Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter to President Reuven Rivlin Wednesday announcing his success in forming a government. After Netanyahu failed to convince the pro-settler Yamina Party's chairman, Naftali Bennett, to join the coalition, the Prime Minister promised the leader of Yamina's Jewish Home faction, Rafi Peretz, the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry if he would lead his faction into the government. There is still no official word on Peretz's reaction. Netanyahu also promised Likud MK Miri Regev the Foreign Ministry after Benny Gantz replaces the Prime Minister in 18 months as part of their rotation agreement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Benny Gantz Wednesday in a trip interpreted by many analysts as an attempt to dissuade the new Israeli government from unilaterally annexing parts of the West Bank, despite Secretary Pompeo never explicitly challenging such a course. However, during an interview with Israel HaYom, his emphasis on acting "so as to bring a result in line with the vision for peace" was seen by some as a recommendation to avoid annexations that could jeopardize peace talks about implementing the Trump administration's "Deal of the Century."
Outgoing Economy Minister Eli Cohen on Wednesday signed an order permitting the export of medical cannabis products by companies receiving a license from the Health Ministry. The order will enter into force in 30 days and the government estimates it could collect up to $1 billion in tax revenue per year from cannabis sales.
El Al airline CEO Gonen Usishkin Wednesday conveyed to Prime Minister Netanyahu by letter that the Finance Ministry's proposed bailout plan of a $400 million government-backed loan amounts to "signing the death certificate of El Al" and that the "Finance Ministry's claims that El Al's difficulties and need for a loan are due to its pre-crisis management are without foundation and have no grip on reality."
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker said the airline will suspend the delivery of new Airbus and Boeing jets until travel demand returns to normal, which he does not envision until at least 2023. In all, this might entail delaying the delivery of more than 200 aircraft. Al-Baker confirmed Israelis' eligibility to apply for the 100,000 free tickets Qatar Airways is distributing to healthcare professionals between May 12 and May 18 in appreciation for their heroic work during the pandemic. In an interview with AirlineRatings.com on Monday, al-Baker predicted Israel will be the first country to develop a cure or vaccine for COVID-19.
A week after outgoing Defense Minister Naftali Bennett threatened to continue striking Iranian targets in Syria until they withdraw from the country, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah Wednesday fallaciously claimed Iran has only sent "military advisers and experts." However, Nasrallah conceded that Israel has attacked many targets associated with missile production, saying, "Israel sees the missile production capability on Syrian soil a threat, which is why it attacks everything connected with missile production in Syria."
Arab News reported Wednesday that Turkey and Israel "are thought to be in secret talks aimed at reaching a deal on maritime borders and exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean." Such a deal would almost inevitably require nullifying existing maritime agreements with Cyprus. Jerusalem was noticeably absent from a Monday teleconference – including the foreign ministers of Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, France, and the UAE – which issued a statement condemning Turkey for illegal drilling activities in Cypriot waters and Ankara's Memorandum of Understanding on the delimitation of maritime jurisdictions in the Mediterranean Sea with the Turkish-aligned government in Tripoli.
Saudi Arabia's cabinet on Wednesday pressed OPEC+ countries to reduce oil production more than mandated by April's deal to stabilize prices. On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced it would cut an extra 1 million bpd in June above the April deal's requirements while the UAE and Kuwait committed to increasing their June output cuts by 100,000 bpd and 80,000 bpd respectively. Later Wednesday, Iraqi officials informed Reuters that resistance from oil companies during negotiations to secure production cuts in line with the April OPEC+ deal means Iraq can only cut oil output by around 700,000 bpd, a third less than its commitment under the April deal. Iraq has traditionally been the biggest cheater in previous OPEC production cut deals.
Clashes in South Kordofan province killed 26 people, including nine soldiers, over the last 48 hours. Although it is known that the fighting started at a market in Kadugli, the provincial capital, there are conflicting accounts as to whether the violence is tribally motivated or, according to Deputy Chief of Staff of Sudan's military Abdalla al-Bashir, the re-eruption of an April dispute over the looting of livestock. Authorities imposed a round-the-clock curfew to restore order. Tribal clashes last week in the South Darfur and Kassala provinces killed at least three-dozen people. Also on Wednesday, the Sovereign Council appointed a former army major general, Ibrahim Yassin, as the country's new defense minister after his predecessor, Jamal Omer, died from a heart attack last March.
The military loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi's internationally recognized government failed to gain any ground in a second day of fighting to oust the separatist Southern Transitional Council's (STC) Security Belt Forces (SBF) militia from Abyan province and ultimately Aden. SBF reinforcements arrived Tuesday in the cities of Zinjibar, Sheikh Salim, and al-Tarryah in Abyan province.
Two days after the IMF approved a $2.77 billion loan to Egypt through its emergency Rapid Financing Instrument, Cairo is seeking an additional $5 billion from the IMF under a stand-by arrangement coupled with a sovereign bond issuance program to preclude future current account deficits.
Lt. Col. Stein Grongstad, head of the 70-man Norwegian contingent in Iraq, said in an interview with Norway's VG newspaper Wednesday that ISIS is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic by hiding in sparsely populated farmland from which they attack Iraqi forces trying to curb the virus's spread.
On Tuesday, the State Department notified Congress that Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Cuba were certified under Section 40A(a) of the Arms Export Control Act as "not cooperating fully" with US counterterrorism efforts in 2019. This is the first year that Cuba has been certified as not fully cooperating since 2015. Such certification prohibits the sale or license for export of defense articles and services.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum