A week after the disarmament group Project Ploughshares documented Azerbaijan deploying Turkish drones equipped with Canadian-made sensors and laser targeting systems against Armenian forces, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced Monday that Ottawa has "suspended the relevant export permits to Turkey, so as to allow time to further assess the situation." Project Ploughshares researcher Kelsey Gallagher determined from footage released by the Azerbaijani military that Baku is using Turkish TB2 Bayraktar drones outfitted with Canadian-produced WESCAM optical sensors and laser targeting systems. Headquartered in Burlington, Ontario, L3Harris Wescam is the Canadian subsidiary of American defense contractor L3Harris Technologies. Ankara used TB2 Bayraktar drones to turn the tide of Libya's civil war, as well as in Syria, but never acknowledged selling them to Azerbaijan. That raises the possibility Turkey's military is operating the TB2 Bayraktar drones wreaking havoc in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Citing the exorbitant cost of housing al-Hol refugee camp's approximately 65,000 inhabitants, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) leaders stated Monday they would soon eject its 28,000 Syrian residents. Riyad Derar, co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council that administers the Kurdish-dominated Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (Rojava), said they even intend to release ISIS fighters' relatives. However, ISIS fighters in Rojava prisons will remain incarcerated. A Washington Post story last year found many ISIS members' relatives violently enforced the terrorist group's religious strictures in the camp and little has been done to de-radicalize the children.
Oman on Sunday sent an ambassador to Syria for the first time since breaking off ties in 2012, along with the rest of the Gulf countries. The UAE reopened its Damascus embassy in 2018, but representation remains at the level of chargé d'affaires.
Iran recorded Monday its highest number of COVID-19 fatalities and the largest single-day rise in infections, prompting the government to reimpose a lockdown in Tehran. The 235 deaths and 3,902 infections reported Monday come as a third wave of the virus sweeps the country.
US District Judge Timothy Kelly ruled Tehran must pay Robert Levinson's family $1.3 billion in punitive damages, in addition to $107 million in compensatory damages, for the former FBI agent's 2007 abduction on the Iranian-controlled Kish Island and death in custody. Levinson's family will be eligible to collect a small fraction of the ruling through the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, financed through fines on companies found violating sanction rules. Last March, Trump administration officials relayed to Levinson's family their conclusion that Iran abducted Robert during an unauthorized mission for the CIA and he died in custody sometime in the past few years.
During an interview with Al Arabiya, Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar bin Sultan – who has served as Riyadh's ambassador to the US, Director General of the General Intelligence Directorate, and Secretary General of the National Security Council – slammed the Palestinian leadership's hostile reaction to the UAE and Bahrain normalizing ties with Israel. After calling the Palestinian rhetoric "reprehensible" and "not what we expect from officials who seek to gain global support for their cause," Prince Bandar asserted, "It is not surprising to see how quick these leaders are to use terms like 'treason,' 'betrayal,' and 'back stabbing,' because these are their ways in dealing with each other. Gaza Strip leaders, who have seceded from the PA to govern Gaza independently, accuse the West Bank leadership of treason, while at the same time, West Bank leadership accuses separatist Gaza Strip leaders of stabbing them in the back." While stressing the Palestinian cause's justice, Prince Bandar lamented the Palestinian leadership's penchant for aligning itself with unjust actors, from Amin al-Husseini making common cause with the Nazis to Hamas embracing Iran. Prince Bandar appeared to harbor a particular grudge against the PLO for backing Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, describing "deluded youths in Nablus dancing joyfully in celebration of the missile attack on Riyadh, holding pictures of Saddam Hussein."
Ajlan al-Ajlan, chairman of Saudi Arabia's Chambers of Commerce, tweeted Saturday: "A boycott of everything Turkish, be it imports, investment or tourism, is the responsibility of every Saudi 'trader and consumer,' in response to the continued hostility of the Turkish government against our leadership, country and citizens." Although the Chambers of Commerce is a non-government group of private sector business officials, Turkish opposition lawmaker Mehmet Gazelmansur claimed last week that Saudi authorities are holding Turkish exports, especially perishable fruits and vegetables, longer than necessary on arrival. Relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been particularly tense since Jamal Khashoggi's October 2018 killing in the Kingdom's Istanbul consulate, which has been widely blamed on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Turkey is also Doha's closest ally, while Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed a blockade in June 2017 on Qatar to pressure it into – among other things – scaling back its relations with Iran, shuttering Al Jazeera, and closing a Turkish military base. In a speech to the Turkish parliament last Thursday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said about the Gulf countries, "It should not be forgotten that the countries in question did not exist yesterday and probably will not exist tomorrow."
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum