Xpat Weekly Update: The 5 Most Important Stories From The Middle East And North Africa

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1. Iran Missile Tests Possible Violation of U.S. Sanctions, U.N. Resolutions

The old saw that all politics are domestic may help explain Iran’s recent missile activity. The ballistic tests appear to be in open defiance of the recent nuclear deal with the United Nations and the United States, and carry with them the threat of ending that accord.

What is behind such provocative behavior on the Iranian side? One theory is that the launches, conducted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps under the command of Supreme Religious Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were a demonstration of internal power by Iranian hardliners, following the moderate victories in recent Iranian parliamentary elections by supporters of President Hassan Rouhani.


2. U.S. Warns Saudi Arabia On Squeezing Lebanon Economy Over Growing Hezbollah Influence

The complexities of relationships in the Middle East found another example this week, in a conflict over the roles of Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United States, in Lebanon.

In a move aimed at hitting the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia is putting the squeeze on the Lebanese economy. On Tuesday, U.S. officials warned Riyadh not to take any further economic steps against Lebanon. Saudi Arabia has already suspended $3 billion in military aid and hinted at additional financial penalties. The United States is no fan of Hezbollah, but fears Saudi moves could drive Lebanon further into Iran’s sphere as the fragile nation seeks a financial backer to replace the Saudis.

International Business Times

3. Gulf Council Listing Hezbollah as Terrorist a ‘Harsh Blow’

Tied to the Saudi financial moves against Lebanon and Hezbollah mentioned above, the six-member, Saudi-aligned, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) declared Lebanon’s Hezbollah a “terrorist” organization on Wednesday. This declaration sparked concerns in Lebanon that the regional proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia were set to further undermine security in the small Mediterranean country.

The level of cross-purposes of the U.S. strategy in the greater Middle East has never been more disadvantageous: late last year, Lebanese banks were hit hard when the U.S. moved to clamp down on Hezbollah’s use of their services. The U.S. has long sought the cooperation of the GCC to target Hezbollah’s funding and money laundering systems. However, now that the GCC is moving in that direction, the United States is concerned that the new-found aggressiveness will only grow Iran’s role in Lebanon, in a direct challenge to the Saudis. The Iran-Saudi fight has already devastated Yemen, and could easily do the same in Lebanon.

Middle East Eye

4. Pentagon Plan to Fight ISIS in Libya Includes Barrage of Airstrikes

Already on the ground with Special Forces, the Pentagon this week forwarded to President Obama a new set of military options for Libya, including air strikes. The targets for the strikes would be elements of the Islamic State.

The re-introduction of American air power into Libya is essentially a fix to the last fix the United States tried in that beleaguered country. The 2011 war in Libya, midwifed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, led to the elimination of leader Muammar Qaddafi, which led to chaos, which led to the arrival of ISIS, which appears on its way to leading to a new American war in Libya seeking the kind of stability, for all his terrors, that Qaddafi brought to Libya for his 34 years in power.

New York Times

5. Netanyahu Calls Off Obama Visit and Fingers Point

Those concerned that U.S.-Israeli relations are at their lowest point in decades found new cause for worry, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly canceled a trip to Washington. The decision was quickly interpreted as the latest evidence of a lingering rift between the two leaders over the Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu was to travel to Washington next week for the annual policy conference of an influential pro-Israeli lobbying group. However, according to Israeli sources, after he was not offered a meeting with Obama, Netanyahu refused to travel. The White House, for its part, insisted it was Netanyahu who turned down a chance to meet with the president.

New York Times

Additional News: North Korea’s Kim: Country has Miniaturized Nuclear Warheads

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country has miniaturized nuclear warheads, so as to mount them on ballistic missiles. He also called for his military to be prepared to mount pre-emptive attacks against the United States and South Korea, and to stand ready to use nuclear weapons.

The stepping up of Kim’s belligerent rhetoric follows new U.N. and bilateral sanctions for Pyongyang’s nuclear and rocket tests. The statements also come as U.S. and South Korean troops begin large-scale military drills this week. While North Korea has long had ballistic missile capability and has possessed nuclear weapons for years, those weapons have generally been considered by the west to be mostly for testing purposes, and not ready to be used on top of missiles. If Kim’s boasts are true, they would represent a significant change in East Asia’s strategic situation.


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