Unidentified gunmen assassinated Wednesday Basra activist Reham Yacoub, who led several women's marches. Iran's Mehr news agency in September 2018 alleged America's Basra consulate recruited Yacoub to "destroy the image" of Iran-backed militias in Iraq and the region as well as to organize riots. Yacoub's murder follows the Friday assassination of Tahseen Osama, a leading figure in the anti-corruption protests that broke out last October. Osama's killing sparked three days of street demonstrations during which protestors blocked streets and hurled petrol bombs at the governor's house, drawing live fire from the security forces protecting it. Only Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi firing the Basra police and national security chiefs in addition to ordering an investigation into security forces killing two protestors stopped the rioting. After Tahseen Osama's assassination, the UN's High Commission for Human Rights reiterated "its previous warnings about the resurgence of civic activists' assassinations in the country, which indicates weakness in the intelligence services." It also stressed, "The lack of disclosure of those involved in many assassinations, including the murder of Dr. Hisham Al-Hashemi, encouraged the gangs to resume their crimes." Hisham al-Hashemi, a terrorism expert and informal advisor to Prime Minister al-Kadhimi, published a report on July 1 exposing the breadth of Iranian influence over the Popular Mobilization Forces, a state-backed umbrella group of militias, including Kataib Hezbollah (KH). KH sent death threats to Hisham al-Hashemi weeks before his assassination. At a Wednesday press briefing with Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the US is "committed to helping Iraq achieve... freedom from foreign meddling in its internal affairs" while "armed groups not under the full control of the prime minister... need to be replaced by local police as soon as possible."
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Wednesday broke the kingdom's silence on the Israel-UAE peace agreement unveiled last Thursday, saying, "Any efforts that promote peace in the region and that result in holding back the threat of annexation could be viewed as positive." However, he expressed that Riyadh will only normalize relations with Israel in the context of implementing the 2002 "Arab Peace Plan and relevant international resolutions enabling the Palestinian people to establish their own state with East Jerusalem as its capital." Unanimously accepted by Arab League members at the 2002 Beirut Summit, the Arab Peace Initiative called for Arab states to normalize relations with Israel if it withdrew from all territory captured in the 1967 war, negotiated a "just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees," and accepted the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu objects to several of the Arab Peace Initiative's terms, particularly evacuating the Golan Heights and absorbing descendants of Palestinian refugees.
President Trump Wednesday directed Secretary Pompeo "to notify the UN Security Council that the United States intends to restore virtually all of the previously suspended United Nations sanctions on Iran." The State Department subsequently disclosed Pompeo will notify the Security Council on August 20 or 21 of America's intention to trigger the snapback sanctions authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which enshrined the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) into international law. Under the deal, any party contending Iran is not upholding its commitments can notify the UN Security Council, which then has 30 days to pass a resolution to continue lifting sanctions, thereby giving any permanent Security Council member a veto over lifting sanctions. Last June, the French, German, and British foreign ministers issued a joint statement objecting to America triggering snapback sanctions over Russian and Chinese opposition because it would be "incompatible with our current efforts to preserve the JCPOA."
United Arab Emirates
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Wednesday designated the UAE-based companies Delta Parts Supply FZC and Parthia Cargo for providing key parts and logistical services to Iran's Mahan Air, which was itself designated in 2011 "for providing financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force." OFAC Wednesday also designated UAE-based Iranian national Amin Mahdavi for owning or controlling Parthia Cargo.
Sudanese acting Foreign Minister Omar Qamar al-Din Ismail fired Foreign Ministry spokesman Haidar Badawi Sadiq Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the latter told Sky News Arabia that Khartoum wants to normalize relations with Israel. Ismail quickly clarified Tuesday that Sadiq was not authorized to make such remarks and the ministry has not discussed relations with Israel.
Hamas asked the Egyptian security delegation that arrived in the Gaza Strip on Monday to help end the current escalation with Israel, which culminated in Gaza's only power plant shutting down Tuesday, five days after Israel suspended fuel shipments in retaliation for incendiary balloons from the Strip destroying Israeli farmland. Egyptian intelligence officials forwarded to Israel Hamas's demands, including expanding the Strip's fishing area to 20 miles, permitting more Gazans to work in Israel, and reducing restrictions on imports and exports. Hamas also requested Qatar double monthly grants it pledged for needy Gazan families.
A Knesset Finance Committee meeting Wednesday for approving legislation postponing the August 25 deadline to pass a state budget adjourned without an agreement after Coalition Chairman Miki Zohar revealed Likud would only support the bill if new conditions are met. These involve funding for Haredi yeshivot, religious Zionist educational institutes, and the Karev and Hila programs for underprivileged children. Zohar also insisted the extension last 250 days, rather than 100, and the state budget include 5 percent "flexibility," giving the government some wiggle room in deviating from the exact spending detailed in the budget. Failure to pass the budget deadline extension by Monday will force new elections.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum