Forces loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) on Friday captured the city of Tarhouna, the last stronghold of Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) in western Libya. LNA soldiers are retreating eastwards to Sirte and al-Jufra airbase. Tarhouna served as the LNA's command center during its 14-month campaign to capture the capital. Sami Hamdi, The International Interest's editor-in-chief, conjectured that the LNA's withdrawal from Tarhouna is the product of a Turkish-Russian deal. Turkish air support and 10,000 Turkish-recruited Syrian mercenaries turned the tide of the battle for Tripoli while Russia has been arming the LNA and providing it with mercenary auxiliaries. However, the LNA and its Turkish patron appear uninterested in a ceasefire deal like that negotiated between Ankara and Moscow in Idlib, Syria. GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj vowed after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Thursday to "impose state control on the whole of the homeland and destroy all those who jeopardize the construction of a civil, democratic, and modern state." Erdogan, likewise, evinced little interest in compromise, promising that Turkey's support for the GNA "will increasingly continue."
The Trump administration appears to disapprove of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's goal of annexing parts of the West Bank in July, conditioning Israeli implementation of any part of the Trump peace plan on Jerusalem first negotiating with the Palestinian Authority. America's UN ambassador, Kelly Craft, said Friday that the Trump peace plan offers "an opportunity for Israel and the Palestinians to sit at the table together" and, "until we have dialogue, there's going to be nothing." Channel 13 News on Friday reported that German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will visit Israel next Wednesday to convey the EU's similar opposition to extending sovereignty over parts of the West Bank and the ramifications it could have for EU-Israeli relations. 37 prominent British Jews, including former Conservative Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, published an open letter Thursday to Israel's Ambassador to the Court of St James's to express their "concern and alarm at the policy proposal to unilaterally annex areas of the West Bank," which they believe will intensify "Israel's political, diplomatic and economic challenges without yielding any tangible benefit."
After PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared on May 19 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), which is weighing whether the PA has standing to bring charges against Israel, requested "Palestine to provide additional information on this statement, including on the question whether it pertains to any of the Oslo agreements." On Thursday, the PA informed the ICC that it considers itself exempt from the Oslo Accords, but does not believe that this affects the PA's standing at the ICC.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani stated Friday that a new initiative to resolve the diplomatic crisis with the Saudi-aligned Arab states is underway and "we are open to dialogue and ready to meet each step forward with 10 steps from our side." Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt cut diplomatic relations with Doha on 5 June 2017 and prohibited all planes and vessels owned by the Qatari government or a Qatari citizen from using their airspace and territorial waters. Saudi Arabia also closed its land border with Qatar. The boycotting countries issued a list of 13 demands to restore relations, including shuttering Al Jazeera, severing ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, and downgrading diplomatic relations with Iran. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash signaled that there is no change in the situation, tweeting: "I do not think that the Qatar crisis, on its third anniversary, deserves comment... The Gulf has changed and it cannot return to what it was. The causes of the crisis are known and the solution is also known."
An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confidential document seen by AP Friday reported that, as of May 20, Iran had accumulated 1.73 tons of low-enriched uranium, continues to enrich uranium to a purity of up to 4.5 percent, and has denied the IAEA access to two locations for over four months. The 2015 nuclear deal limited Iran to stockpiling 447 pounds of low-enriched uranium to a purity no higher than 3.67 percent.
The Committee to Protect Journalists documented that on May 31 "Branch 6 of Tehran's Media Court convicted Ali Motaghian, the managing director of the semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA), on charges of 'spreading false news.'" The intelligence division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps filed a complaint against Motaghian over a January 2019 interview with Ali Majedi, Iran's former ambassador to Germany, in which the latter alluded to Iranian intelligence operations in Europe. Akram Ehghaghi, the journalist who conducted the interview, was charged with the same crime as Motaghian, but acquitted.
The OPEC+ countries are expected during their Saturday meeting to hammer out an agreement to extend the 9.7 million bpd cut to July. An April OPEC+ deal required its participants to cut their output collectively by 9.7 million bpd in both May and June before reducing the output cut to 7.7 million bpd in July. Several countries failed to comply with the last agreement, Iraq, Nigeria, Angola, and Kazakhstan exceeding their quotas by 1.18 million bpd.
Three days after Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced a campaign to purge ISIS, which has ramped up guerilla activity, from the fringes of Salahaddin province and Kirkuk, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces announced Friday an upcoming operation to clear ISIS "hideouts and hotbeds" in the vast east Syria desert near the border with Iraq.
The IMF team responsible for determining Egypt's eligibility for assistance through the Rapid Financing Instrument to alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic endorsed a $5.2 billion Stand-By Arrangement, which IMF's Executive Board will vote on in the coming weeks.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum