The US plans to remove two patriot missile batteries sent to Saudi Arabia after an Iranian missile and drone attack last September disabled Saudi Aramco's oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais, temporarily cutting the kingdom's oil output by half. Defense Department spokesman Commander Sean Robertson reassured The National on Thursday, "The Department maintains robust in-theater capabilities, including air defense, to address any Iran-related contingencies as needed." This redeployment may constitute part of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper's plan to focus American military resources more on China and Russia at the expense of the Middle East.
Secretary Esper also reportedly wants to withdraw the 454 American personnel from the US-led Multinational Force and Observers, which has been active in the Sinai Peninsula since 1981 "to supervise the implementation of the security provisions of the Egyptian–Israeli Treaty of Peace." Both the State Department and Israel oppose an American withdrawal. Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Tel Aviv radio station 102 FM on Friday, "The international force in Sinai is important, and [the] American participation in it is important" and "the issue will be raised between us and the Americans."
To obstruct Palestinian Authority stipends to imprisoned terrorists and their families, a Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) order set to take effect this weekend threatened fines and imprisonment for those facilitating such payments. To avoid penalties, some Palestinian banks started closing the accounts of terrorists and their family members. Unknown militants on Thursday night torched one branch of Cairo Amman Bank and opened fire on another in retaliation for its attempted compliance with the COGAT order. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Friday persuaded all Palestinian banks to unfreeze the aforementioned accounts by Sunday. Also on Friday, a spokeswoman for Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon confirmed that Israel on Sunday will extend a NIS 800 million loan to the PA, which will effectively be an advance of tax funds collected on the PA's behalf, totaling more than the amount deducted monthly by Israel for PA payments to terrorists. The loan is intended to alleviate the PA's budget crisis worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A poll commissioned by Commanders for Israel's Security and published on Thursday found that only 26 percent of respondents support Israel extending its sovereignty into the West Bank. 40 percent support a two-state solution, 22 percent a unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians, and the rest maintaining the status quo.
Three cybersecurity researchers tied Iranian-linked hackers to attempts in recent weeks to steal login passwords from staff at US pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc, which is producing remdesivir to treat COVID-19. It remains unclear whether the hackers succeeded. Reuters in early April reported on Iranian hackers' efforts to break into personal email accounts of World Health Organization staff. Alireza Miryousefi, head of the media office in Iran's Mission to the UN, responded to the latest allegations by saying, "The Iranian government does not engage in cyber warfare" and "cyber activities Iran engages in are purely defensive and to protect against further attacks on Iranian infrastructure."
Rep. Ilhan Omar is facing backlash from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Minnesota-based Anti-War Committee, and other anti-Israel activists for signing a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last Monday that urged him to work with America's partners on the UN Security Council to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. While 391 House members signed the letter, the other members of "the squad" (i.e. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley) did not. Rep. Omar's office responded to a query about her signature by Al-Monitor by saying, "Congresswoman Omar has consistently, for a long time, supported arms embargos against human rights abusers."
Iran reopened mosques last Monday in areas deemed low risk from COVID-19. The day before Iran recorded only 47 coronavirus-related fatalities, the lowest number in 55 days. However, despite signs of a second wave of the virus since reopening mosques and most of the economy, Friday prayers were permitted today in 180 towns for the first time in two months.
Two banking sources informed Reuters Friday that Ankara plans to inject $2.8 billion of capital into three state banks – Ziraat Bank, Halkbank, and Vakifbank – to increase lending as Turkey enters the global, COVID-19-induced recession.
Houthi special forces commander Mohamed Abdel Karim al-Hamran died during clashes with government forces and their Saudi patrons in the Marib and Bayda provinces. Trained by Hezbollah, al-Hamran is the highest-ranking Houthi rebel killed so far this year. Saudi airstrikes reportedly set ablaze five Houthi military conveys.
Libyan National Army (LNA) shelling killed at least five civilians in Tripoli Thursday. One grad rocket fell 50 meters from the Italian ambassador's residence and another in front of the Turkish embassy. Italy's Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the attack. While Turkey is the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord's (GNA) main military patron, Italy is the GNA's most fervent diplomatic advocate in Europe.
Bashar Assad Thursday delayed parliamentary elections by decree for a second time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, July 19 being the new date. Syria did not delay its sham parliamentary elections in 2012 and 2016 despite the intensity of the civil war.
The Empowerment Removal Committee, a Sudanese anti-corruption body, announced Thursday the imminent confiscation of large plots of land and residences belonging to former dictator Omar al-Bashir's family members because they were acquired due to his influence.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum