Ankara vowed retribution after an airstrike hit Turkish air defense systems at al-Watiya air base Saturday. A Turkish official told Middle East Eye that Emirati Dassault Mirage fighters likely carried out the attack. However, informed sources told The Arab Weekly only Egypt and France have the equipment and capabilities to launch such a strike. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi threatened on June 20 that advances by the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) on Sirte could trigger Egyptian military intervention, warnings hitherto unheeded. Franco-Turkish relations are also at a record low. At a June 17-18 videoconference of NATO defense ministers, French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly accused three Turkish warships of conducting radar targeting on the French frigate Courbet three times, suggesting an imminent missile strike, when the Courbet sought to search a Turkish civilian ship suspected of violating the UN arms embargo on Libya. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced last Wednesday that EU foreign ministers would meet at Paris's request on July 13 to discuss Ankara's destabilizing behavior, from illegal drilling in Cypriot waters to intervention in the Libyan civil war, and consider the imposition of sanctions. Saturday's strike on al-Watiya came hours after a visit by Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Chief of General Staff Yasar Guler to Tripoli to discuss furthering military and security cooperation with the GNA. Turkey is negotiating with the GNA to build its own base at al-Watiya, which GNA forces recently captured from Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army with Turkish assistance. While Turkish and Qatari media claimed that the attack caused no Turkish casualties, a Libyan source told The Arab Weekly several Turkish soldiers died after being transported to a hospital in the nearby town of al-Jamil.
Days before Turkey's Council of State may rule to reconvert the Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque, Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill said in a Monday statement, "With bitterness and indignation, the Russian people responded in the past and respond now to any attempt to degrade or trample upon the millennium-old spiritual heritage of the Church of Constantinople. A threat to Hagia Sophia is a threat to the entire Christian civilization." A church from 587-1453, the Ottomans converted the building into a mosque before Ataturk's government turned it into a museum in 1935. Last year, however, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised, "Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) will no longer be called a museum. Its status will change. We will call it a mosque" and the Association for the Protection of Historic Monuments and the Environment presented its case for turning Hagia Sophia back into a mosque to Turkey's Council of State last Thursday. While Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed hope that Turkey would take Hagia Sophia's status as a World Heritage Site into account, he maintained the site's future is a domestic Turkish issue. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a stronger statement last Wednesday urging "the government of Turkey to continue to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey, and to ensure it remains accessible to all." On Monday the Hellenic Leaders diaspora organization criticized Biden foreign policy advisor Anthony Blinken for merely calling on the Turkish government "to ensure continued access for all visitors."
Unidentified assassins killed Hisham al-Hashemi, a terrorism expert and informal advisor to Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, outside his Baghdad home Monday. No group has taken responsibility for the assassination and the government has yet to name any suspects. Al-Hashemi supported the 2019 protest movement against government corruption, low living standards, and Iranian involvement in Iraqi politics that forced Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi to resign. Anonymous online threats accused al-Hashemi of "collaborating with Israel" and being too close to the US. Al-Hashemi previously worked at the Chatham House think tank in London and the Center for Global Policy in Washington, DC.
Hardline parliamentarians heckled Foreign Minister Javad Zarif throughout a speech on Sunday while 200 lawmakers tabled a motion to question President Hassan Rouhani about the abysmal state of the economy as well as the country's nuclear program in a possible effort to impeach the president less than a year before elections.
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran revealed Sunday that the damage from a July 2 explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility could set back the country's nuclear program by months. Whether the facility, targeted in 2010 by the Israeli-American Stuxnet computer worm, was attacked last week remains unclear. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Sunday, "Not every event that happens inside Iran is necessarily connected to us." Following several unexplained explosions over the last few weeks in Iran, Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsir, the Revolutionary Guards Navy chief, warned, "Iran has established underground onshore and offshore missile cities all along the coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman that would be a nightmare for Iran's enemies."
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab released a list Monday of 49 sanctioned individuals and organizations from Saudi Arabia, Russia, Myanmar, and North Korea for human rights abuses. The list includes 20 Saudis being tried in absentia in Turkey for the October 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi. This represents the first case of unilateral British sanctions, previous sanctions enforced by the UK being imposed by the UN or EU.
Israel successfully launched a military reconnaissance satellite Monday to surveil Iran and other adversaries. The Ofek 16 Earth-imaging satellite is already in orbit and transmitting data. This occurred on the same day Channel 12 reported the Mossad foiled attempted Iranian attacks on Israeli diplomatic missions in Europe and elsewhere. Although the locations remain censored, the report divulged that the Mossad operations were conducted in coordination with European governments.
El Al's Board of Directors voted Sunday to accept the finance ministry's plan to keep the airline afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, whereby the government will guarantee a $250 million loan and purchase a 61 percent share of the company's stock for $150 million, intending to reprivatize it as soon as there is a buyer. The government bailout presupposes the agreement of the four labor unions representing El Al employees. El Al has faced numerous pilot strikes, including one last week that grounded the few flights still scheduled.
Nabil Shaath, a former PA Prime Minister and current advisor to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, told the Arab branch of France 24 that Fatah and Hamas would launch a third intifada if Israel annexes part of the West Bank and that he expects the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia, to fund this uprising like it did the Second Intifada (2000-2005).
Egypt released and returned to America Mohamed Amashah, a dual-citizen medical student held in pre-trial detention for nearly 500 days on charges of "misusing social media" and "aiding a terrorist group." In March 2019, Amashah stood alone in Cairo's Tahrir Square holding a sign saying: "Freedom for all the political prisoners." The Trump administration pressured Cairo for months to free Amashah, who had to renounce his Egyptian citizenship as a condition of his release.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum