Turkey and Greece agreed Tuesday to hold the first talks regarding their disputed maritime borders since 2016. Tensions between the countries flared after Ankara last month dispatched the seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis, accompanied by Turkish warships, to the Greek continental shelf to search for oil and gas deposits. Greece responded by sending its own warships to monitor the Turkish flotilla's activity and conducted joint training exercises off Crete with the French navy. Simultaneously, the state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) communicated the Yavuz drillship and three support vessels would continue operating in waters claimed by Cyprus. EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell warned that the bloc would weigh at a 24-25 September Special European Council meeting whether to impose sanctions on Turkish individuals, assets, and ships while restricting Turkey's access to European ports, capacities, technologies, and supplies unless Ankara halts its illegal drilling and oil/gas exploration in Cypriot and Greek waters. After a Tuesday virtual meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a regional conference, including Turkish Cypriots, to resolve territorial disputes in the eastern Mediterranean. Greece's Foreign Ministry confirmed negotiations would commence soon in Istanbul, but did not give a date. Separately, the Special European Council meeting was postponed until October 1 because a security guard working for Michel tested positive for COVID-19.
During a Tuesday address before the UN General Assembly, President Hassan Rouhani lambasted America for imposing new sanctions yesterday designed to extend unilaterally the 13-year-old UN arms embargo on the Iran, which expires on October 19 according to the JCPOA's terms. He accused the US of selling "hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons to their clients, turning our region into a powder keg," while "they try in vain to deprive Iran of its minimum defense requirements." Since only the Dominican Republic joined the US in voting for a Security Council resolution last month to extend the embargo, President Trump signed an executive order Monday to block "transfers from Iran of destabilizing conventional weapons and acquisition of arms and related materiel by Iran." Most of Rouhani's speech was detached from reality. He claimed the US created ISIS, called Iran "the oldest democracy in the Middle East, and depicted the late IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani as "the champion of the fight against violent extremism in the Middle East." Lastly, Rouhani warned that "any US administration after the upcoming elections will have no choice but to surrender to the resilience of the Iranian nation."
United Arab Emirates
Sources privy to UAE negotiations with the US for buying F-35s said the parties aim to have a letter of agreement by December 2. Abu Dhabi informed Defense News in 2017 it wanted to update its air force, now relying primarily on the F-16 Block 60 and Mirage-2000, by purchasing 24 F-35s. As a congressionally mandated rule requires the US to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge over its neighbors, Washington is reportedly considering making the F-35s sold to the UAE more visible to Israeli radar systems by either altering the planes or selling Israel more advanced radar.
Palestinian security forces on Monday arrested in the West Bank seven members of Mohammed Dahlan's Democratic Reform Current faction of Fatah. Imad Mohsen, a Dahlan faction spokesman, called the arrests "politically motivated." Dahlan headed the PA's Preventive Security Force in Gaza before Hamas took over the Strip and was a political rival of Mahmoud Abbas until he fled to the UAE after his 2011 expulsion from Fatah. Dahlan retains political ambitions, hinting that he will run in future elections for the Palestinian Presidency. Although Dahlan traditionally opposed Arab peace deals with Israel until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, Hasan Faraj, Secretary-General of Fatah in the West Bank, accused Dahlan of participating in the UAE's normalization of ties with Israel and insisted that "Mohammad Dahlan will never be welcomed on Palestinian land again." While Dahlan's role in negotiating the agreement remains murky, he serves as a special advisor to Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan while his faction of Fatah said it "followed the [UAE normalization agreement] with extreme interest."
An unexplained explosion Tuesday rocked the Hezbollah stronghold of Ain Qana, which is north of Sidon. Hezbollah quickly formed a security cordon around the blast site. While Hezbollah attributed the explosion to Israeli mines and shells collected for disposal, a Lebanese security official said the explosion occurred in a Hezbollah arms depot. No fatalities have been reported.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum