Lebanese authorities impounded the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate responsible for Tuesday's explosion from the Russian-owned, Moldovan-flagged MV Rhosus cargo ship in 2014 after finding it unseaworthy and the owner subsequently abandoning the vessel. Lebanon eventually allowed the crew's repatriation while port authorities transferred the ammonium nitrate into "Warehouse 12." A Lebanese judge Thursday confirmed 16 port staffers have been arrested over Tuesday's explosion. The Lebanese government's incompetent handling of the ammonium nitrate has increased public disillusionment with the country's corrupt, sectarian-base political system. French President Emmanuel Macron, addressing rapturous crowds in Beirut Thursday, promised, "This aid will not go to corrupt hands" and "I will talk to all political forces to ask them for a new pact. I am here today to propose a new political pact to them." Macron also called for a "transparent audit of the central bank and the banking system." Negotiations between Beirut and the IMF over an initial $10 billion bailout reached a standstill in July when the government and financial sector could not agree on the scale of losses in the banking system during the ongoing crisis. Walid Jumblatt, Lebanon's leading Druze politician, said Thursday he had "no trust" in the government and advocated an international investigation into the Beirut port explosion.
A day after the State Department announced offering rewards of up to $10 million "for information leading to the identification or location of any person who works with or for a foreign government for the purpose of interfering with U.S. elections through certain illegal cyber activities," an unknown number of Iranians received text messages saying in Farsi: "The United States pays up to $10 million for any information on foreign interference in American elections."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo verified Thursday that Trump administration Venezuela envoy Elliott Abrams will also assume Brian Hook's responsibilities as the administration's Iran envoy. The exact date of and reason for Hook's resignation remain unclear. Next week the US will put forward a resolution in the Security Council to extend the arms embargo on Iran.
Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Mike Lee (R-UT) will introduce a bill that would make legally binding parts of the Missile Technology Control Regime agreement, which was established in 1987 and bans the sale of drones that can carry at least 500 kilograms of weapons over 300 kilometers. The legislation aims to thwart Trump administration plans to sell drones to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Senator Murphy complaining, "The president's action will only further enable the Saudis to continue killing more innocent civilians in Yemen by supplying them with advanced U.S.-made drones." The legislation would exempt from the ban NATO members, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, and Israel.
Col. Turki Al-Maliki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition backing President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi's internationally recognized Yemeni government, stated Thursday that Saudi Arabia shot down a Houthi explosive-laden drone launched from Hodeidah governorate and heading towards the kingdom.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry announced Cairo and Athens signed an agreement Thursday setting up an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) covering Mediterranean waters containing oil and gas reserves. The EEZ's boundaries overlap with those established by deal Turkey and Libya's Tripoli-based Government of National Accord clinched last November. The foreign ministers of Greece, Egypt, France, and Cyprus issued a statement in January saying the Turkish-GNA maritime agreement is "null and void" because it "infringes upon the sovereign rights of third states" and "does not comply with the law of the sea." Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted Thursday that the "Greece-Egypt agreement is null and void," maintaining the demarcated area is located on Turkey's continental shelf.
Iraq pledged Thursday to cut its oil production by an additional 400,000 bpd in August to compensate for past noncompliance with April's OPEC+ supply reduction pact. Traditionally OPEC+'s least compliant member, Iraq cutting its production in early June by 300,000 bpd compared to May suggested a shifting attitude towards adhering to its OPEC+ quota.
Israeli aircraft bombed "underground infrastructure belonging to the Hamas terror group in the northern Gaza Strip" Thursday in response to the launching of incendiary balloons from Gaza that ignited at least three brush fires in southern Israel.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum