Despite all evidence pointing to the reckless storage of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at Beirut's port causing Tuesday's explosion, President Michel Aoun holds, "The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act." Aoun even requested France provide satellite images to detect any warplanes or missiles possibly responsible for the incident. Ignoring fears that the Lebanese government's already launched investigation will try to shield the regime from blame, Aoun Friday rejected calls for an international probe, saying demands for such are aimed at "distorting the truth" and slowing the process. Security forces dispersed with teargas small protests near Lebanon's parliament building Thursday night. Activists are calling for mass demonstrations on Saturday against the corrupt political elite, signaling a resurrection of the 2019 protest movement that unsuccessfully demanded a technocratic government but forced Prime Minister Saad Hariri's resignation.
The IDF downed a drone Thursday night that penetrated the Golan Heights. This comes at a time of heightened tension along Israel's northern frontier. Israeli forces opened fire Sunday night on a four-man squad attempting to plant explosives near an army outpost in the southern Golan Heights. The IDF believes it killed all four operatives before they crossed the Syrian-Israeli border.
Each of the three Democratic candidates to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee – Brad Sherman (CA-30), Joaquín Castro (TX-20), and Gregory Meeks (NY-5) – told The Times of Israel in separate statements this week how American aid should be conditioned to prevent the unilateral annexation of West Bank territory. Sherman expressed opposition to "any use of American taxpayer dollars to implement the Annexation Plan or to build any permanent Israeli installation in the West Bank or Gaza." Likewise, Castro said, "Not a penny of US taxpayer money should subsidize or enable any unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank." To prevent Israel from annexing any part of the West Bank, Meeks advocated applying "pressure against Netanyahu should he annex territory, including leveraging US aid."
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asserted Friday Turkey is reviving energy exploration work in disputed eastern Mediterranean waters in response to Cairo and Athens signing an agreement Thursday setting up an exclusive economic zone that Ankara says intrudes on Turkey's continental shelf. Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin informed CNN Turk on July 28 it was suspending oil and gas exploration in waters claimed by Greece. This suspension followed a rapid escalation initiated by Turkey's navy on July 21 issuing a Navtex for seismic surveys in waters claimed by Greece, prompting Athens to issue its own Navtex requesting vessels to ignore Turkey's Navtex and then deploying Greek naval ships.
Saad al-Jabri, a former top Saudi counterterrorism official, filed a lawsuit in the US District Court of DC on Thursday accusing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of attempting to trap and assassinate him in the US and Canada, Canadian customs officials purportedly denying entry to a Saudi hit squad planning to kill him. Al-Jabri is on the outs with the Saudi Crown Prince for being a close aide to former Crown Prince, and Mohammed bin Salman rival, Mohammed bin Nayef and assisting the CIA in its investigation into Mohammed bin Salman's role in Jamal Khashoggi's murder. Other defendants named in the lawsuit include Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed al-Asiri, former Mohammed bin Salman advisors implicated in Khashoggi's murder. While the Criminal Court of Riyadh sentenced five anonymous alleged perpetrators to death and three more to prison for killing Khashoggi, Saud al-Qahtani was never charged and al-Asiri acquitted. Riyadh seeks Saad al-Jabri's extradition from Canada on charges of embezzling Interior Ministry funds while heading an antiterrorism unit. Saudi authorities detained two of al-Jabri's children in March to induce him to return voluntarily as Ottawa has denied Riyadh's extradition request. Last month, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) sent President Trump a letter urging him to press senior Saudi officials to release al-Jabri's children immediately and praising Saad al-Jabri as "a highly valued partner" of American intelligence agencies whose counter-terrorism work helped save thousands of American lives.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs published a report Friday accusing the Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's internationally recognized government of killing as many as 9 children during airstrikes on Thursday in al-Jawf Governorate. The report added, "This is the third attack in less than a month to cause multiple civilian casualties." UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last June removed the Saudi-led coalition from the UN blacklist of parties violating children's rights following what Guterres described as "a sustained significant decrease in [casualties] due to airstrikes" and the implementation of measures aimed at protecting children.
United Arab Emirates
Former Spanish King Juan Carlos is staying in a £10,000 ($13,043)-a-night presidential suite at Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace Hotel after leaving Spain last Monday amid an investigation by Spanish Supreme Court prosecutors into whether he received $100 million in kickbacks from Saudi Arabia in 2008 to facilitate the construction of a bullet train between Mecca and Medina by a Spanish consortium.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum