During a Thursday interview on The Erick Erickson Show, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo upbraided Turkey for arming Azerbaijan in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: "We now have the Turks, who have stepped in and provided resources to Azerbaijan, increasing the risk, increasing the firepower that's taking place in this historic fight over this place called Nagorno-Karabakh." Two days after Azerbaijan initiated the current round of fighting to regain control of Nagorno-Karabakh, Joe Biden tweeted that President Trump should "de-escalate the situation" and "demand others — like Turkey — stay out of this conflict." However, the administration remained largely silent despite a rally attended by thousands of Armenians outside the White House last week. That changed during Pompeo's Thursday interview. In addition to condemning Turkey's involvement in the conflict, he broke with America's policy of recognizing Azerbaijan's sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh, saying: "We're hopeful that the Armenians will be able to defend against what the Azerbaijanis are doing."
Amid repeated violations of a Moscow-mediated ceasefire announced on October 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday urged his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to "make a constructive contribution to the de-escalation of the conflict." French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian went even further Thursday: "What we can see today is the only country which isn't calling for respect of the ceasefire is Turkey and that's damaging." Le Drian additionally accused Ankara of "permanently carrying out provocative acts" for issuing a navigational telex on October 12 saying the seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis will resume its work on Greece's continental shelf. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned, "If there isn't [progress], then the EU will have to face the question of how to deal with this and what consequences this will have." EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell stated after an August 27-28 meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers that the EU could impose sanctions on Turkish individuals, assets, and ships while restricting Turkey's access to European ports, capacities, technologies, and supplies if Ankara continues violating Cypriot and Greek sovereignty.
Even as fighting between the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and Saudi-supported Yemeni government forces continues across the country, the two belligerents swapped more than 700 prisoners Thursday. This marks the largest prisoner exchange in the Yemeni civil war and will ultimately include 1,081 people according to a deal mediated by the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths in Geneva last month. US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien thanked Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tariq for their efforts in persuading the Houthis to release two American citizens and repatriate the remains of a third as part of the prisoner swap.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun Wednesday postponed by a week consultations, scheduled for Thursday, with parliamentary blocs to poll them on their choice for prime minister. Sources close to Aoun leaked Tuesday that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is the clear frontrunner. However, in the interim, the Free Patriotic Movement – a party founded by Aoun – joined the Lebanese Forces and Progressive Socialist Party in rejecting Hariri's candidacy. The Free Patriotic Movement is the largest Christian party in parliament and allied with Hezbollah while Lebanese Forces is the second largest Christian party and sat in the opposition with Hariri's Future Movement during the last government. Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party represents the Druze. Hariri's coronation appeared likely after former Lebanese Prime Minister and Hezbollah ally Najib Mikati endorsed him last week.
Mike Pompeo said Wednesday the US is pleased that the Iraqis are doing more to provide increased security for American personnel in the country from Iran-backed militias but declined to provide an update on whether Washington was still considering shuttering its embassy. The New York Times reported last month Pompeo informed Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and Iraqi President Barham Salih that, due to continued rocket attacks by pro-Iranian militias around America's Baghdad embassy, the US could close it in the coming weeks and relocate the ambassador to either the US Consulate in Erbil or Anbar province's al-Asad Air Base. Last Sunday, Kataib Hezbollah spokesman Mohammed Mohie announced that Shiite militias will cease attacking American targets in Iraq if Washington provides a timetable for withdrawing its troops from the country and suspended their attacks while awaiting a response from the US.
The Knesset Thursday approved Israel's normalization deal with the UAE, 80-13. All the votes against the deal came from the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties, which released a statement opposing Arab states normalizing ties with Israel before the creation of a Palestinian state. Some Jewish MKs, including former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, boycotted the vote in protest of purported secret addenda to the agreement, particularly tacit Israeli support for the US selling F-35s to the UAE. Prime Minister Netanyahu has always denied the existence of secret clauses to the agreement and the Emirati UN ambassador reportedly called off a meeting with his Israeli counterpart back in August to protest Netanyahu's public opposition to the US selling F-35s to the UAE.
During a joint press conference Wednesday with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, Mike Pompeo expressed hope that the Kingdom will normalize relations with Israel and "encourage the Palestinian side to return to dialogue and negotiation with Israel." But, at a Washington Institute for Near East Policy event on Thursday, Faisal bin Farhan diplomatically reiterated Riyadh's position that Israel reaching an agreement with the Palestinians is a prerequisite for normalizing ties.
Information Technology Organization official Abolghasem Sadeghi revealed Thursday that hackers launched "large-scale" cyberattacks on two Iranian government institutions on Monday and Tuesday while some governmental bodies suspended their Internet services as a precaution against further attacks. Sadeghi identified neither the targets nor the perpetrators of the attacks.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum