Middle East Insider, August 26, 2020

The IDF struck Hezbollah targets after snipers, operating just a few dozen meters from a UNIFIL installation, targeted Israeli soldiers in the Upper Galilee

Lebanon

IDF attack helicopters and aircraft struck Hezbollah targets, including observation posts, Wednesday morning after snipers on the Lebanese side of the border fired upon Israeli soldiers in the Upper Galilee. There were no Israeli casualties. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah briefly mentioned the flare-up during a sermon about the upcoming holy day of Ashura: “Yesterday’s events, the Israeli upheaval, the firing of phosphorus bombs and some attacks are something important and sensitive to us, but I deliberately will not comment now. I will leave talk about it to the appropriate time.” Wednesday night, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus blamed Hezbollah snipers operating just a few dozen meters from a United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) installation for Tuesday’s attack. Israel and the US seek to facilitate UNIFIL’s enforcement of Security Council Resolution 1701 (2006) – which requires Hezbollah’s disarmament – by expanding UNIFIL’s access to Hezbollah sites through amending UNIFIL’s mandate when it comes up for annual renewal at the end of August.

Bahrain

Although Bahrain’s foreign ministry welcomed the Israel-UAE peace deal as a “historic step” that will contribute to “enhancing stability and peace in the region,” Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa informed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Wednesday Manama remains committed to the Arab Peace Initiative. Unanimously accepted by Arab League members at the 2002 Beirut Summit, the Arab Peace Initiative called for Arab states to normalize relations with Israel if it withdrew from all territory captured in the 1967 war, negotiated a “just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees,” and accepted the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. Similarly, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan announced last Wednesday that the kingdom will only normalize relations with Israel in the context of implementing the Arab Peace Initiative.

Iran

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi and Atomic Energy Organization of Iran head Ali Akbar Salehi issued a joint statement Wednesday heralding the end of a dispute over IAEA access to two sites, in Tehran and Isfahan, where Iran is suspected of having stored or used undeclared nuclear material. According to the statement, “Iran is voluntarily providing the IAEA with access to the two locations” while “dates for the IAEA access and the verification activities have been agreed.” The IAEA’s Board of Governors adopted a resolution on June 19 criticizing Iran for blocking inspectors’ access to two sites. Only China and Russia voted against it.

Yemen

The UAE-backed, separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) withdrew Tuesday from the Saudi-mediated ceasefire agreement reached with President ’s internationally recognized government on June 22. Although Hadi’s government and the STC are officially allies in the war against the Iranian-backed Houthis, they fought each other after the STC seized Aden, the Hadi government’s interim capital, in August 2019. The STC wants southern Yemen, which was an independent country until 1990, to regain independence and ejected pro-Hadi forces from most of southeastern Yemen. The STC accuses Hadi’s Yemen National Army (YNA) of killing 75 separatist fighters since June 22 in Abyan province, where open warfare resumed Wednesday. While Hadi’s government did not officially comment on the renewed hostilities, a YNA source told Arab News that STC forces “breached the truce many times by shelling our forces and building fortifications.”

Saudi Arabia

Saudi authorities on Monday detained Saad al-Jabri’s son-in-law, Salem Almuzaini, to pressure al-Jabri to return to the kingdom voluntarily since Canada refuses to extradite him. A former top Saudi counterterrorism official, al-Jabri filed a lawsuit in the US District Court of DC on August 6 accusing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of attempting to trap and assassinate him in the US and Canada, Canadian customs officials purportedly denying entry to a Saudi hit squad planning to kill him. Al-Jabri is on the outs with the Saudi Crown Prince for being a close aide to former Crown Prince, and Mohammed bin Salman rival, Mohammed bin Nayef and assisting the CIA in its investigation into Mohammed bin Salman’s role in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Saudi authorities arrested two of al-Jabri’s children in March. Last month, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) sent President Trump a letter urging him to press senior Saudi officials to release al-Jabri’s children immediately and praising Saad al-Jabri as “a highly valued partner” of American intelligence agencies whose counter-terrorism work helped save thousands of American lives.

ISIS

Britain’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday the Home Office may share evidence with American prosecutors in the trials of ISIS terrorists Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh since US Attorney General William Barr notified British Home Secretary Priti Patel in a letter last week that the pair would not face capital punishment. Kotey and Elsheikh belonged to the gang of four British Muslims, nicknamed “the Beatles,” who carried out filmed executions for ISIS, including four US citizens and two British subjects. If the British Home Office did not comply with the American request by October 15, Barr wrote that the US would hand the two over to Iraqi authorities, who would almost certainly execute them.

Syria

National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot released a statement Wednesday accusing Russian forces in Syria of “a reckless move” after a Russian vehicle Tuesday sideswiped an American military vehicle, injuring four US soldiers. While the statement acknowledged that “U.S. forces always retain the inherent right and obligation to defend themselves from hostile acts,” Ullyot said, “To de-escalate the situation, the Coalition patrol departed the area.”

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

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