The New York Times obtained an 18-page proposed agreement between Iran and China that President Hassan Rouhani's cabinet approved last June, but has not yet presented to parliament. In exchange for a heavily discounted oil supply for the next 25 years, Beijing would invest $400 billion over the same time period in nearly 100 projects, including: infrastructure for a 5G telecommunications network, airports, high-speed railways, subways, and free trade zones. The deal also entails joint military exercises, intelligence sharing, and collaborating in weapons research and development. Two Iranian officials claimed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supports the deal. However, many Iranian politicians fear Rouhani's government is giving away the store and lawmakers heckled Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last week for not consulting them in negotiating the agreement. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who reportedly wants to run in the 2021 presidential elections, on Telegram last month objected to the secrecy of the agreement's negotiation and asserted that it would be void if not subjected to public scrutiny. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) may also not want Chinese competition. For example, the IRGC-controlled Khatam al-Anbiya construction firm in 2012 forced Tehran to grant it the $2 billion contract for building the Bakhtiari Dam over China's state-owned Sinohydro Corporation. Former hardline lawmaker Ali Motahari suggested a comprehensive deal with China should address Beijing's persecution of its Muslim Uyghur minority. Ayatollah Khamenei addressed the hardliner-controlled parliament Sunday to rule out impeaching President Rouhani after some 200 lawmakers tabled a motion to question Rouhani about his foreign policy performance, including the China deal.
Iran's Civil Aviation Organization (CAO) released a report Saturday blaming the January 8 downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on the relocation and improper reorientation of the surface-to-air missile battery responsible as well as a breakdown in communication between the troops operating the battery and their commanders, culminating in firing without authorization. The report does not divulge why the battery was moved in the first place. France's Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) confirmed on June 26 it will begin repairing and downloading data from the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Flight Data Recorder on July 20. The IRGC accidently shot down the plane in January while launching missile attacks against Iraqi military bases hosting US forces to avenge the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani by an American drone.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the Financial Times on Saturday the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) is determined to resume its offensive against Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) if his forces do not withdraw from Sirte and al-Jufra, the site of a major airbase. Cavusoglu hinted that Turkey, whose military intervention turned the tide of the war earlier this year, might participate in the renewed offensive. Although the frontlines have mostly been quiet since June 10, Egypt's army initiated a large-scale exercise last Thursday along the Libyan border in what is widely seen as preparation for military intervention to assist the LNA. Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi stated on June 20 that GNA forces entering Sirte or al-Jufra would cross a red line that might trigger direct Egyptian military intervention. In a Monday interview with state broadcaster TRT Haber, Cavusoglu said, "There are preparations for an operation but we are trying the [negotiation] table. If there is no withdrawal, there is already a military preparation. They [GNA] will show all determination here."
A day after the Tripoli-based National Oil Company (NOC) announced lifting its six-month ban on oil exports from fields under LNA control, LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mosmari relayed that it would only permit the free flow of oil once a bank account in a foreign country is set up to deposit the oil revenue, which should then be distributed equitably among Libya's regions. As most of the international community only recognizes the NOC's right to export oil, the LNA blocked oil exports since January to deprive the GNA of oil revenue from territory under its control.
Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakfakh declared Monday an imminent cabinet reshuffle, likely intended to remove ministers from the Islamist Ennahdha party after it accused him of corruption because companies in which he owns shares won government contracts worth $15 million. Five parties voiced support for a vote of no confidence in Ennahdha parliamentary speaker Rached Ghannouchi. Ennahdha is the largest party in the current coalition. This political instability coincides with Tunis on Monday requesting four countries (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France, and Italy) delay debt repayments as the COVID-19 pandemic makes Tunis's financial situation even more precarious.
The UN Security Council Saturday approved a resolution, drafted by Germany and Belgium, to reauthorize the Bab al-Hawa aid corridor for another year, 13 members voting for the measure while Russia, China, and the Dominican Republic abstained. On Friday, Russia and China vetoed a resolution to reauthorize for six months two aid corridors, not subject to Damascus's oversight, along the Turkish border. Friday's resolution was a compromise after Russia and China vetoed a similar resolution Tuesday that would have reauthorized the corridors for a year and the Security Council rejected a Russian resolution to reauthorize for six months just one of the corridors. As the Assad regime's most powerful patron, Moscow denies the necessity of aid corridors passing directly from a foreign country into rebel-controlled territory.
Three Middle Eastern sources, including a senior Lebanese official, claim that the June 11 release of Hezbollah-financier Kassim Tajideen by the US is part of a broader prisoner exchange indirectly negotiated with Tehran. Two of the sources identified Major General Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon's General Security agency, as the process's main mediator. The sources maintain Sam Goodwin, an American freed by Damascus last year, and Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national with US permanent residency who was released by Tehran last year, are part of the exchange that is expected to yield more releases.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi Saturday dispatched security forces from the Interior Ministry to supervise customs collection at the Mandili border crossing with Iran as the first step in a campaign to crack down on corruption costing the state "hundreds of millions" of Iraqi dinars in import tax revenue. At the Mandili border crossing's reopening Saturday, al-Kadhimi said, "Today, military forces were sent and allowed to shoot anyone who violates customs, in order to protect the people's money and to search for 'ghosts' who blackmail businessmen." A border official anonymously conveyed that the "ghosts" refers to armed factions engaging in extortion, including pro-Iranian militias belonging to the Popular Mobilization Forces. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi's recent effort to crack down on pro-Iranian militias has prompted resistance. Mohammed Mohie, a spokesman for the pro-Iranian Kataib Hezbollah paramilitary group, last Wednesday described as a "provocation" the June 26 raid on his party's headquarters and threatened that future provocations would lead to "escalation."
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum