While testing a new anti-ship missile during an exercise in the Gulf of Oman, the frigate Jamaran accidentally hit a support vessel, the Konarak, killing at least 19 sailors. Then Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said in 2014 that the design and building of the Jamaran was among the greatest achievements of the Iranian Navy.
A prisoner exchange between Iran and the US appeared stalled Monday. Iran's ISNA news agency quoted cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei as saying on Sunday, "We said some time ago that we are ready to exchange all Iranian and American prisoners" and "it now appears that America is more ready than before to end this situation." However, at a meeting with parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said regarding a prisoner swap, "The Americans have not responded to us and have not yet provided any answer in this regard." Acting United States Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli tweeted on Monday: "@JZarif, after months of stalling @DHSgov as we have been trying to return Sirous Asgari, you suddenly woke up one day recently and say you actually want him back. You SAY you want all of your citizens back. I call B.S. How about you put your money where your mouth is? We have 11 of your citizens who are illegal aliens who we have been trying to return to your country. You suddenly SAY you want them back, so how about you send a charter plane over and we'll return all 11 at once?" Sirous Asgari is an Iranian professor acquitted last November on federal charges of stealing trade secrets, but still in US custody.
President Hassan Rouhani dismissed Minister of Industry, Mines, and Business Reza Rahmani Monday, reportedly due to his inability to curb the steep rise in automobile prices.
Riyadh unveiled an austerity plan Monday as low oil prices and a stagnating domestic economy shrink tax revenue while public healthcare expenditure skyrockets. The plan will increase the VAT, which was only introduced in 2018, from 5 percent to 15 percent in July and scrap the 1,000-riyal ($267) monthly cost-of-living allowance for government employees in June. Approximately 1.5 million Saudi nationals work in the public sector. Cushioning the blow, King Salman ordered the disbursement of 1.85 billion riyals ($492.6 million) to social security beneficiaries, family providers receiving 1,000 riyals and other family members getting 500 riyals each. Also, effective immediately, Saudi Aramco will cut domestic gas prices for the rest of May, 91 grade dropping from 1.31 riyals per liter to 0.67 riyals and 95 grade from 1.46 riyals to 0.82 riyals per liter.
Turkey's Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) Monday reversed last Thursday's ban on local banks conducting foreign currency trades involving the lira with UBS, Citibank, and BNP Paribas. Although last Thursday's move was widely seen as an effort to stem the lira's depreciation, a BDDK press release attributed the ban to the banks failing to meet their Turkish lira liabilities on time. The BDDK sent a letter Monday to the three banks stating that, while they fulfilled their outstanding foreign exchange obligations, the regulator will continue an investigation into their currency market practices.
President Erdogan announced Monday that Turkey will launch the first turbine in the Ilisu Dam next week. Approved by the Turkish government in 1997, the dam, which displaced 80,000 Turks and raised concerns in Baghdad about the impact on their water supplies from the Tigris River, has faced numerous delays.
Diplomats informed Reuters that France, Belgium, Ireland, and Luxembourg during a Friday meeting discussed the EU enacting punitive economic measures against Israel if it should annex any part of the West Bank. Any punitive measures would require the unanimous approval of EU member states. The EU is Israel's largest trading partner. In the House of Commons Monday, UK Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa James Cleverly remarked that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's stated plan to annex parts of the West Bank "would be contrary to international law" and "could make a sustainable two-state solution harder."
Prime Minister Netanyahu Monday tapped Likud minister Gilad Erdan as Israel's next ambassador both to the UN and the US, taking up the latter position only after the 2020 presidential election. This will free up another ministerial portfolio to tempt the pro-settler Yamina party to join the coalition. Yamina is demanding two ministries to join. Yaakov Litzman, who chairs the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction is mediating between Likud and Yamina, believing it necessary to keep the right-wing bloc intact. On Sunday, Yamina issued a statement communicating its intention to join the opposition.
Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) watered down a letter they were circulating among their colleagues condemning an Israeli annexation of part of the West Bank. This is best exemplified by the editing of the following sentence in the original letter: "If you move forward with unilateral annexation, we could not support that action and would sadly conclude that Israel no longer values the bipartisan support that Congress has provided it for decades." The senators removed the section about concluding Israel no longer values bipartisan support, writing instead: "Pursuit of a viable, negotiated two state solution is essential to ensuring our shared democratic values and lasting bipartisan support for Israel in Congress."
The National Coronavirus Committee of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi's internationally recognized government declared Aden an "infested city" Monday after the confirmation of 35 COVID-19 cases and four deaths. Hadi's Saudi-backed government does not actually control Aden, its ostensible interim capital until recapturing Sanaa from the Houthis. Thanks to UAE support, the separatist Southern Transitional Council controls Aden. On Sunday, the World Health Organization (WHO) suspended its operations in most Houthi-controlled areas, including Sanaa and Hodeidah, until the rebel group shares more information about COVID-19's presence in its territory to reduce the risk to WHO personnel.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented a rebel offensive initiated Sunday by Hurras al-Din, an offshoot of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham rejecting the Turkish-Russian negotiated ceasefire with the Syrian government, that temporarily captured the village of Tanjara from government forces. So far, 37 regime soldiers and loyalist militiamen have died along with 24 rebels.
President Bashar al-Assad on Monday sacked Minister of Internal Trade Atef Naddaf, reportedly for his inability to control inflation, replacing him with Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs province.
Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) rained down more than 100 rockets and missiles on Tripoli over the weekend, killing at least four civilians, including a five-year-old girl. Water pressure in Tripoli declined Sunday when armed men, probably affiliated with the LNA, stormed one of the power stations of the capital's main water utility.
The IMF approved a $2.77 billion loan to Egypt to mitigate the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
An Iraqi government statement Monday revealed that President Trump in a congratulatory telephone call to new Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi expressed American willingness to "provide the necessary economic assistance to support the Iraqi economy." Baghdad relies on oil revenue to cover 90 percent of its budget.
The Lebanese government might reimpose a lockdown Tuesday after lifting some restrictions last week because Sunday saw the number of new COVID-19 cases jump to its highest point in more than a month.
Due to the limited recovery of oil prices since the April OPEC+ agreement that mandated cutting output by 9.7 million bpd during May and June, Saudi Arabia announced Monday an additional voluntary cut of 1 million bpd in June while the UAE and Kuwait committed to increasing their June output cuts by 100,000 bpd and 80,000 bpd respectively.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum