Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz signed a coalition deal Monday evening for a 36-month emergency government that would see Netanyahu serve as prime minister for 18 months before handing the reins to Gantz, who will serve as defense minister until then. Blue and White MKs Gabi Ashkenazi and Avi Nissenkorn will respectively serve as foreign minister and justice minister. The Judicial Appointments Committee will have a bare right-wing majority, if one includes former Telem MK Zvi Hauser. In a meeting with Judea and Samaria Council leaders last week, former Telem MK Yoaz Hendel promised that he and Hauser would support Netanyahu's judicial nominees, even over the opposition of Blue and White, in exchange for Netanyahu forming a unity government with Gantz. While Blue and White objected to passing legislation preventing the High Court of Justice from ruling that Netanyahu cannot form a government while indicted, Gantz agreed to call new elections in that event and serve as interim prime minister until the new elections. Labor will receive the economy and social welfare ministries while the education portfolio is reserved for Yamina, should they join the coalition, which seems unlikely based on Yamina chairman Naftali Bennet's reaction to the coalition deal. The government will focus initially on the COVID-19 crisis and, starting on July 1, may take up legislation to annex parts of the West Bank. However, Blue and White probably will oppose annexation, Gantz foreign affairs advisor Melody Sucharewicz assuring EU officials in recent weeks that he would try to veto annexations regardless of any coalition agreement's phraseology.
Over the protest of Tehran coronavirus task force head Alireza Zali and Tehran City Council chairman Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani, President Hassan Rouhani's government on Monday lifted the ban on inter-city travel and permitted "medium risk" businesses, including bazaars and shopping centers, to reopen. The health ministry's official death tally saw a decline over the last week. At Sunday's White House coronavirus task force press briefing, President Trump offered to provide Iran with medical aid, including ventilators, if they asked for it.
In response to the U.S. Navy last Wednesday accusing Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels of harassing American ships in the Persian Gulf, the IRGC issued a statement Sunday warning the U.S. "to refrain from any adventurism and false and fake stories" and that "any error in calculation on their part will receive a decisive response."
On Sunday, Iraq lifted early a three-month suspension of Reuters's operating license imposed on April 2 for a story accusing the health ministry of undercounting the number of COID-19 cases in the country.
Parliament's Security and Defense Committee submitted a study Saturday to caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi recommending the purchase of Russia's S-400 missile system. Since 2003, Iraq has purchased most of its advanced weaponry from the United States.
The Emirati-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) issued a statement last Friday warning that the outbreak of war with the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi is imminent due to attempts by the latter to regain control of southern governorates in violation of last November's ceasefire agreement. Then, on Saturday, the STC's Security Belt Militia ambushed three government and Islah Party convoys heading to the Islah camps in the coastal city of Shaqra, killing several Islah fighters in the process. The Saudi-sponsored Islah Party threatened last Friday to storm STC-controlled Aden due to the heightened tensions between the two parties, in part attributable to the U.A.E.'s perception that Islah is too close to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the U.A.E. designated as a terrorist group in 2014.
Houthi militiamen Sunday detained Khalid al-Rwaishan, President Ali Abdullah Saleh's culture minister in 2006 and a critic of Houthi human rights abuses, and ransacked his home in a Sanaa suburb. However, intervention by leaders of al-Rwaishan's Khawlan tribe, many of whose members fight in the Houthi militia, secured his release on Monday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported Monday that nearly 5,300 Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries are now participating in the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord's (GNA) Operation Peace Storm that has cleared Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) from most of western Libya's coast. So far, SOHR has documented 199 Syrian mercenary casualties in Libya. At the same time, the U.N.'s envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams, told the Financial Times that a U.N. panel is investigating United Arab Emirates-based companies suspected of shipping more than 11,000 tons of jet fuel to the LNA last month in violation of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya.
Despite relative calm in Idlib province, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Damascus Monday with "heavy losses" if it does not abide by the March 5 ceasefire negotiated by Ankara and Moscow to halt a Syrian government offensive to retake Idlib province from anti-regime forces.
Information Minister Faisal Mohamed Salih announced Saturday that in the coming week Sudan will replace all military governors with civilians. Last Thursday, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok dismissed Khartoum's governor, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Abdoun Hamad, for defying instructions to cancel Friday prayers because of COVID-19. Lt. Gen. Hamad promptly refused to step down, stoking fears of a coup. Yet, Salih said over the weekend that a civilian has since replaced Lt. Gen. Hamad.
Reporters Without Borders condemned Algerian authorities for shuttering the third opposition news site this month on Sunday. The Algerian parliament is currently drafting a law to criminalize fake news undermining national security.
Kuwait's attorney general ordered the arrest of Kuwait TV presenter Dalia Badran for "offending Kuwait and the armed forces" by advocating replacing American troops stationed in the country with Egyptian ones.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum