A first look at today’s most notable stories from the Middle East, selected by ACLS experts
May 8, 2023
- Arab League Readmits Assad Regime After 12 Years, Setting Stage for Assad to Attend May 19 Arab Summit (Al Jazeera). Ties with Damascus are being normalized, as the bloc hopes for an ‘Arab-led political path’ to solve the Syrian crisis. Foreign ministers from Arab League member states have agreed to reinstate Syria’s membership after its suspension more than 10 years ago, according to Iraqi state media. The ministers voted for Syria’s return into the fold at the Arab League’s headquarters in Cairo on Sunday. The decision was made in advance of the Arab League Summit in Saudi Arabia on May 19 and amid a flurry of regional normalisation of ties with Damascus in recent weeks.
- Qatar Says Its Stance on Normalization with Syrian Regime Remains Unchanged (Syria TV). The official spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Majid bin Muhammad Al-Ansari, stated that the State of Qatar continually strives to support Arab consensus and will not act as an obstacle to it. However, Qatar’s official position on normalization with the Syrian regime primarily depends on progress in a political solution that fulfills the aspirations of the brotherly Syrian people.
- Iran Smuggled Weapons into Syria under the Guise of Earthquake Aid (Al Arabiya). According to the Washington Post, intelligence sources suggest that Iran has used the weapons it smuggled into Syria to target the American base in eastern Syria… Speaking anonymously, a US defense official declined to comment on the document’s authenticity but stated that the activity it describes aligns with previous attempts by the IRGC “to use humanitarian aid destined for Iraq and Syria” to deliver materials to IRGC-affiliated groups.
JORDAN AND SYRIA
- Jordan Threatens Military Action in Syria to Combat Drug Trafficking (Enab Baladi). “If we do not see effective measures to reduce this threat, we will do what is necessary to confront it, including carrying out military action inside Syria to eliminate the perilous threat,” the Jordanian foreign minister told CNN. The primary concern is drug smuggling, as it is transported through Jordan to the Arab Gulf states and various regions worldwide.
- Jordanian Airstrike in Syria Kills Major Syrian Drug Smuggler (Al Arabiyah). An airstrike killed a major drug smuggler and his family in southern Syria Monday, a war monitor said, attributing the strike to Jordan though Amman did not immediately confirm. Drug dealer “Marai al-Ramthan, his wife and six children were killed in a Jordanian air force strike” in the eastern countryside of the Sweida province, near the Syrian-Jordanian border, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. “Al-Ramthan is considered to be the most prominent drug trafficker in the region, and the number one smuggler of drugs, including Captagon, into Jordan” from that area, said the Observatory, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria.
- Jordan Thwarts Large-Scale Drug and Weapon Smuggling from Syria (The New Arab). A Jordanian military source stated, “The Border Guard forces, in coordination with the military security services, detected an attempt by a group of smugglers to cross the border illegally from Syrian territory into Jordanian territory.”… After intensifying searches and inspections in the area, 1.2 million Captagon pills, 500 palm-sized portions of hashish, 400 Gallica tapes, 5 Kalashnikov firearms, and quantities of ammunition were discovered. Additionally, 300,000 Captagon pills, half a kilogram of crystal, 3 Kalashnikov firearms, and amounts of ammunition were found in the northern military region. The seized items were handed over to the relevant authorities. Meanwhile, “Free Syria” Intercepts Drug Shipment Destined for Smuggling into Jordan.
- Hacktivists Target Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Leak Trove Of Data (Iran International). An Iranian group has hacked into the Islamic Republic’s foreign ministry servers, disabling 210 sites and online services and leaking many documents. The hacktivist group ‘Uprising till Overthrow,’ affiliated with the Albania-based opposition Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) group, released hundreds of identification documents, minutes of meetings, the ministry’s correspondence, phone numbers of ministry officials, and the names of 11,000 employees of the foreign ministry, among others.
- Iranian National Security Advisor Says US is Accountable for Any Israeli Act Against Iran (Tasnim News). “Jake Sullivan has said that if Iran tries to produce nukes, the US will recognize Israel’s freedom of action to counter. This admission means that the US has been and will be responsible for all terrorist acts of Zionists against Iran’s facilities and people, accepting its consequences,” Shamkhani said in a post on his Twitter account on Friday.
- Iran Expels Four Azerbaijani Diplomats (Tehran Times). The Azerbaijani diplomats were serving in Tehran and Tabriz. Iran’s move, IRNA said, comes as a response to Azerbaijan’s expulsion of Iranian diplomats nearly a month ago.
- Iran Voices Readiness to Renovate Syrian Airports (Tasnim News). Planning has been done for dispatching 50,000 Iranian pilgrims to Syria annually… Issues were raised between Iranian and Syrian officials on the provision of necessary infrastructure as well as the determination of airline companies to carry out direct flights between the two countries, the head of the Iranian Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said.
ISRAEL AND PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
- Shin Bet Releases Jordanian MP for Weapons Smuggling Trial at Home (Jerusalem Post). The agency said MP Imad Adwan attempted to smuggle 12 rifles and 194 guns in his car. The Jordanian media reported that the legislature voted to remove Adwan’s immunity on Sunday. According to the Shin Bet, Adwan exploited his diplomatic status and had been smuggling since February 2022 on 12 different occasions.
- Hamas Warns Israel Ahead of Nationalist Flag March Through Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter (Times of Israel). Hamas spokesperson Abd al-Latif al-Qanou said in a statement that Jerusalem “will remain the Palestinian capital” and that the Gaza-based group “will not allow the Zionist occupation to implement plans to Judaize the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the city of Jerusalem through division…or flag parades.”
- Turkish Foreign Minister Says Türkiye Rejected US Proposal to Send Russian S-400 Defense System to Ukraine (Anadolu Agency). The US claimed the S-400 system excludes Türkiye from the F-35 fighter jet program, but at the same time the US proposed to Türkiye to give control of the system to the US or another country, including Ukraine, as it tries to fight off Russian forces, said Mevlut Cavusoglu… Asked about returning to the F-35 program, Cavusoglu said Ankara does not want to return to the program but rather wants back from Washington the money it paid for fighter jets before it was out of the program. In contrast, its jets were never delivered.
- Kılıçdaroğlu to Open EU Doors for Syrians if Grant Funds are Excluded (Daily Sabah). Speaking on KRT TV, opposition presidential candidate Kılıçdaroğlu reiterated that he would send back Syrian refugees within two years at the latest if he wins the upcoming elections this month. “We will build their homes, roads, schools, and kindergartens. Our contractors will build these. We will do it with the funds from the European Union,” Kılıçdaroğlu said…Kılıçdaroğlu further said that he would agree with the “legitimate government” in Syria and would “immediately” mutually open embassies with Damascus.
- Iraq Executes Man Convicted of Killing Security Expert Hisham Al-Hashemi (Al Arabiya) Sunday, the Rusafa Criminal Court in Iraq hanged the man accused of killing security expert Hisham Al-Hashemi. Hashemi, a famous Iraqi expert, was assassinated in June 2020 in front of his house in the Zayouna district in east Baghdad.
- Terrorist Group Killed in an Airstrike in Diyala (Iraqi news) The Joint Operations Command stated that the air strike was carried out by F-16 fighter jets in Diyala governorate…In addition to eliminating the terrorist group, the strike destroyed their guesthouse. The Joint Operations Command said security forces will continue to fight the remnants of ISIS groups.
- Iraqi Forces Receive Super Mushshak Aircraft from Pakistan (Iraqi news). The spokesperson of the Commander-in-Chief of the Iraqi Armed Forces, Yahya Rasoul, announced on Sunday that the Iraqi forces received the first batch of the Pakistani aircraft, Super Mushshak, the Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported…Rasoul emphasized that modernization is ongoing to complete building the capabilities of the Air Force.
- Arrests Affect the Family of Presidential Candidates in Egypt (Aljazeera Net.) Human Rights Watch criticized the Egyptian authorities’ arrest of some relatives and supporters of former parliament member Ahmed Tantawi, who announced last March that he would run for the presidency in the 2024 elections. Human Rights Watch said it had documented a clear pattern of Egyptian authorities retaliating against families of activists and critics living abroad, using unlawful home raids, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and prolonged detention of family members without trial or charges.
- Top UN Official Travels to Saudi Arabia for Sudan Cease Fire Talks (The New Arab). The UN’s top humanitarian official arrived in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah on Sunday for talks aiming for a ceasefire between Sudan’s warring generals, a spokesperson said. A UN official said Martin Griffiths would meet representatives of the two generals at the heart of the conflict, army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, commonly known as “Hemedti,” who heads the Rapid Support Forces.
- Saudi King and Crown Prince Directed $100 Million in Aid to the Sudanese People (Ahram Gate). King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid provides a variety of humanitarian aid in the amount of $100 million to mitigate the effects of the current conditions that the Sudanese people are going through.
- Egyptian Foreign Minister Calls for Immediate Ceasefire in Sudan (Egypt Daily News). President Al-Sisi explained Egypt’s efforts to stop and stabilize the ceasefire, create a climate for peaceful dialogue and complete the transitional phase to spare the Sudanese people from the worsening humanitarian risks of the conflict. In the same context, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry reiterated Egypt’s “firm and declared” position on the Sudanese crisis, calling for “the immediate ceasefire to preserve the blood of the Sudanese people.”
- African Union Calls for Sudan Ceasefire (Al Jazeera). The African Union, in a Statement, called on the Sudanese parties to agree to an urgent ceasefire as a first step to allow the immediate supply of relief materials to alleviate the suffering of Sudanese civilians. It stressed the need to immediately agree to open humanitarian corridors to facilitate the distribution of essential supplies and the restoration of services. This came when the two parties to the conflict in Sudan confirmed their participation in talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the first since the outbreak of fighting between them on April 15.
- Top Iranian General to Visit Oman (Tasnim News). Heading a political and military delegation, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, will travel to Muscat at the official invitation of his Omani counterpart. The senior Iranian commander is scheduled to discuss bilateral and regional cooperation during his stay in Oman.
- Saudi Arabia Seized More Than 1.2 Million Amphetamine Tablets in Riyadh (Enab Baladi). On Saturday, May 6, Saudi authorities announced the seizure of large quantities of drugs hidden inside glass panels in an operation that is the second of its kind in less than a week.
- Houthis Reveal Shocking Information about the Fate of Negotiations with Saudi Arabia (Sahafaa Net). There is something like a Saudi retreat from what had been agreed upon in the capital, Sana’a, during the recent visit of the Saudi delegation. The sources cited the attack launched by Saudi media on the group in Sana’a under the pretext that its decision needed to be unified.
- Houthis Supported Separatists in Southern Yemen (Sahafaa Net). The former Yemeni ambassador to Lebanon accused the Iran-affiliated Houthi group of supporting and strengthening separatist tendencies in southern Yemen.
- Houthi Militia Hints at a Military Escalation and Torpedoing Peace Efforts (Mareb press). The Houthi terrorist group threatened to return to fighting if its conditions were not implemented regarding the terms of the cease fire agreement. The group leader, Ali Hammoud Al-Mushki, said during his meeting with the military adviser to the UN envoy to Yemen, Anthony Hayward, that talking about a cease-fire before implementing the terms of the agreement is premature.