The US Africa Command posted a statement on its website Tuesday confirming Moscow has dispatched to Libya fourth generation jet fighters, which were repainted in Syria to camouflage their Russian origin, to provide close air support for the Wagner Group, a Russian state-sponsored private military contractor backing Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) against the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). With Turkish air support and an influx of pro-Turkish Syrian rebels, the GNA has won a string of victories in recent weeks, clearing the LNA from northwest Libya and forcing it to pull back from some positions around Tripoli. Russian aircraft Monday evacuated Wagner Group mercenaries and heavy equipment from the Tripoli front to the LNA stronghold of Jufra. However, the introduction of the Russian jets might tip the balance of power in the LNA's favor. A US defense official informed CNN on Tuesday that Russia has sent "at least" 14 Russian aircraft to Libya while the Guardian reported that they are "more than capable of taking out Turkish air defence systems."
The Israeli company IDE Technologies won the tender Tuesday to build Soreq B, which will be the country's largest desalination plant, increasing desalination capacity by 35 percent, with an expected annual production capacity of 200 million cubic meters when it comes online in 2023. Hutchison Water, whose main investor is Hong Kong's CK Hutchison, was IDE's main competitor for the contract. During his May 13 visit to Israel, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly insisted Jerusalem halt all Chinese investment in Israeli high tech companies and infrastructure. Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio that IDE Technologies significantly underbid Hutchison Water. Also on Tuesday, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman met with Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel to warn Israel against using Chinese companies to build 5G wireless networks.
During a Tuesday morning Reshet Bet interview, Labor and Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli, who is a Labor Party MK, stated, "Unilateral annexation is contradictory to our national interests... And our ability to hamper this process is much greater when we're in the government." On the other hand, Avigdor Liberman's Yisrael Beytenu party is likely to support annexation from the opposition. The Trump administration is reportedly frustrated with the Yesha Council and Yamina Party criticizing the "Deal of the Century" from the right. An American official familiar with the details told Israel Hayom, "If the settlers don't want what the administration currently has to offer, they shouldn't come to us in the future. The expectation was that they see the bigger picture, remember where they were standing in December 2016 [when the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2334 that harmed Israel and was spearheaded by the Obama administration], and that they consider where they could be standing four years from now if the Palestinians continue to reject negotiations with Israel."
Nablus Governor Ibrahim Ramadan disclosed to Middle East Eye that the PA dispatched security forces wearing civilian clothes on Monday night to stop a violent dispute between families in the Nablus-area village of Qusra. However, Qusra is in Area B of the West Bank, where the PA exercises civil control, but Israel remains in charge of security. The PA security forces did not coordinate with Israel because President Mahmoud Abbas last week "absolved" the PA of "all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments." When the PA security personnel reached Qusra, Ramadan said they found Israeli soldiers checking IDs and turning away anyone identified as a Palestinian policeman or national security officer. The plain-clothed Palestinian officers eventually accessed Qusra through a network of backroads, arriving after one person already suffered a fatal injury.
Last Saturday, while Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ali Allawi was visiting Saudi Arabia, the Iran-backed Kata'ib Hezbollah and al-Nujaba Movement each called for "jihadi operations" against the kingdom. Kata'ib Hezbollah spokesman Abu Ali al-Askari wrote in a Telegram message, "You won't be safe from the cells of the treachery and the hypocrisy of 'the rest of the malicious tree' unless jihadi operations are transferred to Saudi Arabia." Nasr al-Shammari, a spokesman for al-Nujaba Movement, claimed 1,000 Saudi fighters entered Iraq in the last year and promised retaliation for the Iraqi blood shed by these alleged fighters. Katai'b Hezbollah is a US-designated terrorist organization and suspected of involvement in the September 14, 2019 attack on the Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais.
In response to an Iranian court sentencing French-Iranian anthropologist Fariba Adelkhah to a five-year prison term for conspiring against national security and one year for propaganda, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Inter radio Tuesday, "This sentencing was founded on no serious elements and was politically motivated. So, we firmly say to the Iranian authorities to release Fariba Adelkhah without delay." Le Drian added, "This decision makes our relations with the Iranian authorities a lot more difficult."
Jordan Tuesday began a phased return to work for its more than 250,000 public employees, most of whom have been out of the office for over two months. To prevent the virus's spread, government offices will maintain social distancing measures, limit work hours to 8:30 AM-3 PM, and allow some at-risk groups (e.g. workers who have chronic illnesses and pregnant women) to continue working remotely if possible. Saudi Arabia reopened its mosques Tuesday with certain health restrictions, including keeping places of ablution closed and not handing out Qurans. Iran reopened its major religious shrines Monday, some requiring devotees to wear masks and undergo temperature checks. Amnesty International published a report Tuesday revealing "serious security vulnerabilities in Qatar's mandatory contact tracing app." Although now fixed, the defect could have "allowed cyber attackers to access highly sensitive personal information, including the name, national ID, health status and location data of more than one million users."
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum