REGIONAL INCIDENT AND NEWS SUMMARY
Iran signs 20-year agreement with Venezuela. On 11 June, the governments of Venezuela and Iran signed a 20-year bilateral cooperation agreement to enhance ties in various fields. The announcement was made during a visit by President Nicolas Maduro to Tehran and took place a day after Iran pledged to export fuel to Venezuela. The accord is reportedly focused on enhancing cooperation in a number of fields including oil, petrochemicals, defense, agriculture and tourism. In separate speeches, the two leaders praised the deepening cooperation between their countries and framed the agreement as a testament to the “resistance” against the US sanctions.
Iran destroys surveillance equipment. In another setback for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Secretary-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced on 9 June that Iran began removing key monitoring equipment at various sites across the country. This included the disconnection of 27 surveillance cameras in what Grossi described as a potentially “fatal blow” to the JCPOA that severely undermines the IAEA’s ability to monitor the Iranian nuclear program. Iran also reportedly informed the IAEA of plans to install two additional cascades of IR-6 centrifuges that will significantly accelerate uranium enrichment. Both decisions formed an assessed response by Iranian authorities to an IAEA resolution to censure Iran over its lack of transparency with regard to the discovery of nuclear material at various undeclared sites. The resolution was supported by a majority of IAEA members but rejected by Russia and China.
Two members of the IRGC reported dead in Iran. On 13 June, according to Iranian state-linked channels, two members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) died in separate incidents in Iran. One reportedly died in a car accident while the other was killed during an unspecified “mission” in the Semnan province, but few additional details were provided. Both were reported to be members of the IRGC aerospace division and the timing of the deaths, amidst existing tensions over the JCPOA and a likely imminent rocket launch, is noteworthy. Last month, a senior IRGC member was killed in a suspected Israeli-linked operation and another member died under unclear but suspicious circumstances near Tehran.
Damascus international airport damaged by Israeli airstrikes. According to Syrian state-linked sources, several Israeli airstrikes were conducted against sites south of Damascus on 10 June, causing damage and the injury of at least one individual. Subsequent details were provided by reporting on 11 June, indicating the strikes targeted the Damascus International Airport, located south of the capital. The Syrian Ministry of Transportation confirmed that “extensive damage” was inflicted as a result, and flight operations were temporarily suspended. The statement confirmed damage to the airport runway and the lobby area and said operations would resume once repairs were conducted. A report issued by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights added that the strikes damaged the northern runway of the airport.
The airstrikes were reportedly condemned by Russia in a strongly worded statement that is noteworthy for explicitly denouncing Israeli activities in the country. The statement called the airstrikes “unacceptable and provocative”, and a threat to international air transportation safety. Israeli operations near the airport are not unprecedented and typically target Iran-linked facilities and arms depots located in the vicinity.
SDF announce intent to cooperate with Assad government in the event of a Turkish invasion. The threat of an impending Turkish offensive in northern Syria continues to spark reactions from key stakeholders in the region. In his weekly press briefing, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price reiterated that the US is “deeply concerned” about potential military escalation while calling on all sides to respect and maintain existing ceasefire lines. Meanwhile, members of the coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) indicated on 7 June intent to cooperate with Syrian Government Forces – and by extension Russia – to counter Turkish military activities in the event of an incursion. Speaking to international media outlets, senior commanders of the SDF were quoted after a meeting of its command saying they would turn to Damascus for support should Turkey proceed with the threats that have been circulating for weeks.
NATO expresses understanding of Turkey concerns. As Turkey continues to block Sweden and Finland’s ascension to NATO, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described Turkey’s terrorism concerns as “legitimate” and emphasized the need to address security concerns of “all allies, including Turkey’s concerns about the terrorist organization PKK.” The statement came as both Sweden and Final reiterated readiness to address Turkey’s reservations in relation to Ankara’s accusations of harboring members of the PKK. For his part, President Recept Tayyip Erdogan said “concrete steps” and written commitments are necessary for both countries to move forward.
President Erdogan to run in 2023 elections. President Erdogan confirmed his intent to run in the 2023 general elections during a speech in the city of Izmir on 9 June. The President referred to himself as the main candidate of the Justice and Development Party ahead of the elections which are slated to be held no later than June 2023. The announcement was widely expected.
Sadr orders loyal MPs to withdraw from parliament. Efforts to form a new government were thrown into further disarray this week as Muqtada al-Sadr ordered loyal MPs in Parliament to formally resign their positions. When calling on his MPs to resign last week, Sadr reiterated that the withdrawals are intend to “create conditions” to form a new government after repeated efforts to form a national majority government have failed. The withdrawal amounts to a tectonic shift that will almost certainly upset existing political alliances, while further delaying efforts to form a new government. The near-term outlook for protest activity in Baghdad and the South is accordingly elevated, as a means to exercise pressure. Further context is provided in the full-featured report available to subscribers.
Kata’iz Hezbollah blamed for UAV strike in Erbil province. On 8 June, an explosive-laden UAV impacted a road northeast of Erbil city. Three civilians reportedly sustained non-life-threatening injuries while at least three vehicles were damaged. The Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) said the strike was staged from an area near Altun Kupri Bridge, accusing Kata’ib Hezbollah of responsibility for the action. Further context is provided in the full featured report available to subscribers.
Rocket attack targeted Camp Zilkan amidst Turkey-PKK tensions. Iran-linked tensions were also highlighted by a rocket attack targeting Camp Zilkan, a military base with Turkish presence located northeast of Mosul city. On 9 June, at least four rockets were launched toward the base, impacting villages nearby without casualties or damage. The strikes were conducted amidst continuing tensions related to Turkish operations against the PKK and threats to launch another incursion into northern Syria. Relatedly, a Turkish airstrike targeted a YBS headquarters in Sinjar district on 15 June, causing civilian casualties and damaging a marketplace nearby.
Israel urged citizens to leave Turkey, citing Iranian threats. On 13 June, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid urged Israeli citizens to leave Turkey “as soon as possible”, citing alleged plans by Iranian operatives to target Israeli citizens. Lapid also urged citizens planning to travel to Turkey to cancel their plans. Israel’s National Security Council (INSC) also elevated the threat level for Istanbul to its highest level (4), citing “increased Iranian intentions to attack Israelis in Turkey, especially Istanbul.” This follows a threat report published in May by the INSC likewise citing elevated Iranian intent to conduct attacks in Turkey as retaliation for the assassination of a senior IRGC member in Tehran.
Hezbollah leader threatened to strike gas rig over dispute between Lebanon and Israel. A long-standing dispute over maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean Sea escalated in recent weeks following the arrival of a gas production vessel operated by Greek firm Energean to commence operations at the Israeli Karish field. The location of the vessel is subject to a disputed interpretation of existing borders, with Israel claiming it is located in UN-recognized economic zones whereas Lebanon claims it is located inside a disputed area. In a statement on 9 June, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah denounced what he described as Israeli provocation and threatened to target the gas rig in a televised speech. Lebanese officials have since struck a more conciliatory tone and reportedly offered a negotiated solution during talks with US Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein who arrived this week in Beirut to mediate.
Israeli-UAE ties continue to expand. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made an unannounced visit to the UAE on 9 June for his second trip to the country in a sign of deepening ties. The visit followed the signing of a Free Trade Agreement between the two sides the previous week and occurred a day after the IAEA resolution to censure Iran. In a statement, Bennet commended the IAEA decision and described joint opposition to the Iranian nuclear program as one of the main factors underpinning the Israeli-UAE “alliance”.
White House confirms Biden trip to Saudi Arabia. Following weeks of speculation, the White House announced on 14 June that President Joe Biden will visit Saudi Arabia in the middle of July. The trip will take place between 13 and 16 July and includes a stop in Israel and the West Bank. The visit is the first undertaken by President Biden to the Middle East and is widely seen as an effort to restore ties with Saudi Arabia that deteriorated over the killing of US-Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Iraq and Saudi Arabia conduct military exercise. The Iraqi and Saudi armed forces conducted a joint military exercise in the northern region of Saudi Arabia. Starting on 13 June, the exercise will last for nine days and aims to “enhance cooperation and the exchange of military expertise” between the two countries, according to officials on both sides. The exercise underscores a period of deepening military and political ties between Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Qatar signs energy agreement with Total. On 12 June, state-owned company Qatar Energy announced the signing of a partnership deal with TotalEnergies to expand the North Field project – the world’s largest liquified natural gas project located in the Persian Gulf. President Saad al-Kaabi of Qatar Energy added that additional partners will be announced later in the week, but that Total will have the largest stake in the project. Earlier in May, Qatar signed an energy partnership agreement with Germany, with a view to enhance cooperation and facilitate investments in the LNG sector as a means to alleviate European dependence on Russian energy supplies.
UN affirms Yemen truce continues to hold after extension. In a briefing at the UN Security Council on 14 June, Special Envoy Hans Grundberg said the truce in Yemen continues to hold and contributes to a significant reduction in hostilities. Earlier this month, the UN managed to secure a two-month extension of the truce that was first announced in April. Grundberg praised a reduction in civilian casualties, yet acknowledged reports of violations and armed clashes while outlining several key challenges in terms of key humanitarian needs. Further context is provided in the quick regional update.