2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict
Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) head Sergei Naryshkin issued a statement Tuesday accusing Turkey of attracting "hundreds and already even thousands of radicals hoping to earn money in a new Karabakh war" and expressing concern "that the South Caucasus is capable of becoming a new launch pad for international terrorist organizations from where militants could later cross into states that neighbor Azerbaijan and Armenia, including Russia." Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior foreign policy advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told Keyhan newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that Tehran opposes Armenian control of Nagorno-Karabakh "just as we oppose the occupation of Palestine by the Zionist regime." However, he added that the "involvement of the Zionist regime, Turkey, and Takfiri terrorist group in this war and the occasional firing of bullets and mortars toward Iran's soil are among concerning issues that must be immediately stopped." Despite nominally supporting Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, videos posted on social media reportedly show truck convoys transporting Russian weapons through Iran to Armenia, leading Azerbaijani MP Sabir Rustamkhanl to call for opening an Azerbaijani Embassy in Israel. Many ethnic Azeris, who constitute about one quarter of Iran's population, disbelieved Tehran's official denials of Russia rearming Armenia through Iran and organized large demonstrations demanding the regime close its border with Armenia. Iranian security forces in turn cracked down on the Azeri protests. Meanwhile, according to Haaretz, Israel continues to arm Azerbaijan: "No fewer than four Ilyushin-76 planes, operated by the Azeri cargo airline Silk Way, which serves the Azeri defense ministry, have touched down and taken off from the Uvda air base in southern Israel – two, before the outbreak of fighting, and two, afterwards." Israel imports some 40 percent of its oil from Azerbaijan while Tehran in 2012 accused Baku of permitting Israeli intelligence to use its territory in operations against Iran, including aiding the escape of those behind the killings of Iranian nuclear scientists.
The European Commission's 2020 EU Enlargement Policy report on Turkey, which was released Tuesday, asserted, "Turkey's accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill," noting Ankara's failure to allay "the EU's serious concerns on continued negative developments in the rule of law, fundamental rights, and the judiciary." It also condemned Ankara violating the sovereignty of EU member states Greece and Cyprus by conducting energy exploration in their territorial waters. Turkey's Foreign Ministry responded with a statement blasting the EU's "biased approach" and the "Greek-Cypriot duo's taking hostage of EU-Turkey relations."
Three Syrian human rights groups – The Justice Initiative, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, and the Syrian Archive – filed a criminal complaint Monday with the German federal public prosecutor in Karlsruhe on behalf of victims of Assad regime sarin gas attacks on Eastern Ghouta in 2013 and Khan Sheikhoun in 2017. Since Russia and China vetoed establishing a special ICC tribunal for Syria, some Syrians have sought to utilize a 2002 German law that enshrined universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity into the country's legal system. Two Syrian defectors, Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib, are currently standing trial in Koblenz, Germany's Higher Regional Court for torture, rape, and aggravated sexual violence during their careers as Syrian General Intelligence Services officers.
Lebanese Customs seized the Panamanian-registered vessel Jaguar S after it docked Saturday at the Port of Zahrani, a Hezbollah stronghold, and arrested its captain and a shipping agent Tuesday on charges of attempting to smuggle 4 million liters of petrol into Syria. Lebanon seeks to avoid incurring US sanctions under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, which aims to cut off revenue to the Assad regime. The ship belongs to the Damascus-headquartered al-Naem Co. and switched off its GPS device before entering Lebanese waters to avoid detection.
Iraqi security forces and Arbaeen pilgrims chanting anti-government slogans clashed in Karbala Tuesday, injuring dozens. Massive protests last year against government corruption and southern Iraq's poor living standards left hundreds dead and forced Prime Minster Adil Abdul-Mahdi to resign in November 2019. On October 1, the anniversary of the beginning of last year's protests, demonstrators returned to Baghdad's streets, threatening a general strike unless Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi delivers demanded reforms by October 25.
Hundreds have been killed or wounded since Iranian-backed Houthi rebels launched an offensive last Friday to retake territory captured by Saudi-supported government forces in 2018. This follows the Biden campaign releasing a statement last Friday saying: "Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will reassess our relationship with the Kingdom, end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil."
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum