The Wall Street Journal • Kejal Vyas and Benoit Faucon
A second tanker dispatched by Iran was welcomed Monday by Venezuelan naval frigates and helicopters as it entered national waters, a lifeline for embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro that reflects the closer ties being forged between Tehran and U.S. adversaries in Latin America. The first of five tankers carrying 1.5 million barrels of gasoline, the Fortune, arrived in the predawn hours at El Palito, a refinery near Puerto Cabello, in defiance of U.S. sanctions that largely prohibit oil trading with the fuel-starved country.
Three electoral challenges by a popular former army chief could not unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A clear majority of Israeli lawmakers could not set aside their differences long enough to oust him. But one thing still threatens to end Mr. Netanyahu’s career as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister: his trial on felony corruption charges. On Sunday afternoon, hours after presiding over a meeting of his expanded new cabinet, Mr. Netanyahu left the seat of power in Jerusalem, rode a short distance to an East Jerusalem courthouse and settled into a very different government chair: the hard wooden bench reserved for a criminal defendant.
New bipartisan legislation aims to increase collaboration between Israel and the U.S. in developing defense technology. U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced the United States-Israel Military Capability Act of 2020 last week. Peters and Cotton are both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Their legislation would enhance collaboration on the research and development of technology used for national defense.
Businesses in Iran, including those deemed “high risk,” should resume work Tuesday, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported, citing the head of the Tehran Chamber of Trade Unions. The advice is based on guidance from the government’s coronavirus task force, according to Qassem Nodeh Farahani, head of the trade body, IRNA said. The so-called high-risk businesses include restaurants, cafes, gyms, saunas and wedding halls, Nodeh Farahani said, adding that they have to keep abiding by social-distancing rules.
Saudi Arabia will begin easing restrictions on movement and travel this week, more than two months after stringent measures were introduced to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Restrictions will be lifted in three phases, culminating in the curfew completely ending - with the exception of the holy city of Mecca -- from June 21, the state news agency reported in a statement early on Tuesday.
Iran on Monday reopened major Shiite shrines across the Islamic republic, more than two months after they were closed, as it reported its lowest deaths from coronavirus since March. At Tehran's Shah Abdol-Azim shrine, worshippers had to wear a mask, walk through a disinfection tunnel and have their temperature checked as they began returning from the early morning, according to AFP reporters.
Syria said on Monday it would lift an overnight curfew starting Tuesday and allow movement between governorates, easing coronavirus lockdown measures even as the health ministry reported the largest single-day increase in cases. The ministry reported 20 new infections of the novel coronavirus on Monday, bringing the country's tally to 106 cases and four deaths. Syria has seen an uptick in infections in recent days, which it has attributed to the return of Syrians from abroad.
The Washington Post • Anthony Faiola, Missy Ryan and Erin Cunningham
Venezuela and Iran, U.S. adversaries that have been stung by sanctions and hobbled by the novel coronavirus, are forging a closer strategic partnership, providing embattled President Nicolás Maduro a vital lifeline and offering Tehran the prospect of a new center of influence just across the Caribbean Sea from Florida. The most public display of the deepening relationship: five oil tankers steaming across the Atlantic Ocean, carrying what analysts estimate to be 60 million gallons of Iranian gasoline, which they say was bought with Venezuelan gold, an allegation Iran denies.
France's foreign minister said on Tuesday that relations with Iran had become more difficult after Tehran sentenced a French-Iranian academic to prison in what he said was a politically motivated decision. "This sentencing was founded on no serious elements and was politically motivated. So we firmly say to the Iranian authorities to release Fariba Adelkhah without delay," Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Inter radio. "This decision make our relations with the Iranian authorities a lot more difficult."
For the past four decades, on the last Friday of Ramadan, supporters of Iran’s government have marched to denounce Israel. They burn Israel’s flag. They mock effigies of the leaders of Israel and of its patron, the United States. They chant pledges to liberate Jerusalem, or Quds, as the city is known in Arabic. But the coronavirus pandemic forced Iran to cancel its annual Quds Day parade on Friday. Instead, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivered a televised speech, compensating in rhetoric for the silence in the streets.
Israel will not miss a "historic opportunity" to extend its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday, calling the move one of his new government's top tasks. Palestinians consider such a step as illegal annexation of occupied land they seek for a future state. Last week, they declared an end to security cooperation with Israel and its ally, the United States, in protest at the territorial plan. Netanyahu has pledged to put Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty.
Millions of dollars of international funding for the Palestinians’ coronavirus emergency response, coordinated by the World Health Organization and U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have gone to organizations with links to terrorism, a new report by NGO Monitor found. The research institution focused on the funding of non-governmental organizations found that several of the groups funded by OCHA and the WHO are tied to the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is recognized as a terrorist organization in Israel, the EU, U.S. and Canada, and had staff members arrested and indicted late last year for the murder of 17-year-old Israeli Rina Schnerb.
Ten days after a visit to Israel by U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo, who warned against a Chinese firm winning infrastructure contracts in Israel, a government panel announced that an Israeli group has won the bidding process for a major desalination plant. The government panel chose IDE over Hutchison Water, whose main investor is Hong Kong's CK Hutchison Holdings.
The Times of Israel • Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel Staff
Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians warned the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff and the defense minister of a potential wave of violence if the government goes through with its plans to unilaterally annex portions of the West Bank, Army Radio reported Tuesday. According to the station, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun — formally known as the coordinator of government activities in the territories — told army chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz that annexation “was likely to lead to a wave of terror attacks and a breaking of security cooperation [with the Palestinian Authority].”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened Israel over its new government’s plan to annex portions of the West Bank. “We are witnessing a new plan of occupation and annexation by Israel that threatens Palestinian sovereignty and is contrary to international law,” Erdogan said in a video address late Sunday for the Muslim holidat of Eid al-Fitr. “We won’t allow the transfer of Palestinian land to anyone.”
Israel’s flag carrier completed its first cargo flight to Turkey in 10 years on Sunday, the latest sign of a thaw in ties between the two nations. An El-Al plane landed in Istanbul on Sunday, the Israeli embassy in Turkey said on Twitter, adding that flights between Tel Aviv and Istanbul will help trade volumes between the nations reach “record levels.”
The Wall Street Journal • Felicia Schwartz and Dov Lieber
A day after he appeared in court on corruption charges, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintained a fiery public defense that risked deepening divisions in Israel’s fractured politics. On Monday Mr. Netanyahu thanked his supporters who had thronged outside a Jerusalem courthouse Sunday to protest bribery and fraud charges against him, the first time a sitting prime minister has been put on trial.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Monday said the PA would prevent widespread chaos and public disorder in the West Bank despite Ramallah’s decision to end security coordination with Israel last week over the new Israeli government’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is confronting the biggest challenges to his hold on power since Syrians first rose up against him nine years ago, as a rift within his family, a collapsing economy and rising tensions with his key ally Russia lay bare the fragility of his regime. The rebels now squeezed into one last corner of Syria no longer pose any threat, and there are no other serious contenders for the presidency of a country that has been ruled by the Assad family for the past 50 years.
A year after American-backed forces seized the last remnant of territory under Islamic State rule in Syria, some 10,000 captured ISIS fighters in Kurdish-run wartime prisons pose “a significant risk” to the United States mission in the country’s northeast, military commanders say. Hardened ISIS fighters protesting the dire conditions in their makeshift confines, including the potential spread of Covid-19, have rioted at the largest prison in Hasaka twice in the last two months. The uprisings were quelled, but they underscore the “high-impact risk of a mass breakout,” American commanders told investigators from the Pentagon inspector general’s office.
Traffic returned to a major highway in northeastern Syria for the first time in seven months on Monday, following Russian mediation to reopen parts of the road captured last year by Turkey-backed opposition fighters. Syrian Kurdish media and a Syrian Kurdish official said several vehicles accompanied by Russian troops began driving in the morning between the northern towns of Ein Issa and Tal Tamr. The two towns are controlled by government forces and Syrian Kurdish fighters while the area between them is mostly held by Turkey-backed opposition fighters.
Under pressure from low oil prices, Iraq is seeking billions of dollars in debt relief from Kuwait and moving to bolster ties with Saudi Arabia, as the coronavirus pandemic compels Baghdad to court allies that could help it stave off an economic crisis. Finance Minister Ali Allawi, who is also deputy prime minister and acting oil minister, said he was proposing that Kuwait delay or cancel some $3 billion that Iraq owes in reparations for the 1990-91 Gulf War, when dictator Saddam Hussein burned Kuwaiti oil fields.
AIPAC's Daily News Digest is a summary of the day's top stories affecting the U.S.-Israel relationship and other key Middle East policy issues. Please direct questions, comments or subscription requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.