Three days of high-level White House discussions about whether to give Prime Minister Netanyahu's government a "green light" to annex parts of the West Bank ended Thursday after participants concluded further "fact-finding" is needed to make a decision. Accordingly, Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman flew to Israel Thursday night. Although Israel's coalition agreement allows the cabinet to take up extending sovereignty over the settlements starting on July 1, the policy faces opposition from Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and the upper echelons of the military. During Wednesday's security cabinet meeting, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Military Intelligence commander Tamir Hayman reportedly warned annexation could incite shooting attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers along with a return of suicide bombings. Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, conversely, argued that economic conditions in the West Bank are probably good enough to dissuade Palestinians from "breaking the rules of the game." Mossad head Yossi Cohen was also skeptical about IDF projections of another intifada. Defense Minister Benny Gantz will hold a closed-door meeting with his Blue and White party's Knesset members on Friday to discuss annexation. A former IDF chief of staff, Gantz recently expressed fears that annexation could exacerbate security challenges in the West Bank.
The Joint List faction, a coalition of Israeli-Arab parties in the Knesset, sent a letter Thursday to the Democratic members of Congress imploring them to oppose Israel annexing any part of the West Bank on the grounds that it "undermines American interests... will destabilize the region...[and] will mark the crossing of a new Rubicon in the intensification of the Israeli control over Palestinian lands taken in 1967, in negating the prospect of a viable, sovereign and independent Palestinian state, in expansion of the illegal settlement project and in increasing human rights violations in the occupied West Bank." The letter also touched on America's current racial unrest, saying, "The Black Lives Matter movement is inspiring and empowering our struggle here for justice and equality for all."
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov echoed Aviv Kohavi's concerns at a Thursday press conference in Jerusalem. He cautioned that, although "for now we have the clear commitment by the Palestinian leadership that they will do everything in their power to contain law and order in the areas they control," Israeli annexations will make this commitment "more difficult or impossible in the future." While the Palestinian Authority's leadership may want to maintain law and order, Hamas could be preparing for another intifada. Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas's military wing, asserted Thursday that annexation constitutes a "declaration of war" and "we will make the enemy bite its fingers in regret for such a sinful decision."
United Arab Emirates
Prime Minister Netanyahu announced Thursday a deal with the UAE whereby their respective health ministries will cooperate in medical projects related to COVID-19 and other health issues. The details of the cooperation are not clear and the UAE has yet to confirm the project.
President Michel Aoun hosted a meeting of political leaders Thursday ostensibly to address the plummeting Lebanese pound, which traded at more than 7,000 per dollar today, up from around 6,000 two days ago. Yet, the statement issued following the gathering focused on repressing anti-government protests rather than economic reforms. "Those gathered call for stopping all kinds of provocative campaigns that would stir strife, threaten civil peace and destabilize the security that has been achieved." Three large Christian political parties – the Lebanese Forces, Marada Movement, and Kataeb Party – boycotted today's talks. Secretary Pompeo said Wednesday that the US and the "whole world will come in to assist the Lebanese government get its economy back on its feet" if Beirut commits to real reforms and forms a government that is not "beholden to Hezbollah." UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash acknowledged that Lebanon's "economic meltdown is very worrying," but ruled out unilaterally assisting the country. He told CNBC, "If we see some of our friends, major powers interested in Lebanon, working on a plan, we will consider that. But up to now, what we are really seeing here is a deterioration of Lebanon's Arab relations and Gulf relations over the past 10 years. Lebanon is partly paying the price for that right now." Gargash attributed the deteriorating relations to "dictation of the political discourse by Hezbollah."
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions Thursday on four Iranian steel, aluminum, and iron companies, including one subsidiary of Mobarakeh Steel Company — Iran's largest steel manufacturer. OFAC also imposed sanctions on one Germany-based and three UAE-based sales agents for being owned or controlled by the Mobarakeh Steel Company. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said, "The Iranian regime continues to use profits from metals manufacturers and foreign sales agents to fund destabilizing behavior around the world" and "the United States remains committed to isolating key sectors of the Iranian economy until the revenues from such sectors are refocused toward the welfare of the Iranian people."
President Hassan Rouhani announced Thursday plans to export 1 million bpd of oil by March from Bandar-e Jask's port, which is on the Gulf of Oman. This would make Tehran's threats to disrupt oil traffic through the Strait of Hormuz more credible since they would no longer depend on shipping their own oil through the strait.
In response to a UN inquiry finding it "highly probable" the Assad regime or its allies last year carried out attacks on three healthcare facilities, a school, and a refuge for children, Russia will no longer cooperate with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA shares with Syria's warring parties the locations of UN-supported facilities and other humanitarian sites like hospitals.
To assist Sudan's transition to democracy, Germany co-hosted a fundraiser where Western and Arab donor countries pledged a total $1.8 billion in aid and the World Bank an additional $400 million in grants. This comes two days after the IMF mission in Sudan recommended assistance to help the transitional government implement reforms aimed at restoring macroeconomic stability.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum