Former Lebanese Prime Ministers Najib Mikati, Fouad Siniora, Saad Hariri, and Tammam Salam met Wednesday to discuss the country's political paralysis and economic crisis. Afterwards, Hezbollah ally Najib Mikati proclaimed his support for a Hariri-led government containing 14 technocrats and six political ministers, representing the country's six major sects. On Thursday, Hariri declared he would only return as prime minister if the country's factions agreed to the terms for an IMF deal. Negotiations between Beirut and the IMF broke down last July. Saad Hariri resigned in October 2019 after mass demonstrations against a proposed austerity program intended to shore up a depreciating Lebanese pound. Since then, the financial crisis has only deepened as the Lebanese pound lost 80 percent of its value vis-à-vis the dollar despite the central bank effectively appropriating citizens' dollar deposits to increase its foreign currency reserves, forcing banks relieved of the deposits to halt temporarily all dollar withdrawals. Needing its diminishing foreign currency reserves to cover critical imports, Lebanon failed last March to repay a $1.2 billion Eurobond, marking the country's first sovereign default.
Israel and Jordan signed an agreement Thursday allowing mutual overflight, enabling airlines from other countries to pass through Jordanian and Israeli airspace, thereby saving time and fuel costs. This will particularly benefit Gulf countries, whose aircraft previously needed to circumvent Israel en route to Europe. Following the 1994 Israel–Jordan peace treaty each country's airlines received permission to use the other's airspace, but Thursday's deal marks the first time other countries' aircraft can traverse Jordanian and Israeli airspace on the way to a third destination.
The US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Thursday imposed sanctions on 18 Iranian banks. Secretary Steve Mnuchin said, "Our sanctions programs will continue until Iran stops its support of terrorist activities and ends its nuclear programs." Although the sanctions do not apply to those "conducting or facilitating a transaction for the provision (including any sale) of agricultural commodities, food, medicine, or medical devices to Iran," some fear the secondary sanctions will still deter foreign banks from engaging in permitted humanitarian transactions.
Late Wednesday, the Justice Department announced the seizure of 92 domain names "unlawfully used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to engage in a global disinformation campaign." Four purported to be news outlets targeting an American audience but actually spread Iranian propaganda to influence US domestic and foreign policy in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The rest disseminated Iranian propaganda in other countries.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met Thursday with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias on the sidelines of the Global Security Forum in Bratislava. This represents their first face-to-face contact since a maritime dispute that erupted last August threatened to escalate into a military conflict, leading EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell to warn the bloc could restrict Turkish access to European ports. Tensions flared when Ankara dispatched the seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis, accompanied by Turkish warships, to the Greek continental shelf to search for oil and gas deposits. In the face of international pressure, the Oruc Reis returned to Turkey in mid-September. Cavusoglu and Dendias on Thursday reportedly agreed to set a date for resuming talks.
Kuwait's National Assembly Thursday unanimously approved the new Emir's choice of National Guard deputy chief Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah, 80, as Crown Prince. Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, who is 83 and in poor health, succeeded his half-brother, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah (2006-2020), on September 29.
Yemeni government troops and allied tribesmen, backed by Saudi airpower, recaptured al-Khanjar military base in al-Jawf province from the Iranian-supported Houthis. The base near the Saudi border has changed hands several times in recent months, the Houthis seizing it on April 7 after Saudi-backed tribal forces ousted them in March. Houthi sources claim they repelled Thursday's assault, killing three colonels and "many prominent military commanders" in the process. This comes on the same day as UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths issued a statement demanding the immediate cessation of fighting in Hodeidah, Yemen's main port. Houthi forces on Sunday launched the largest offensive in Hodeidah since a December 2018 ceasefire brokered by the UN in Stockholm.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum