State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus confirmed Friday yesterday's Wall Street Journal report that US authorities seized on the high seas four tankers – the Luna, Pandi, Bering, and Bella – transporting Iranian fuel to Venezuela. On July 2, US District Judge James E. Boasberg signed a warrant for impounding the ships' gasoline because its sale intended to benefit sanctioned Iranian entities, particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Justice Department declared Friday the US confiscated approximately 1.116 million barrels of petroleum and funds derived from the petroleum "may in whole or in part be directed to the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund."
The UN Security Council voted against a resolution introduced by the US to extend the 13-year-old UN arms embargo on Iran. Only the Dominican Republic joined the US in voting for the resolution. Russia and China opposed it while the rest of the 15-member body – including France, Britain, and Germany – abstained. UN Security Council Resolution 2231 scheduled the embargo to end in October 2020 if Tehran adhered to the 2015 nuclear deal.
During a Friday television address, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said about last week's explosion in Beirut that "if the investigation determines that Israel is involved" and "the answer hinges on Hezbollah, it cannot remain silent over a crime of this magnitude and Israel will pay a price of the magnitude." Despite all evidence pointing to the reckless storage of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at Beirut's port causing the explosion, Hezbollah-backed Lebanese President Michel Aoun maintained on August 7, "The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act." Aoun further rejected calls for an international probe, saying demands for such are aimed at "distorting the truth" and slowing the process. Nasrallah also stated on Friday, regarding verdicts to be issued on August 18 by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating Rafic Hariri's assassination, "We cling to the innocence of our brothers should unjust verdicts be issued against them" and, "for us, it will be as if no decision was ever announced."
Lebanon's anti-corruption watchdog, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, reported central bank governor Riad Salameh and his family own $100 million in assets around the world. Salameh, who stands accused of overestimating the bank's assets by $6 billion, professes he earned the money before becoming central bank governor in 1993. On July 20, a Lebanese court froze some of Salameh's assets as part of a lawsuit filed by "The People Want to Fix the System" activist group, which accused Salameh of inciting a bank run, committing fraud, and neglecting his job. Lebanon's government last month hired New York-based Alvarez & Marsal to conduct a forensic audit of the country's central bank.
Israel-UAE Normalization of Relations
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Walla expressed that one reason for normalization was to have "leverage to stop annexation" of parts of the West Bank. Thursday's joint statement issued by the US, Israel, and the UAE announcing the normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE said, "Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President's Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world." While the statement did not specify how long the suspension will last, Gargash stated, "I think we bought a lot of time... I do not think it is a short-term suspension... Now we are encouraging the Palestinians to return to negotiations." Nevertheless, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the UAE of "betraying the Palestinian cause for its own interests" while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters, "We may take steps to suspend diplomatic ties with the UAE or withdraw our ambassador."
UN Secretary-General António Guterres's spokesman issued a statement Friday demanding the Houthis grant independent technical experts unconditional access to the FSO Safer, an abandoned 44-year-old oil tanker anchored about 37 miles north of Hodeidah and containing more than 1 million barrels of crude oil. The Houthis seized the FSO Safer in 2015 and have largely blocked access to the tanker since, insisting that they receive all the proceeds from the oil's sale. Seawater began leaking into the ship's engine room on May 27, increasing its risk of sinking and causing an oil spill that would likely close Hodeidah, the main port of entry for aid to Yemen, for months.
Three rockets landed near a Baghdad military base housing US forces in a week witnessing four strikes on convoys resupplying bases hosting American soldiers. Pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Forces militias are believed responsible for the attacks.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum