Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday ordered IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi to brief him on the possible repercussions of annexing parts of the West Bank and to accelerate military preparations for that eventuality. Gantz also announced the imminent appointment of an administrator charged with coordinating across government agencies the Trump peace plan's implementation. These developments follow a meeting between Gantz and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Monday morning and Netanyahu speaking by phone with Ambassador Friedman, Jared Kushner, and US Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz. During a Blue and White party meeting Monday, Gantz damned the Trump peace plan with faint praise as an "opportunity to set permanent borders for the State of Israel," but "in cooperation with the countries of the region." The Arab League issued a unanimous communiqué in February rejecting the Trump plan because it "does not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people." Jordanian Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz warned last week that Israeli annexation of part of the West Bank would lead Amman "to review all aspects of our relations with Israel" while UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash tweeted Monday that "any unilateral Israeli move will be a serious setback for the peace process, undermine Palestinian self determination & constitute a rejection of the international & Arab consensus towards stability & peace." Meanwhile, Bezalel Smotrich from the pro-settler Yamina party told the New York Times, according to an article published Monday, that he would prefer the status quo over a plan that even contemplates allowing for a Palestinian state at the expense of expanding Jewish settlements.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz announced Monday a $22 billion plan to raise the renewable energy target from 17 percent now to 30 percent in ten years, when 80 percent of Israel's electricity is to be derived fro solar energy at peak hours.
With the help of UAE drones, Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) on Monday recaptured the town of al-Asaba from the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and forced GNA forces to evacuate Ghout Al-Reeh. The GNA captured al-Asaba, which is 62 miles south of the capital, two weeks ago as part of a broader offensive driving the LNA out of western Libya with Turkish air support, leaving Tarhouna and Mizda as the only remaining LNA-controlled towns in the western part of the country. Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director of US Africa Command's (AFRICOM) Intelligence Directorate, theorized Friday that Russia's delivery of 14 MiG 29 and Su-24 fighter jets to the LNA's al-Jufra air base last week "isn't about winning the war; it's about developing strongholds." Hadfield added, "If Russia secures a permanent position in Libya and, worse, deploys long-range missile systems, it will be a game changer for Europe, NATO and many Western nations." In the context of discussing sending the Security Forces Assistance Brigade training unit to Tunisia, AFRICOM commander General Stephen Townsend said, "As Russia continues to fan the flames of the Libyan conflict, regional security in North Africa is a heightened concern."
Mohamed Soltan filed a lawsuit on Monday in the district court of Washington DC against former Egyptian prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi under the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act for an assassination attempt followed by his imprisonment and torture between 2013 and 2015. Steven A. Cook, senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, doubts that Beblawi had the influence to make any decisions regarding Soltan's fate, believing the military was ultimately responsible. Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi and General Intelligence Service Director Abbas Kamel are "unsued defendants" in the same case. Beblawi currently resides in Washington DC as executive director of the IMF. Egyptian authorities arrested Mohamed Soltan, who is a US-Egyptian citizen, in August 2013 on charges of "funding the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in" and spreading "false information" to destabilize the country. Mohamed Soltan's father, Salah Soltan, is an Islamic jurist with longstanding ties to Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups, including Yusuf al-Qaradawi's International Union of Muslim Scholars. Mohamed Morsi's government appointed Salah Soltan Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in the Egyptian Ministry of Waqf.
Mojtaba Zolnouri, a conservative Iranian MP who chairs the parliamentary committee for national security and foreign policy, said Monday that 230 people died in the 2019-2020 protests sparked by reducing petrol subsidies. Zolnouri is the first Iranian lawmaker to provide a body count for the unrest and said that members of the security forces accounted for approximately 20 percent of the fatalities. Amnesty International estimated that at least 304 people were killed and thousands were injured just between November 15 and November 18.
Saudi Arabia Monday shot down two Houthi drones targeting residential areas in the Saudi border town of Khamis Mushait. This represents an escalation of Houthi attacks on the kingdom, Saudi Arabia intercepting just last Wednesday several Houthi drones aimed at civilian targets in the Saudi city of Najran.
Khartoum summoned the Ethiopian Chargé d'Affaires on Saturday after a Sudanese military spokesman blamed militias "supported by Ethiopia" for an attack on a camp in al-Qadarif last Thursday that killed at least one Sudanese army officer and a child. While former dictator Omar al-Bashir permitted Ethiopian farmers to cultivate Sudan's al-Fashqa border area for decades, Sudan's transitional government wants the Ethiopians to return home, instigating the conflict. Sudan proposed the two countries deploying a joint force to patrol the border to prevent a repeat of last Thursday's violence. However, the Ethiopian foreign ministry rejected that idea in a statement Sunday, preferring "diplomatic discussion based on the cordial and friendly relations."
Iraq reimposed on Saturday a nationwide curfew, which will last until June 6, in response to the country registering its highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in a single day last week, a month after Iraq started allowing businesses to reopen. As the country reentered lockdown, the trade ministry revealed that it only has 190,000 tons of rice left in its food-rationing program's reserves. The program requires 1-1.25 million tons of rice per year.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that an airstrike Sunday on three military vehicles belonging to Iran-backed paramilitary fighters near Albu Kamal, a town along the Iraqi border, killed five non-Syrian combatants. SOHR head Rami Abdul Rahman said that "Israel was likely responsible."
To help banks restructure loans without additional fees and prevent a contraction in lending as Saudi Arabia contends with low oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority will inject 50 billion riyals ($13.3 billion) into the banking system.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum