Turkey's Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BRSA) on Thursday banned local banks from processing transactions involving Turkish lira with three international banks – UBS, Citibank, and BNP Paribas – on the pretext that they failed to meet their Turkish lira liabilities on time. In fact, the lira weakened to a record low against the dollar Thursday until the BRSA's announcement, which was preceded earlier in the day by vague new regulations against "manipulative and misleading transactions in the financial markets." Thanks to a large current account deficit and limited foreign exchange reserves, international banks finding foreign investors to buy Turkish bonds is the only thing staving off a balance of payments crisis.
Defense Industry Director Ismail Demir said Thursday that Turkey will continue manufacturing and delivering parts for America's F-35 jets despite Washington last July suspending Turkey from the program for purchasing Russia's S-400 antimissile system. It was reported last year that by early 2020 the US would terminate contracts with major Turkish defense contractors involved in the F-35 program.
President Reuven Rivlin Thursday invited Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government after 72 members of the Knesset signed a letter endorsing him. This occurred just hours following the passage of a premiership rotation bill enshrining part of the coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White into law. The pro-settler Yamina party's MKs neither signed the letter to President Rivlin nor voted for the legislation.
In a 49-44 vote, the Senate failed on Thursday to override President Trump's Wednesday veto of a war powers resolution "to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran that have not been authorized by Congress." Seven Republicans voted to override the veto: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Todd Young of Indiana, and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
According to two Afghan lawmakers, Iranian border guards last Friday drowned 45 Afghans crossing the border looking for work. The lawmakers, Habiburrahman Pidram and Abdul Satar Hussaini, belong to a team appointed by President Ashraf Ghani's government to investigate the incident. Afghan authorities have so far recovered 17 bodies connected to the massacre. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on May 3, "Border guards of the Islamic Republic of Iran denied the occurrence of any events related to this on the soil of our country," but Tehran would launch an investigation. On Thursday, the Iranian embassy and consular office in Afghanistan simply stated that they could not expand on the Foreign Ministry's previous statement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated yesterday, "We are not the only nation whose citizens are subject to the Iranian regime's brutality. I was appalled to see reports last week of Iranian guards on the border of Afghanistan's Herat province abused, tortured, drowned Afghan migrants who dared to cross the border simply in search of food and work. We encourage the Afghan authorities to undertake a full investigation and to seek to hold those perpetrators accountable."
After the Iraqi parliament early Thursday approved the government of Mustafa al-Kadhimi, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus announced a 120-day sanctions waiver for Iranian gas and electricity "as a display of our desire to help provide the right conditions for success." The last waiver was for only 30 days. However, al-Kadhimi's commitment to hold early elections and crack down on independent militias won sympathy in Washington.
During a Thursday State Department teleconference briefing devoted to Russia's "malign engagement in the Middle East," Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Christopher Robinson accused Moscow of dispatching pro-Assad Syrian fighters to Libya to participate in Wagner Group operations in support of Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA). The Wagner Group is a US-sanctioned, nominally private, Russian military contractor that Robinson says the "Kremlin uses as a low-cost and low-risk instrument to advance its goals." In recent weeks, anti-Assad rebels sent by Turkey to Libya have turned the tide of the civil war against the LNA. The Turkish Anadolu Agency reported Thursday that Russia plans to provide supplementary training to pro-Assad militiamen in Daraa, Syria who agree to fight for the LNA and offer each of them $1,000 and a 3-month renewable contract.
Ahead of the annual August renewal of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon's (UNIFIL) mandate, Israel's UN ambassador Danny Danon demanded Wednesday that UNIFIL be given access to all sites and should immediately report to the Security Council any attempt to curtail their movement. Israel has long accused UNIFIL of shirking its responsibilities when they could trigger conflict with Hezbollah.
Amnesty International Thursday censured both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for "a pattern of arbitrary arrests against people who have criticized the authorities amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak" and demanded the "release all those who have been detained solely for peacefully expressing their views." Most of the documented cases involve people posting comments on Facebook.
The Interior Ministry declared Thursday that it was in the process of creating a new police force to enforce COVID-19 restrictions, including a ban on non-family gatherings of more than five people. In the meantime, military police will assist local authorities in administering the rules.
Saudi troops evacuated Socotra Island two days after a military intervention to halt the advance of the United Arab Emirates-backed Southern Transition Council (STC) forces. Riyadh backs the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Islah Party, which is aligned with Hadi, but opposed by the UAE and STC for being too closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. A ceasefire agreement between Islah and the STC on Socotra Island reportedly prompted the hasty Saudi withdrawal.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum