Mohammed Mohie, a spokesman for the pro-Iranian Kataib Hezbollah (KH) paramilitary group, Wednesday described as a "provocation" the June 26 raid on his party's headquarters and arrest of 14 members suspected of orchestrating rocket attacks against the US embassy and American forces at the Baghdad airport. After the raid, an Iraqi official close to Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told The National, "al-Kadhimi previously issued a warning to the groups to stop the attacks and he clearly stated that whoever attacks the public will be treated as a terrorist." However, shortly after armed KH militants flooded the Green Zone in pickup trucks, authorities released 13 of the detainees on the grounds of insufficient evidence and rocket attacks on American targets continue. Mohie added, "We have our conviction that these provocations will not stop and will continue and there will be an escalation." KH also sent death threats to Hisham al-Hashemi weeks before his assassination last Monday. A terrorism expert and informal advisor to Prime Minister al-Kadhimi, al-Hashemi published a report on July 1 exposing the breadth of Iranian influence over the Popular Mobilization Forces, a state-backed umbrella group of militias, including KH.
US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft successfully lobbied Security Council members Wednesday to vote against Russia's resolution to reauthorize for six months just one of two existing aid corridors along the Turkish border. Russia and China yesterday vetoed a Security Council resolution to reauthorize for one year both aid corridors, which are not subject to Damascus's oversight. All other Security Council members supported the German and Belgian-drafted resolution vetoed yesterday. Only Russia, China, Vietnam, and South Africa voted for the Russian resolution. In January, Russia and China thwarted the reauthorization of two additional aid corridors on the Jordanian and Iraqi borders. The mandate for the existing aid corridors elapses on Friday. Moscow and Beijing, who are aligned with the Assad regime, maintain cross-border aid corridors are unnecessary because aid to rebel-controlled areas can be channeled through government-controlled territory.
Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Mohammad Baqeri and Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub signed a security cooperation agreement Wednesday in Damascus that Baqeri said "will strengthen Syria's air defense system." Since the beginning of the civil war, Israel has conducted hundreds of airstrikes on Syrian soil against regime forces, Hezbollah militants, Iranian personnel, and Iranian-backed pro-Assad militias. Turkey also launched hundreds of drone attacks on Syrian troops during Ankara's March campaign to drive back regime forces in Idlib.
Commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazloum Abdi on Tuesday received the commander of the Russian forces in Syria, General Alexander Chayko. They discussed Turkey's recent assassination of three Kurdish activists in Kobani and agreed to "raise the level of coordination and joint work."
To emphasize the necessity of extending the 13-year-old UN arms embargo on Iran that expires in October 2020 per Security Council Resolution 2231, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed Wednesday US and partner forces interdicted on June 28 an Iranian arms shipment to the Houthis "including 200 RPGs, more than 1,700 AK rifles, 21 – 21 surface-to-air and land-attack missiles, several anti-tank missiles, and other advanced weapons and missiles." Security Council Resolution 2231 enshrined the Iran nuclear deal into international law.
Without elaborating, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council Wednesday that "de-escalation efforts, including the creation of a possible demilitarized zone, are being undertaken by UNSMIL to reach a negotiated solution and spare lives." Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov complained Wednesday, just as Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army rebuffed Russian ceasefire efforts last January when he enjoyed the upper hand militarily, the Government of National Accord's (GNA) recent victories make it uninterested in a ceasefire. Lavrov additionally endorsed Egypt's proposal of replacing the competing governments in Tripoli and Tobruk with a constitution drafting commission drawn from Libya's three historic provinces: Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan. Russia is one of the LNA's main patrons.
Hezbollah financier Kassem Tajeddine returned to Lebanon Wednesday, three years into a five-year sentence, after a US judge ordered his release citing the coronavirus pandemic and the 65-year-old's age. Some speculate the US released Tajeddine in exchange for a Lebanese military court last March dropping charges against Lebanese-American Amer Fakhoury, a South Lebanon Army militiaman who ran the Khiam detention center.
Yamina lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich's bill to form a parliamentary committee for investigating Supreme Court justices' conflicts of interest lost a Knesset vote 43-54. 13 Shas and Likud legislators, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, were absent. The Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, opposed the legislation on the grounds it would undermine the coalition with Blue and White, thereby precipitating new elections.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum