A day after Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet resigned, protestors read aloud the names of the at least 171 people who perished in last Tuesday's explosion. Above the protestors hung a poster lambasting President Michel Aoun for knowing about the reckless storage of the ammonium nitrate responsible for the tragedy and doing nothing. Part of the poster says: "A government goes, a government comes; we will continue until the president and the parliamentary speaker [Nabih Berri] are removed." A preliminary investigation into the incident by the General Directorate of State Security found President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab received a letter from Lebanese security officials on July 20 warning of the danger posed by the ammonium nitrate. Aoun issued a statement Tuesday calling for a thorough investigation: "I will not remain silent nor will I rest until we reveal all the facts about these explosions; referring the explosions to the Supreme Judicial Council is the first step in this direction." On Friday, however, he rejected calls for an international probe, saying demands for such are aimed at "distorting the truth" and slowing the process. In an interview with Al-Arabiya aired Friday, former Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi demanded those conducting the probe receive protection from Hezbollah because "Hezbollah might kill any judge who concludes Hezbollah is responsible."
To win more support on the UN Security Council to extend the 13-year-old UN arms embargo on Iran, the US replaced a more than 12-page-long draft resolution with a four paragraph one that dropped a mechanism for inspecting cargo entering and exiting Iran. The shorter draft resolution, seen by Reuters, would still extend the embargo "until the Security Council decides otherwise." China and Russia will likely veto any resolution extending the arm embargo. A Chinese diplomat at the UN stated that extending the embargo, "in whatever form, lacks a legal basis." UN Security Council Resolution 2231 scheduled the embargo to end in October 2020 if Tehran adhered to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili confirmed Tuesday the recent arrest of five Iranians on charges of spying for Israel, Britain, and Germany and that two have already been convicted and sentenced. Masoud Mosaheb, secretary-general of the Iran-Austria friendship association, received a 10-year jail term for purportedly committing espionage for Israel and Germany. Shahram Shirkhani was convicted of furnishing the UK with classified information about Iran's central bank, Bank Melli Iran, and defense ministry contracts. Iran executed Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd last month for supposedly giving the CIA and Mossad intelligence on Iranian forces in Syria and Reza Asgari for selling information to the CIA about Iran's missile program.
Baghdad canceled Tuesday a visit by Turkey's defense minister scheduled for Thursday and summoned the Turkish ambassador after a Turkish drone strike killed two border guard battalion commanders and their driver. Tuesday's strike represented the first Iraqi military casualties since Ankara launched a cross-border operation in mid-June against the PKK. The killed border guard commanders were negotiating a ceasefire with PKK militants after they clashed earlier in the day with Iraqi military personnel.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced Tuesday Ankara will issue this month gas exploration and drilling licenses in eastern Mediterranean waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus. At a news conference, he declared, "We will defend the rights of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots in the Eastern Mediterranean and not make any concessions." Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in turn requested an emergency meeting of the EU's Foreign Affairs Council to address this breach of Greek sovereignty. On Monday, Turkey dispatched the seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis, accompanied by Turkish warships, to the Greek continental shelf to search for oil and gas deposits. That prompted Greek warships to bombard the Oruc Reis with messages to create so much noise that the Turkish survey vessel would not be able to operate.
The State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report concluding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo 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, "was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA." Congress had placed holds on some of the transferred equipment over concerns about potential civilian casualties in their use by the Saudi-led coalition supporting the internationally recognized government of Yemen. However, the OIG report "also found that the Department did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of PGMs [precision-guided munitions] included in the May 2019 emergency certification."
Egyptians are voting on Tuesday and Wednesday for 200 members of the newly created 300-seat Council of Senators advisory body. 100 members are elected in single-member constituencies, another 100 through a closed party list system, and President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi will appoint the final 100. Most of those running are Sisi allies.
Channel 12 reported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pressuring Benny Gantz to amend the coalition deal they struck last April by raising the prospect of new elections should Likud not reach a budget agreement with Blue and White. Netanyahu wants new elections called if the High Court of Justice disqualifies him from serving as prime minister on account of his criminal indictments and to abolish the professional committee for appointing senior legal officials.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum