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THE EARLY PHOENIX

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THE EARLY PHOENIX
A first look at today’s most notable stories from the Middle East, selected by ACLS experts

20 April 2023

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IRAN

  1. Iran Has Not Left Nuclear Talks: President (Tasnim News).  Referring to the conspiracy of the enemy to disappoint the people and the support of some internal elements, president Raisi considered giving hope as one of the joint duties of the government and seminaries and said, “The government considers itself obliged to create hope in the hearts of the people by providing the best and most effective work, and at the same time expects seminaries to deal with the enemy’s instillation of hope in the field of jihad of enlightenment.”
  1. Tehran Responds to G7 Statement: Condemns and Dismisses Unfounded Accusations (Al Mayadeen). The Iranian Foreign Ministry emphasized that “Tehran is committed to maintaining its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency under the framework of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” Furthermore, the Ministry called on Western countries to “employ diplomacy to resolve the crisis in Ukraine,” asserting that “Iran has not supplied weapons to any side in the conflict.”

ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES 

  1.  Israel’s Foreign Minister Lands in Turkmenistan in Historic Visit (Jerusalem Post). This is the first visit to Turkmenistan in 29 years by an Israeli foreign minister since the two countries established relations in the 1990s. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said, “Foreign Minister Eli Cohen will inaugurate the Israeli embassy in Turkmenistan, located 17 kilometers from the border with Iran. Foreign Minister Cohen is expected to hold policy meetings with the president and senior ministers.”
  1. ‘The Galilee Forces – The Lone Wolves,’ A Palestinian Organization Linked To HizbAllah, Makes Dubious Claims Of Responsibility For Terrorist Attacks In Israel, Incites Attacks (Memri). On March 13, 2023, an unknown Palestinian group calling itself “The Galilee Forces – The Lone Wolves” posted an announcement on its Telegram channel claiming responsibility for an IED attack that had occurred that day at the Megiddo Junction in northern Israel…The statement generated interest because, according to the Israeli media, Israeli security forces believe that the perpetrator infiltrated the country from Lebanon and was in some way affiliated with Hizballah.
  1.  “Axios”: Israeli Fears of the End of the Normalization Process with Sudan (Al Mayaseen). According to Axios, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been involved in recent years in the process of normalization with the head of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. It was also noted that “Mossad is in communication with the deputy head of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti.” Israeli Foreign Ministry officials have also spoken with Al-Burhan, while Mossad officials have contacted Hemedti.
  1.  IDF Hits Hizballah Sites in Southern Syria, Then Drops Flyers (Times Of Israel). The Israel Defense Forces dropped threatening pamphlets in southern Syria on Wednesday, warning Syrian soldiers to stop cooperating with Hezbollah, an opposition journalist reported, hours after Israel reportedly conducted artillery strikes on sites belonging to the Iran-backed group.
  1. Israeli Drone Crashes inside Syria Following IDF Shelling of Regime Positions in Quneitra (Syria TV). According to a statement by an Israeli army spokesperson, a “sky passenger” drone crashed at night in Syrian territory due to technical issues, with an assurance that there is no risk of information leakage… Meanwhile, according to the local network As-Suwayda ANS, Israeli artillery shelled Iranian positions in Quneitra in response to Iranian militias monitoring Israeli movements in the occupied Golan.
  1.  Israeli Professor Wanted for Arms Dealing Goes Missing before US Extradition (Jerusalem Post). Israeli professor Gal Luft, who is wanted by US authorities for arms dealing, has gone missing in Cyprus after a Larnaca court had released him on bail, Cypriot website Philenews reported on Wednesday.

GULF REGION

  1.  Middle East is unlikely to Slow Down on AI and ChatGPT Rollout (Al-Monitor). Astra Tech, backed by Abu Dhabi AI company G42, created the first Arabic language ChatGPT last Wednesday. Also this week, the number of open letter signatories increased more than sixfold since last Monday’s 3,000, highlighting the growing concern about unregulated AI. 
  1.  Brazil Signs $12.65 Billion in Deals with UAE, China Amid Struggling Economy (Al-Monitor). Brazil is the UAE’s top trading partner in Latin America, according to 2022 non-oil foreign trade figures. 

IRAQ

  1. Iraqi Religious Official Escapes from Prison (Al-Monitor). Saad Kumbesh is the former president of the Sunni Endowment Office in Iraq. He was arrested on March 21. On April 11, Kumbesh was imprisoned for four years for corruption… Kumbesh’s escape could be embarrassing for the government’s anti-corruption efforts.

TURKIYE

  1.  US Supreme Court Rejects Immunity for Turkish Bank in Iran Sanctions Case (Times Of Israel). Halkbank was hit with US criminal charges in 2019 that it took part in a yearlong scheme to launder billions of dollars worth of Iranian oil and natural gas proceeds, violating sanctions on Iran. According to court documents, the funds were used to buy gold, and the transactions were disguised as food and medicine purchases to fall under a humanitarian exemption to the sanctions.
  1.  Is Turkey’s Shutdown of Hatay Airport Designed to Help Erdogan in Polls? (Al-Monitor).   The mayor of Hatay, who represents the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said …“Everyone is wondering why tickets cannot be bought to Hatay until May 17,” he said in a statement to Cumhuriyet. “If there is a problem with the runway, let them explain it; otherwise, they should tell us why the planes cannot land full of passengers…” According to a tweet by HaberTurk journalist Sevilay Yilman, Savas told her that at least 500,000 Hatay voters were away from the province and suggested their absence would harm the opposition alliance. 
  1.  Turkish Interior Minister: US Losing Reputation as World Grows Increasingly Disenchanted (Al Mayadeen). Interior Minister Soylu added that Europe is a pawn for the United States. Turkish media quoted Soylu saying, “There is no such thing as Europe, do not exaggerate the matter, and there is nothing special here.”

SUDAN

  1.  After Joining Forces to Seize Power, Sudan’s Army Chief and Deputy are Now Battling (Times Of Israel). Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, under whom Sudan has moved to cement ties with US and Israel, is locked in conflict with paramilitary chief Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo for control of the country. With experts pointing to internal pressures on Burhan to nip Dagalo’s ambitions in the bud, the army chief sought to use the political process to curtail the RSF’s autonomy. However, it proved too little too late when the two generals turned on each other, with an all-out conflict erupting on Saturday.

SYRIA

  1.  Witness to Assad’s Crimes Urges US to Impose Sanctions During House of Representatives Hearing (Orient News). Middle East Eye quoted a witness who was forced to dig mass graves by order of Assad’s government, saying, “The Syrian people are looking to the United States to ensure that there are consequences for those dealing with the criminal regime.” He added, “Those who perpetuate the Assad regime are complicit in war crimes.” He urged US President Joe Biden’s administration to tighten US sanctions against Assad, called Washington to pledge not to restore relations with Assad, and to strengthen the current sanctions regime against Damascus.
  1.  Group of Seven: There is No Solution in Syria Except Through the Security Council (Orient). In their closing statement, the foreign ministers of the “G-7” countries affirmed the strong commitment of each (France, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to a comprehensive political process in Syria that the United Nations will run in accordance with Security Council Resolution No. 2254.
  1.  Syria Today – Bin Farhan in Damascus; FBI Builds Case Against Officials; MSF Sends Relief (Syrian Observer). “As an independent and impartial medical organization, we remain committed to providing humanitarian and medical assistance to the people in Syria, wherever access is granted, and the humanitarian principles are respected to ensure that aid reaches the people who need it most,” MSF director of operations said… The upcoming stage necessitates the return of sound relations between Syria and the Arab States, in addition to the Arab and regional role of Syria to be better than before, bin Farhan noted… As well as prompted questions about the low profile of Shweikani’s case in comparison with that of other Americans captured abroad, including Austin Tice, a journalist covering the war in Syria who was abducted in 2012, and Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post correspondent who was imprisoned in Iran in 2016, the investigation has sparked interest in how the US deals with al-Assad. 
  1.  Joel Rayburn’s Detailed Vision: US Policy in Syria Has Plunged the Middle East into Chaos (Syria TV). In his testimony in front of The Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives, former US Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn said that US policy towards Syria has fallen into crisis after 27 months of President Joe Biden’s administration. Since taking office, Biden and his administration have resisted formulating a clear strategy on Syria, and this deliberate approach has endangered vital US interests in the region. The American diplomat detailed the US policy on Syria during the previous years and talked about the inaction of the US administration, the dangers it caused, and the opportunities it missed, in addition to his vision of normalization with the Syrian regime and his recommendations to the US Congress for what must be done to return US policy in Syria to the right track.
  1.  Pro-Syrian Regime Journalist Attacks Erdogan and Reveals the Secret of Bashar Evading his Meeting (Orient). The pro-Assad journalist Sarkis Kasrajian revealed a set of reasons and factors that prompted Bashar al-Assad to evade the path of normalization with Ankara and his attempt to postpone a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, explaining that the recent openness of the Arab countries to the regime strengthened Assad’s position in the normalization process, as he put it.
  1.  US House of Representatives Urges Biden Administration to Specify Nature of Sanctions Exemptions for Syria (Halab Today TV). The House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Michael McCaul, and the Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia Affairs, Joe Wilson, stated on Tuesday evening in response to reports that Iran had used its relief aid to smuggle weapons into Syria following the earthquake. The statement noted that Iran is using the guise of aid to transfer weapons to Syria and that the broad exemptions from sanctions imposed by the Biden administration allow Iran and the Assad regime to exploit the relief efforts.
  1.  In Conjunction with an American Movement, the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria is Maneuvering with an Initiative that Targets Arab Money and Fears! (Orient News). Orient Net has learned that Washington has reached out to individuals within the Syrian opposition from areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The goal is to develop a new political and administrative initiative to integrate northeastern Syria with territories controlled by the National Army. This plan comes after reaching a comprehensive agreement with various involved parties.
  1.  An American official criticizes Arab normalization with Al-Assad: Ignoring Assad’s violations threatens the region (Orient). At Tuesday’s hearing in the US Congress, Congressman French Hill said Assad had turned Syria into the most dangerous drug-trafficking country in the world. American officials at the hearing attacked the leader of the Syrian regime as a war criminal and a drug dealer. They demanded that there be no normalization with him in any way. 

LEBANON

  1.  Lebanese Army Arrests Syrian Families (Al Hadath Al Souri). Syrian media sources reported that the Lebanese army arrested several Syrian refugees, including a Syrian army defector and his family, and took them to an unknown destination. The families of those arrested expressed concern that their loved ones might be deported to Syria.
  1.  Lebanese Human Rights Organization Condemns the Mass Forced Deportations of Syrian Refugees (Syria TV). In two separate incidents, the Lebanese army forcibly deported 29 Syrian refugees from Haret al-Sakher in Beirut and 35 Syrian refugees from the Wadi Khaled area in northern Lebanon. According to a statement by the Wusul Center for Human Rights, Syrian refugees were subjected to ill-treatment during the raids, despite some of them being sick and children. The statement also mentioned that some refugees were registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and entered Lebanon legally but did not have a legal residence there.

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