REGIONAL INCIDENT AND NEWS SUMMARY
Iran accelerates uranium enrichment as diplomatic efforts continue to restore JCPOA. On 7 July, the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) announced that newly installed advanced IR-6 centrifuges are now being used at the Fordow nuclear facility. A spokesperson for the agency further confirmed that the centrifuges were used to enrich uranium up to 20% – a small technical step from the 90% required for weapons-grade material. Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) weeks ago that it would install another cascade of IR-6 centrifuges at the facility, but did not specify at the time the level of enrichment. In June, the IAEA announced that Iran has approximately 43 kilograms of uranium enriched at 60% and reiterated concerns about the lack of monitoring capabilities after the IAEO removed surveillance cameras at key facilities.
Meanwhile, efforts to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) continue after indirect talks between US and Iranian officials in Doha, Qatar failed to produce any significant breakthrough. Shortly after the visit, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdulrahman al-Thani visited Iran to discuss the negotiations with his counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian. The Iranian official reiterated Tehran’s commitment to pursuing further negotiation yet characteristically blamed the US for the failure of the Doha discussions. Meanwhile, US lead negotiator Robert Malley called the meeting in Doha “a missed opportunity” and accused Iran of introducing additional demands.
A day after al-Thani’s Iran visit, Iranian lead negotiator Ali Baqeri Khan visited Muscat to meet Omani officials. Iranian state-affiliated outlets vaguely said the meetings focused on bilateral issues, yet the visit most likely underscores Oman’s role in mediating the US-Iranian talks alongside Qatar. When and if another round of discussions will be held remains to be seen but the US Department of State said this week that no plans exist for the negotiations to be resumed.
US imposed additional sanctions on companies linked to Iranian oil exports. On 6 July, the US Treasury Department announced the imposition of additional sanctions targeting several Chinese and Gulf-based companies for their involvement in facilitating Iranian petroleum and petrochemical exports. The companies include UAE-based Edgar Commercial Solutions FZE and Kuwait-based Ali al-Mutawa Petroleum as well as several companies based in Vietnam, China, and Singapore. Several Iranian entities were also designated under the latest sanctions.
UK Foreign Office denies report of diplomat arrested in Iran. On 6 July, Iranian state-aligned media announced the arrest of several foreigners, including the UK Deputy Ambassador, on charges of espionage. Footage allegedly captured by a surveillance UAV purportedly depicted the foreigners collecting samples from a “prohibited zone” and the reports briefly mentioned that Deputy Ambassador Giles Whitaker was arrested by the IRGC as a result. The UK Foreign Office immediately denied the reports as “completely false” and clarified that no UK diplomat has been arrested. A conflicting report by another Iranian media outlet said Whitaker had been detained and later released after issuing an apology.
Russia vetoes proposal to extend humanitarian border crossing mechanism in northern Syria. On 8 July, the UN Security Council failed to agree on extending the mandate for a cross-border mechanism allowing humanitarian aid deliveries in northern Syria, after Russia vetoed a proposal drafted by Norway and Ireland. The proposal would have extended the mechanism for another year to allow humanitarian deliveries described as essential to continue across the border from Turkey.
A rival Russian-led resolution proposed extending the mandate by six months but was initially rejected by other members of the P5, except China who abstained from both votes. Reports circulating on 11 July indicate that the Russian proposal would be granted in a vote on 12 July, after the P5 indicated a willingness to adopt the resolution absent better alternatives. The mechanism is one of four that enable cross-border deliveries from neighboring countries without Syrian government approval and is widely regarded as essential to sustaining millions of civilians who would be affected in the event of a closure.
Erdogan and Putin discuss Syrian aid and Ukraine in phone call. The issue of extending the cross-border mandate was discussed in a phone call between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and counterpart Vladimir Putin on 11 July, with Erdogan reportedly emphasizing the importance of sustaining the cross-border mechanism. The Russian veto was in part perceived as a sign of animosity from Moscow over Erdogan’s decision to lift the veto on Finland and Sweden’s membership in NATO. That and several other issues related to the war in Ukraine – including the issue of grain exports, Turkish mediation between Ukraine and Russia, and energy cooperation – are expected to be discussed in an upcoming Russia-Turkey summit slated to be held in the near future.
Law drafted to criminalize homosexuality in Iraq. Multiple national and international reports have highlighted a law drafted on 8 July that would criminalize homosexuality in Iraq, with plans to collect signatures endorsing the legislation following the Eid al-Adha holiday. International and national LGBTQ+ rights groups noting the very real potential for increased violent attacks against the community should the law pass. Homosexuality was legalized in Iraq in 2003, though the targeting of LGBTQ+ people has gone largely unpunished in recent years, with key political leaders often blaming issues such as Covid-19 and purported “immorality” on the community, largely in an effort to divert attention from ongoing and entirely unrelated political, social and financial shortfalls that plague the country.
Iraq denies purchasing Ukrainian wheat from Russia. Iraq’s Ministry of Trade rejected claims that Baghdad purchased Ukranian wheat from Russian partners, stating that US, Canadian and Australian partners remain the primary source for ensuring provision of wheat for the country’s food supply. Officials noted that contracts are being established with Australia for 150,000 tons and Germany for 100,000 tons of wheat, and negotiations are scheduled with several international companies after Eid al-Adha holidays to discuss the provision of wheat for the country’s food security. The statement comes amidst a worldwide crisis in wheat supply due to the war in Ukraine and allegations that Russia continues to trade Ukrainian wheat on the international market.
US President Biden set to land in Israel on 13 July. Between 13 and 16 July, US President Joe Biden is scheduled to embark on his first regional visit to the region since assuming office, with scheduled stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia. Speaking ahead of the widely anticipated visit, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the visit will focus “first and foremost on Iran” yet expressed hope that the US will facilitate prospects for Saudi-Israeli normalization. Further context of the upcoming visits is provided in the featured regional reports.
IDF intercepted UAVs launched by Hezbollah near disputed gas rig. On 9 July, the Israeli Defence Forces announced the interception of three explosive-laden UAVs targeting the Karish gas field in the Mediterranean sea. The statement said the interceptions took place at a “safe distance” from the platform, with no casualties or damages discussed. The gas field is subject to a maritime dispute between Israel and Lebanon, and the incident follows earlier threats by Hezbollah to target the platform.
US considering lifting ban on arms exports. The Biden administration is reportedly considering lifting a ban on the sales of offensive arms to Saudi Arabia. To recall, the current ban was imposed as part of a wider withdrawal of US support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, however, the ban is reportedly being reviewed according to reports citing unnamed US and Saudi officials. The timing of the report is noteworthy ahead of Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week and lifting the ban may plausibly be intended as a concession in exchange for Saudi cooperation on energy exports and Russia. According to the sources cited by various media outlets, the lifting of the ban would be conditioned upon further progress in peace negotiations in Yemen, where a truce remains in place.
Warring parties in Yemen renew commitment to truce. On 6 July, the warring parties in Yemen agreed to renew their commitment to a UN-mediated truce that has been in effect since the beginning of April. A statement released by the UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg said the parties agreed to a “continued halt of offensive ground, aerial, and maritime operations, inside and outside Yemen”. The renewed commitments set conditions for another extension of the truce, which is currently set to expire in early August. Further context is provided in the quick regional update.
UAE set to operate Kabul International Airport. According to a report by Reuters, citing informed sources, the UAE is reportedly set to sign an agreement with the Taliban to operate Kabul International Airport and several other airports in the country. The report claims operations would be managed by an unnamed, UAE-based state-linked company that would exclusively hire Afghan nationals to operate the facilities. Previous efforts to formalize a Qatar-Turkey-UAE agreement reportedly failed, yet negotiations are currently ongoing and the agreement has not yet been confirmed by official sources.