Facing widespread protests over the weekend in response to Tuesday's deadly explosion, attributable to the reckless storage of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet resigned Monday. Diab acknowledged Tuesday's tragedy "occurred as a result of chronic corruption in politics." President Michel Aoun accepted Diab's resignation, but asked him and his cabinet to remain in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed. In a televised address Saturday, Diab asserted, "We cannot get out of this crisis without early parliamentary elections." Beirut city governor Marwan Abboud said Monday the death toll has climbed to 220 while 110 people remain missing.
With the US preparing to introduce this week a resolution in the Security Council to extend the 13-year-old UN arms embargo on Iran, the Gulf Cooperation Council sent a letter to the Security Council Saturday endorsing the American initiative and calling on the UN to "impose any additional measures necessary to prevent the destabilizing proliferation of Iranian weapons, such as a targeted asset freeze and travel ban on individuals involved in the supply, sale or transfer of arms or related materiel to or from Iran." Qatar, which has drawn closer to Iran since Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt cut relations in 2017 and enacted an economic blockade, joined the rest of the GCC in signing the letter. However, last minute diplomacy by Britain, France, and Germany to persuade Russia and China not to veto the US resolution has reportedly failed. UN Security Council Resolution 2231 scheduled the embargo to end in October 2020 if Tehran adhered to the 2015 nuclear deal.
The State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) cleared Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of wrongdoing in declaring an emergency under the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) in May 2019 to bypass Congressional approval of more than $8 billion in arms sales, mainly to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. President Trump fired former OIG head Steve Linick, who was completing an investigation into Pompeo's use of the AECA, on May 15, 2020. Stephen Akard served as acting OIG head following Linick's dismissal until resigning on August 5 for unspecified reasons and was succeeded by his deputy, Diana Shaw.
Prime Minister-designate Hichem Mechichi announced at a Monday press conference the necessity of forming a non-partisan, technocratic government: "The consultations that took place with the political parties made me evaluate that the degree of differences between them is great and this does not enable the formation of a government that brings politicians together." Earlier on Monday, the Islamist Ennahda party called on Mechichi to form a unity government reflecting the current power balance in parliament, in which it enjoys a plurality of 52 seats out of 217. Although Ennahda vowed to oppose a non-partisan government, the powerful Tunisian General Labor Union supports the idea, as do the Tahya Tounes party and the Free Destourian Party. Mechichi, an independent himself, is the third person tapped by President Kais Saied to form a government since the October 2019 parliamentary elections. Former Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh resigned on July 15, after serving just four and a half months, amid allegations of owning shares in companies winning government contracts worth $15 million.
Ankara Monday dispatched the seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis, accompanied by Turkish warships, to the Greek continental shelf, where it will search for oil and gas deposits. Greek warships prevented the Oruc Reis from carrying out its work by transmitting messages every 15 minutes informing the survey vessel that it was operating in Greek waters and should leave. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proclaimed last 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.
Iraqi security services reported an attack on a convoy carrying US military gear near the Jraischan crossing on the Iraq-Kuwait border Monday. Although the Iraqi military subsequently denied the incident occurred and the US Embassy in Kuwait refrained from commenting, the pro-Iranian Ashab al-Kahaf militia claimed responsibility. Ashab al-Kahaf has claimed credit for missile strikes on American targets in Iraq. Yet, some analysts surmise the group is an alias for Popular Mobilization Forces militias not wanting to jeopardize their state backing.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum