After disclosing yesterday that Russia dispatched to Libya fourth generation jet fighters, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) stated Wednesday that "at least 14 newly unmarked Russian aircraft [were] delivered to Al Jufra Air Base" and tweeted satellite images identifying MiG 29s. The private intelligence firm ImageSat International released Wednesday its own satellite images, which captured – in addition to the MiG 29s – Russian "Mig-23 fighters, trucks, helicopters, vehicles, and a new #radar system," suggesting a large air campaign in support of Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) is imminent. At a French Senate hearing Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian expressed his concern that Moscow will replicate its role in the Syrian civil war in Libya. Yet, Viktor Bondarev, chairman of the Committee on Defense and Security in the Russian parliament's upper house, dismissed AFRICOM's claims as "stupidity," asserting, "If the warplanes are in Libya, they are Soviet, not Russian."
As Iran's parliament reconvened Wednesday, President Hassan Rouhani urged his cabinet to adopt harsher laws against honor killings in the wake of the high profile case of Romina Ashrafi. Reza Ashrafi turned himself in for decapitating his 14-year-old daughter last Thursday after she ran away from home with her 35-year-old boyfriend. Police located the pair and sent Romina home even though she expressed fear for her life. Since honor killing is treated differently than murder in Iranian law, Reza Ashrafi faces between 3 and 10 years imprisonment if convicted. A Tehran police official in 2014 estimated that nearly 20 percent of the previous year's murders throughout the country were honor killings.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday that, apart from a 90-day extension of the waiver covering ongoing international support to the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant Unit 1 to ensure safety of operations, the US is ending the sanctions waiver covering all remaining JCPOA-originating nuclear projects in Iran following a final, 60-day wind-down period. The US will also impose sanctions on Managing Director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Amjad Sazgar and Majid Agha'i, who manages the AEOI's subsidiary responsible for research and development of advanced centrifuges.
Protestors demanding jobs at state-run Gafsa Phosphate (CPG), the country's sole producer, staged sit-ins at mines across the country, bringing output to a halt. Tunisia produced about 8.2 million tons of phosphate in 2010, making it the world's fifth largest phosphate producer and it accounted for 10 percent of the country's exports. However, greater international competition combined with previous industrial action compelling CPG to increase its employment from 8,000 workers in 2010 to 30,000 in 2014, thereby reducing efficiency, reduced Tunisia's phosphate output to just 3.8 million tons last year. CPG's hiring practices have long been a lightening rod for controversy. One of the main sources of revolutionary discontent with President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime was his violent suppression in 2008 of the Tunisian General Labor Union-organized sit-ins to demand CPG end its corrupt hiring practices, hire more unemployed Tunisians, and contribute more to regional economic development.
Galei Tzahal Wednesday afternoon reported, citing unnamed members of the Israeli coalition government, that the Trump administration is conditioning American recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the roughly 30 percent of the West Bank to be delineated by the US-Israeli mapping committee on Jerusalem dropping all claims to the rest of the West Bank. The Yesha Council, an umbrella group of mayors and community leaders from the settlements, and the Yamina party oppose the Trump peace plan from the right. The Yesha Council is lobbying MKs against the plan that would see 15 settlements become isolated enclaves encircled by a Palestinian state and make some roads no longer be accessible to Israeli drivers. Meanwhile, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett objected to the Trump plan Wednesday on the grounds that 250,000 West Bank Palestinians would receive citizenship and "we want maximum territory with minimum Palestinians." Bennett has traditionally advocated annexing Area C of the West Bank, comprising about 60 percent of its territory.
In light of PA President Mahmoud Abbas declaring last week that the State of Palestine is "absolved, as of today, of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments," the International Criminal Court (ICC) is probing whether the PA still has standing to bring charges against Israel. The Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, on Tuesday wrote, "The Chamber requests Palestine to provide additional information on this statement, including on the question whether it pertains to any of the Oslo agreements between Palestine and Israel, by no later than 10 June 2020." While Bensouda published a statement last December in which she claimed to be "satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip," the ICC is still weighing its jurisdiction.
Colonel Turki al-Malki, the official spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition backing President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi's internationally recognized government of Yemen, announced Wednesday that Saudi Arabia shot down several Houthi drones targeting residential areas of the Saudi city of Najran. A unilateral coalition ceasefire took effect on April 29 to facilitate the fight against COVID-19. Saudi Arabia on March 28 shot down two Houthi drones aimed at civilian targets in Riyadh and Jazan. A Houthi missile attack on the Yemeni army headquarters in Marib Tuesday killed at least seven, including a son and nephew of Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sagheer bin Aziz. They were both officers.
Najwa Gadaheldam, the political advisor to Sudanese leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan who managed Jerusalem and Khartoum's clandestine ties, succumbed to COVID-19 Wednesday, 24 hours after an Israeli medical team arrived in the country to save her life.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum