Speaking on behalf of the hitherto unknown Iraqi Resistance Coordination Commission, Kataib Hezbollah spokesman Mohammed Mohie announced Sunday that pro-Iranian militias will cease attacking American targets in Iraq if Washington provides a timetable for withdrawing its troops from the country and have suspended their attacks while awaiting a response from the US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month threatened to close the US embassy within weeks unless the Iraqi government stopped Iranian-backed militias from firing rockets at the compound. So far, the Trump administration has not commented on Mohie's proposal.
Turkey's navy late Sunday issued a maritime notice saying the seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis will resume its work on Greece's continental shelf until October 22 alongside the Ataman and Cengiz Han. Ankara almost instigated a military clash with Athens when it dispatched the Oruc Reis, accompanied by Turkish warships, to Greek waters on August 11 to search for oil and gas deposits. Greece sent its own warships to monitor the Turkish flotilla's activity and conducted joint training exercises off Crete with the French navy. EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell even warned the bloc could restrict Turkish access to European ports unless Erdogan's government relented. In the face of international pressure, the Oruc Reis returned to Turkey in mid-September. Last Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias on the sidelines of the Global Security Forum in Bratislava and they reportedly agreed to set a date for resuming talks. Greece's Foreign Ministry Monday called the Turkish navy's announcement a "direct threat to regional peace" and described Turkey as "the foremost factor of instability" in the region "from Libya to the Aegean and Cyprus, Syria, Iraq and now Nagorno-Karabakh." Turkey's decision to resume seismic surveying in Greek waters could be retaliation for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratifying Saturday a deal demarcating an exclusive economic zone with Greece that conflicts with a rival deal between Turkey and Libya's Tripoli-based government.
Eight leading Turkish business associations – including the Foreign Economic Relations Board, the Turkish Exporters' Assembly, and the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey – issued a joint statement Saturday lamenting "the discriminatory treatment that our companies face in Saudi Arabia" and saying they "expect Saudi authorities to take concrete initiatives to resolve the problems." Ajlan al-Ajlan, chairman of Saudi Arabia's Chambers of Commerce, tweeted a week ago: "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 lawmaker Mehmet Gazelmansur recently claimed 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.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri declared Monday after meeting President Michel Aoun that he would send a delegation to determine whether Lebanon's political blocs accept French President Emmanuel Macron's detailed reform plan for unlocking international aid. Unveiled on September 1, Macron's plan calls for – inter alia – implementing an IMF-approved capital control law, auditing the central bank, appointing members to and adequately funding the National Anti-Corruption Commission, reforming the electricity sector, pursuing public procurement reform, and organizing new parliamentary elections within a year. It looks increasingly likely that Aoun will tap Hariri to form the next government. After former Lebanese Prime Ministers Najib Mikati, Fouad Siniora, Tammam Salam, and Saad Hariri met last Wednesday to discuss the country's political paralysis and economic crisis, Hezbollah ally Mikati proclaimed his support for a Hariri-led government containing 14 technocrats and six political ministers, representing the country's six major sects. Mustapha Adib, who sought to form an entirely technocratic government, relinquished his position as Prime Minister-designate on 26 September because Hezbollah and Amal insisted on a Shiite continuing to control the finance ministry. Hariri said he would only entertain Mikati's proposal if the country's factions agreed to the terms for an IMF deal. Negotiations between Beirut and the IMF broke down last July. Whether Hariri can implement an IMF austerity plan remains unclear as mass demonstrations against less onerous austerity measures forced him to resign in October 2019. Moreover, caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab warned Friday that any step to lift subsidies now on vital goods would spark a "social explosion."
Lebanon Monday disclosed the members of its delegation that will participate in US-mediated talks with Israel to settle a longstanding dispute over maritime boundaries, which is a barrier to exploring and developing new Mediterranean gas fields. At the last minute, Hezbollah successfully pressured Beirut to exclude foreign ministry official Hadi Hashem to avoid any appearance of diplomatic relations with Israel. The talks will commence Wednesday at UNIFIL's headquarters in Naqoura.
Iran Monday, for the second straight day, set a country record for new COVID-19 infections and deaths, reaching 4,200 and 272 respectively. Wearing masks in public became mandatory in Tehran starting Saturday while Health Minister Saeed Namaki stated Sunday the requirement "will be extended to other large cities in the coming weeks" and the Revolutionary Guard's Basij militia will help enforce it. A second COVID-19 wave coupled with new US sanctions imposed on Iranian financial institutions last Thursday caused the rial to hit a new low vis-à-vis the dollar on Sunday. Kayhan newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, editorialized Sunday that Iran's economic crisis stems from President Rouhani's government "ignoring" warnings presented to him five years ago about gaps in the 2015 nuclear deal.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi told Austria's Die Presse newspaper in an interview published Saturday, "The Iranians continue to enrich uranium, and to a much higher degree than they have committed themselves to" under the JCPOA. However, he opined that Iran has nowhere near enough enriched uranium or plutonium to build a nuclear weapon: "In the IAEA we do not talk about breakout time. We look at the significant quantity, the minimum amount of enriched uranium or plutonium needed to make an atomic bomb. Iran does not have this significant quantity at the moment."
Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said Sunday that to preserve Israel's qualitative military edge in the region, Jerusalem will request the US not sell F-35s to Qatar. Reuters reported on October 7 that Doha formally submitted a request to purchase Lockheed Martin's F-35A fighter jets. A congressionally mandated rule requires the US to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge over its neighbors.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum