UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) head Stephanie Williams announced Friday the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) set December 24, 2021 as the date for national elections for a unified Libyan government to replace the rival administrations in Tripoli and Tobruk. UNSMIL selected the LPDF's 75 members, who purportedly represent all segments of Libyan political and social society. Separately, the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, which includes five delegates from the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord's Libyan Army and another five from Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army, agreed Thursday to begin work immediately on reopening the Libyan Coastal Highway, such as removing landmines and withdrawing fighters from the area. The highway is the only major road that runs along the entire east-west length of the Libyan Mediterranean coastline.
Recognizing a Biden administration is more likely to sanction Ankara for its use of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Thursday proposed forming a joint working group with Washington "to address the US concerns over the compatibility of the S-400s and F-35s." Washington ejected Turkey in June 2019 from the development and acquisition program for the F-35 Lightning II when it purchased S-400s because "the F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities." Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and James Lankford (R-OK) last month urged the Trump administration to sanction Turkey following reports that Turkey has activated the radars of its S-400 system in order to detect US-made F-16 fighter jets returning from an exercise conducted by France, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus in late August. Although Democratic and Republican lawmakers pressed Trump to sanction Turkey in June 2019, he opposed such a course and blamed the Obama administration's refusal to sell Patriot missiles to Turkey for its decision to buy the S-400.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists Thursday, "No peacekeeping units of the Turkish Republic will be dispatched to Nagorno-Karabakh" and Turkish monitors of the peace agreement signed on November 9 will be confined to a "joint Russian-Turkish monitoring center in the territory of Azerbaijan." Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev previously said Turkish forces would also take part in the peacekeeping process.
Ukrainian Deputy Prosecutor General Gyunduz Mamedov informed Reuters Thursday that Tehran continues to ignore Ukrainian requests for a joint investigation into the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shooting down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 last January. He stated Ukraine wants those responsible for the tragedy to face life imprisonment, but Iran ruled out such a stiff penalty. Iran maintains the missile attack on the Ukrainian jet was "unintentional" and attributable to "human error." However, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne rejects that explanation: "There is no circumstance under [which] a civilian aircraft can be downed just by the result of human error in this day and age." Kiev and Tehran also failed to reach an agreement on compensation for victims' families and Ukraine International Airlines. Gholamreza Soleimani, the head of Iran's Central Insurance Organization, said in August, "The Ukrainian plane is insured by European companies in Ukraine... Therefore, the compensation should be paid by those European companies." The IRGC shot down the plane on January 8, 2020 shortly after launching missile attacks against Iraqi military bases hosting US forces to avenge the January 3 targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani by an American drone.
Bolivia's newly elected President Luis Arce, who belongs to Evo Morales's leftist MAS-IPSP party, restored diplomatic relations with Iran Wednesday. After the military forced the pro-Iranian Morales to resign in the face of mass protests over election fraud allegations, the new government shuttered its embassies in Iran and Nicaragua.
Saudi Arabia intercepted Wednesday two Houthi explosive-laden boats targeting an Aramco oil distribution center in the southern Saudi province of Jizan. A day after being targeted by Iran's Yemeni proxies, King Salman bin Abdulaziz said in his annual address to the Shura Council: "The kingdom stresses the dangers of Iran's regional project, its interference in other countries, its fostering of terrorism, its fanning the flames of sectarianism and calls for a decisive stance from the international community against Iran that guarantees a drastic handling of its efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction and develop its ballistic missiles program."
Yemen's defense ministry revealed the Saudi-led coalition supporting the country's internationally recognized government killed two Hezbollah military experts in airstrikes last week on a Houthi training camp outside Sanaa. According to an Al Arabiya report published two years ago, Hezbollah set up seven camps in Yemen to train Houthi fighters and smuggle Iranian weapons.
Mike Pompeo next week will become the first Secretary of State to visit Israeli settlements. Sources familiar with his itinerary say he will visit the Psagot Winery in the settlement of Psagot, near Ramallah, and also travel to the Golan Heights. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh Friday condemned the trip as creating "a dangerous precedent that violates international law." From Sunday to Thursday, Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council, led a delegation of Israeli settlers to the UAE for meetings with around 20 individuals and companies working in agriculture, pest control, and plastics. Nabil Shaath, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, decried the meetings as "Arab cooperation with one of the worst manifestations of aggression against the Palestinian people, which is the Israeli settlements on our land."
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum