Middle East Insider, August 24, 2020

Algeria will hold a referendum in November on the constitutional reforms that a committee, handpicked by President (above), drafted earlier this year

Algeria

President ’s office announced Monday that Algeria will hold a referendum on constitutional reforms on November 1. Last January, Tebboune appointed a 17-member committee of legal experts to amend the 2016 Constitution and publicly circulated their draft in May. Amendments limit the president, as well as members of parliament, to two terms and ostensibly transfer some of his powers to parliament and the prime minister. However, the president only needs to “consult” a parliamentary majority before selecting a prime minister and can block ministers nominated by the prime minister. One member of the committee resigned, believing the reforms insufficient, an opinion shared by many protestors who also complain about Tebboune appointing the committee without popular input. The lack of outside input rankles those rejecting the legitimacy of the December 2019 presidential election that brought Tebboune to power. Many boycotted the election, which had less than a 40 percent turnout rate, because the authority organizing the poll included many holdovers from former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s regime. President Tebboune will submit the draft to parliament for review and approval before the referendum.

Israel

The Knesset Monday passed legislation extending the budget deadline by 120 days, avoiding a fourth election in less than two years. Prime Minister purportedly aimed to link passing the budget extension with transferring responsibility for appointing Israel’s police commissioner and state prosecutor from a non-partisan commission to the cabinet. A source from Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White faction told Haaretz, they thwarted the Prime Minister’s plan and “prevented the politicization of the next state prosecutor.”

During a press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said Israel’s peace deal with the UAE “did not include Israel’s acceptance of any arms deal and I don’t know of any arms deal that has been agreed upon… our position hasn’t changed.” Netanyahu was referring to Nahum Barnea’s August 18 Yedioth Ahronoth article alleging a secret clause of the Israel-UAE peace deal involves the US selling F-35 stealth fighter jets and advanced drones to the UAE, departing from a longstanding American policy of not selling weapons systems to Arab countries that would compromise Israeli military superiority. Although Netanyahu dismissed the report as “fake news,” President Trump stated a day after the article’s publication that Abu Dhabi “would like to order quite a few F-35s… We’ll see what happens. It’s under review.” Pompeo reiterated Monday America’s legal commitment to preserve Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the Middle East. But, without directly mentioning F-35s, Pompeo touted America’s “20-plus year security relationship with the United Arab Emirates” and the need to supply them with weapons systems necessary to defend themselves from Iran.

Libya

Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) rejected a ceasefire announced Friday in separate statements issued by the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and its rival Tobruk-based House of Representatives, to which Haftar is nominally loyal. LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mosmari said Turkish-backed GNA forces are still preparing to attack Sirte and that a ceasefire is only possible if they pull back from their current positions near the city.

Turkey

US District Judge Richard Berman on Monday rejected Halkbank’s motion for him to recuse himself on the grounds that comments he made about rule of law in Turkey at a 2014 symposium call into question his impartiality. Halkbank, which is majority-owned by the Turkish government, pleaded not guilty in March to six charges related to helping Iran evade US sanctions imposed by the Obama administration before the 2015 nuclear deal. Former Halkbank deputy director general Mehmet Hakan Atilla has already served a 32-month sentence for his role in the scheme. Also on Monday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) – Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee – requested in a letter to John Bolton’s attorney that the former National Security Advisor assist an ongoing Finance Committee investigation into whether President Trump obstructed the Department of Justice’s prosecution of Halkbank. Bolton claimed in his memoir, The Room Where it Happened (2020), that Trump promised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan he would use his authority to halt further enforcement actions against Halkbank and delegated the task to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.

Iran

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi visited Iran Monday, in his words, to address “outstanding questions that the Agency has related to safeguards in Iran and, in particular, to resolve the issue of access.” On June 19, the IAEA’s Board of Governors adopted a resolution criticizing Iran for blocking inspectors’ access to two sites and calling on Tehran “to fully cooperate with the Agency and satisfy the Agency’s requests without any further delay, including by providing prompt access to the locations.” France, Germany and Britain submitted the resolution that passed by a vote of 25 to 2, China and Russia voting against it, with 7 abstentions. It was the first IAEA resolution critical of Iran since 2012.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) confirmed receiving the first report from Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization about the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shooting down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on January 8, 2020 since France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety deciphered the plane’s black boxes. TSB chair Kathy Fox said in a statement Sunday, “This is not the final safety investigation report but rather a brief summary of the contents that were retrieved from the cockpit voice and flight data recorders last month in Paris and is consistent with information that TSB investigators received while attending the download of the recorders in France. The investigation is far from over, as there are still many key questions that need to be answered.” Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Transport Minister Marc Garneau took an even harder line Monday, accusing Iran of providing only “limited and selected information,” while failing to address “why the missiles were launched in the first place and why the air space was open.” They also objected to the report referring solely to what happened after the first missile struck the aircraft and not the second. 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents perished in the incident.

Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum

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