The Trump administration imposed sanctions on 39 individuals and entities Wednesday under the 2019 Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which aims to "compel the government of Bashar al-Assad to halt its murderous attacks on the Syrian people and to support a transition to a government in Syria that respects the rule of law, human rights, and peaceful co-existence with its neighbors." The legislation directs the president to impose sanctions on any foreign person materially supporting the Assad regime, including Russians and Iranians fighting on its behalf, those facilitating the Syrian government's production of oil and gas, and anyone contracting to reconstruct areas controlled by the regime. For the first time, the US will sanction President Assad's wife, Asma al-Assad, whom Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called a "war profiteer." Pompeo added, "Many more sanctions will come until Assad and his regime stop their needless, brutal war and agree to a political solution as called for by UNSCR 2254."
Syria's central bank Wednesday raised the official exchange rate from 704 Syrian pounds/dollar to 1,256, still far short of the black market rate of around 2,600 to 2,800 pounds/dollar. Anti-Assad protests broke out last week in the traditionally pro-regime, Druze-majority city of Sweida in reaction to spiraling inflation. 80 percent of the population now lives in poverty while 9.3 million Syrians are food insecure, an increase of nearly 1.5 million compared to six months ago.
The Paris Criminal Court sentenced Rifaat al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad's uncle, to four years in prison and confiscated assets worth about €90 million ($101 million) for embezzling Syrian state funds, tax fraud, and money laundering. Rifaat's lawyers maintain his fortune was a gift from the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and they will appeal the verdict. Similarly, former Spanish King Juan Carlos recently claimed that €65 million deposited in a Geneva bank account, which Spanish prosecutors believe might be kickbacks to facilitate the construction of a train between Mecca and Medina, was actually a gift from King Abdullah. Rifaat, who played a leading role suppressing the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hama, fled to Europe in 1984 after launching a failed coup against his brother, Hafez al-Assad.
Turkey launched "Operation Claw-Tiger" against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Wednesday, deploying commandos in Iraqi Kurdistan and bombing more than 150 targets. The Turkish defense ministry attributed the move to a "recent upsurge in attacks on our police stations and military bases" near the Iraqi border. Although Baghdad summoned the Turkish ambassador on Tuesday to protest airstrikes in Iraqi Kurdistan over the weekend, neither the Iraqi government nor its autonomous Kurdistan Region objected to Wednesday's operation, suggesting possible complicity in a joint Turkish-Iranian attack on the PKK. Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) continued Tuesday's shelling of unidentified "anti-revolutionary" groups in Iraqi Kurdistan. In contrast to Baghdad's silence, an Emirati foreign ministry statement "denounced the Turkish and Iranian military interventions in brotherly Iraq, through their bombing of areas in northern Iraq, which constituted a violation of the sovereignty of a sisterly Arab country and led to intimidation and the spread of terror among innocent civilians."
French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll accused Turkey's navy of preventing its NATO allies from enforcing the UN arms embargo on Libya and asserted that "Turkey's support for the ongoing offensive of the Government of National Accord [GNA] goes directly against efforts to secure an immediate truce." However, Ankara shows no intention of reducing its footprint in Libya, opening negotiations with the GNA for use of the Misrata naval base and the al-Watiya airbase. On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, and National Intelligence Organization head Hakan Fidan held talks in Tripoli with GNA leaders. Official statements mentioned developing bilateral ties, but did not elaborate.
The EU canceled a €1.7 million grant to the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights to highlight "Israeli human rights violations and international crimes in Jerusalem" after BADIL refused to ensure that none of the funds would find their way into the hands of groups listed by the EU as terrorist organizations. BADIL said in a press release it "objected to the so-called anti-terrorism clause" because it "criminalizes the Palestinian struggle against oppression and requires the recipient organization to perform 'screening' procedures which amounts to policing its own people."
United Arab Emirates
UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash told the Middle East Institute Wednesday that if Prime Minister Netanyahu follows through on his promise to annex parts of the West Bank, "We lose the possibility of really implementing a two-state solution. We will really be talking about equal rights and one state." During an interview at the American Jewish Committee's Global Forum the day before, however, Gargash indicated that annexations will not scupper all relations between the UAE and Israel.
Egypt's parliament approved amendments that will increase the proportion of the House of Representatives elected through closed party lists from 20 percent to 50 percent. Since all of the current representatives elected through party lists belong to the pro-Sisi camp, most analysts interpret the measure as an effort to stifle the limited dissent remaining in the legislature. The reform would also reserve a quarter of the seats in the House of Representatives for various groups, including women, Coptic Christians, farmers, and the disabled. Another bill determined that the 300-member Senate, an advisory body created through constitutional amendments last year, will be composed of an equal number of presidential appointees, directly elected senators, and senators elected through a closed list system.
Abdolnaser Hemmati, the governor of the Central Bank of Iran, and his Iraqi counterpart, Ali Mohsen Ismail al-Alaq, announced following a Wednesday meeting in Baghdad the adoption of a joint mechanism to expedite Iran's purchase of non-sanctioned, basic commodities in Iraq. They did not release the details.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum