Normalizing Diplomatic Relations with Israel
After Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen met with Sudanese military ruler Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Khartoum last Thursday, Israel's Foreign Ministry reported the two countries finalized the text of a peace agreement and a signing ceremony will be scheduled following the transfer of power in Sudan to a civilian government. However, Sudan's civil society groups broadly oppose normalizing ties with Israel.
The official spokesperson for the Sudanese Professionals Association denounced normalizing ties with Israel and accused al-Burhan of being "the head of an authoritarian council who resorted to external parties in order to support his tyranny." The Sudanese Professionals Association is a federation of 17 labor unions that played a central role in the protests that toppled Omar al-Bashir. Similarly, The Broad Islamic Current, an alliance of ten Islamist factions formed last April, issued a statement condemning al-Burhan's government for receiving Israel's foreign minister: "The Almighty said: (You will find the most intense of people in enmity towards those who believe are the Jews and those who associate themselves with others) (Al-Ma'idah: 82). The Sudanese were surprised this morning, Thursday, by the news of the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Zionist entity, Eli Cohen, to Khartoum."
Drone Factory in Russia
Quoting officials from an undisclosed US ally, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that Moscow and Tehran plan to build a factory in Yelabuga, Russia for manufacturing thousands of Iranian-designed drones. According to their report, these drones will "fly faster and farther" than the Shahed-136 UAVs deployed by Russia since last September. Western intelligence agencies disclosed last November that Moscow and Tehran reached an agreement to assemble Iranian-designed drones on Russian soil.
Pardons and Sentence Commutations for Mahsa Amini Protestors
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency reports Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will include thousands of Mahsa Amini protestors in the pardons and sentence commutations issued each year to celebrate the 1979 Islamic Revolution's anniversary. Only those who "express remorse" and sign a commitment promising not to reoffend will be eligible. The announcement includes a long list of those ineligible, from people who committed "crimes subject to the punishment of fighting corruption in the land" to anyone affiliated with "subversive groups." Human Rights Activists in Iran, a Virginia-based NGO, estimates the Iranian regime killed 516 protestors, and arrested up to 19,262, between September and early January.
Travel Advisories and Consulate Closures
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Sunday escalated his government's criticism of countries that last week issued travel warnings and temporarily shuttered consulates as a precaution against terrorists retaliating against Westerners for recent Quran burnings in Europe. Since Turkey used a fringe political activist burning a Quran outside their embassy in Stockholm on January 21 as a pretext for blocking Sweden joining NATO, other Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, started demanding European governments prevent future Quran desecration. Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), even threatened last Thursday that those who desecrate the Quran should expect the same fate as Salman Rushdie, an author subjected to numerous assassination attempts since Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 directing Muslims to kill him for blasphemy contained in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses.
Last Thursday, Ankara summoned the ambassadors of nine countries who issued travel warnings and closed their consulates in Istanbul while Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu attributed the embassies' security precautions to a plot to sabotage Turkey's tourism sector. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists on Friday, "We see the closures of consulates without sharing the details of the information with us as intentional" and "they want to give the impression that Turkey is an unstable country."
Erdogan stated in remarks that were broadcast on Sunday, "The other day our foreign ministry summoned all of them and gave the necessary ultimatum, told them 'You will pay for this heavily if you keep this up.'" This is despite the fact that Turkish police on Saturday detained 15 ISIS-affiliated militants for planning attacks on churches and synagogues in Istanbul, as well as the city's Swedish and Dutch consulates.
Amid growing protest over the Netanyahu government's planned judicial reforms, President Isaac Herzog Sunday pleaded with the government to "stop the whole process for a moment, take a deep breath, allow dialogue to take place, because there is a huge majority of the nation that wants dialogue." Large demonstrations against the reforms have been organized in Israel's major cities every Saturday night for the past five weeks.
Opposition rhetoric against the reforms is growing more incendiary. Opposition leader Yair Lapid said during a protest last Saturday in Haifa, "We fight here in the streets, we fight in the Knesset, we fight in the courts. We will save our country because we will not live in an undemocratic country." Former Labor Party Prime Minister Ehud Barak lambasted President Herzog for not forcefully condemning the government's judicial agenda and tweeted a since-deleted picture with Herzog's face superimposed on Neville Chamberlain's body, accusing Israel's president of appeasing Netanyahu's government like Chamberlain appeased the Nazis during the 1938 Munich Conference.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin on Sunday, however, informed Channel 13 that the government will not delay the reforms "even for a minute." The reforms include enabling the Knesset to override Supreme Court judicial review with a simple parliamentary majority, changing the process for appointing Supreme Court justices, and making Attorney-General opinions about pending legislation's legality non-binding.
Beirut Port Blast Investigation
Judge Tarek Bitar, head of the investigation into the April 2020 Beirut port explosion, postponed all interrogations scheduled for February due to insufficient cooperation from State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat. Last week Bitar tasked his clerk with preparing warrants for former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, General Security Chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, State Security Head Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba, and Ghassan Oueidat. Oueidat responded by imposing a travel ban on Bitar and filing lawsuits against him.
Bitar only resumed the investigation in January after a 13-month hiatus due to obstructionism from Lebanese politicians and the judiciary. The Court of Cassation fired Bitar's predecessor last year after two former ministers he charged with criminal negligence demanded his removal.
Former Election Board President Barred From Traveling Abroad
Tunisian authorities barred Nebil Baffoun, former president of the country's Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE), from traveling abroad. On the pretext that the occupation given on his passport is not current, officials on Saturday prevented Baffoun from traveling to Mauritania, where he was invited to participate in an electoral mission.
President Kais Saied replaced most ISIE members, including Baffoun, in April 2022. Baffoun argued at the time that Saied's move undermined ISIE's independence. Supported by the military, Saied aborted Tunisia's decade-long democratic experiment in 2021, assuming dictatorial powers and unilaterally abolishing the 2014 Constitution. He purged ISIE before appointing a committee in May 2022 to draft a new constitution concentrating power in presidential hands and holding a July 2022 referendum on the new constitution.
Asian Oil Exports
In anticipation of rising Chinese demand, Saudi Aramco on Monday unexpectedly increased the price of its Arab Light grade to Asia for March loadings to $2 per barrel—an increase of $0.20. This comes after a cut of $1.45 per barrel in February. The announcement coincides with Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee's visit to Riyadh, where he met Aramco's president and CEO Amin Nasser at a technology conference. South China Morning Post reported that, during the visit, "Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia... signed six bilateral agreements designed to forge closer ties between their stock exchanges, business associations and technology firms."