knife attack last November against a Spanish dance troupe performing in a Riyadh park.
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
At Thursday's GCC trade ministers' meeting, the member states approved Kuwait's proposal to create a food supply safety network because COVID-19 could threaten food supply chains. Accordingly, they directed the General Secretariat of the Council to conduct a technical study of the proposal.
Iraq is in talks with the IMF to defer the country's foreign debt payments until after the COVID-19 pandemic.
In light of the COVID-19-induced chaos, the Kuwaiti interior ministry will grant expatriates with expired visas a three-month free extension, from March 1 until May 31.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum