REGIONAL INCIDENT AND NEWS SUMMARY
US rejects Iranian demands regarding IAEA investigation, stalling JCPOA negotiations
The US reiterated its rejection of Iranian demands that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should conclude its investigation into formerly undeclared nuclear sites in the country. To recall, the demand was one of three requirements reportedly stipulated by Iran in its response to a ‘final’ EU-led initiative to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Speaking on 2 September, a day after the US submitted its own response to the Iranian proposal, White House Spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said “there should be no conditionality between re-implementation of the JCPOA and investigations related to Iran’s legal obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
The US rejection is the latest indication that prospects for restoring the JCPOA remain increasingly slim despite the optimism and positive remarks surrounding the latest Vienna negotiations in early August. Last week, US officials called Iran’s position on current negotiations “not constructive” as they continue to accuse Iran of conditioning the talks on issues unrelated to the JCPOA. According to usually credible Israeli channels, US officials informed Israeli counterparts this week that an agreement is currently “off the table” and will not be concluded any time soon.
For their part, Iranian officials said this week that Iran remains committed to the negotiations but that the initiative lies with the US to provide an agreement that will economically benefit the country. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanani called the latest Iranian response “constructive, transparent, and legal”, implicitly rejecting US accusations that Iran is the primary obstacle to restoring the agreement.
Iran readies civil defense systems amidst JCPOA-related tensions
Meanwhile, regional tensions associated with the JCPOA continue. Further to the previously discussed tit-for-tat attacks involving US forces and Iranian-backed militias in eastern Syria, the US Air Force engaged in an assessed show of force this week in the region. On 5 September, two long-range B-52 strategic bombers, accompanied by Saudi and Kuwaiti aircraft, flew over the Arabian Peninsula and Red Sea. Commenting on the mission, Lt Gen Alexus Grynkewish, Commander of the Ninth US Air Force, said “threats to the US and our partners will not go unanswered” and that the mission “showcase our ability to combine forces to deter and, if necessary, defeat our enemies.” Earlier in the week, the Iranian Navy reportedly seized two US surveillance UAVs in the Red Sea, releasing them shortly thereafter in another sign of state-on-state hostilities.
Meanwhile, the Iranian military announced that the “readiness” of Iranian air defense systems where “at their highest level” and ready to defend in the event of “regional aggression”. Deputy Defense Minister Mehdi Farahi also announced that 51 Iranian cities have been equipped with civil defense equipment to deter and defend a “possible foreign attack.” Further details were not specified, but Farahi said the equipment will identify and monitor threats using “round-the-clock” software. The move is assessed as preventative and precautionary, but underscores an increase in regional tensions as JCPOA-related negotiations continue to stall.
Israeli airstrikes target Aleppo International Airport for second time
On the evening of 6 September, suspected Israeli missile strikes targeted Aleppo International Airport in northwestern Syria, causing significant damage to the airport runway. The Syrian Ministry of Transport announced that all flights were diverted to Damascus International Airport as a result. The missile strikes are the second operation to target the airport in less than a week, following similar strikes on 31 August. According to various reports, this uptick signifies Israeli intent to disrupt Iranian arms and weapons supplies using air transportation. See full report.
Annual inflation surpasses 80% following interest rate cuts
According to official statistics released on 5 September, Turkey’s rate of inflation increased by 0.6% from the previous month, up to 80.21% annually. Figures provided by independent research firms cite a significantly higher figure, with the Inflation Research Group estimating that the current rate exceeds 181%. Regardless, the continued increase poses an enduring challenge for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish economy where the central bank, under pressure from the government and contrary to policies adopted by other central banks, continues to cut interest rates despite rising inflation. While growth rates remain surprisingly high, associated economic concerns may impact Erdogan negatively ahead of the 2023 elections.
EU expresses concerns about Erdogan comments on Greece
Tensions associated with the long-standing territorial dispute between Turkey and Greece increased this week following comments by President Erdogan widely perceived as an implicit threat of a military incursion. Addressing the alleged Greek “militarization” and “occupation” of islands in the Aegean Sea, Erdogan pledged to do “what is necessary” and warned that “we may come down suddenly one night.” In his speech, Erdogan also urged Greece “not to forget Izmir” – a reference to a 1922 battle of a town in western Turkey during the Greko-Turkish war. Erdogan’s comments sparked condemnation in Greece and on 5 September the EU expressed concerns and urged that the “aggressive rhetoric and threats” need to stop.
PM Kadhimi’s call for national dialogue fails to generate breakthrough
Despite an overall reduction in associated violence following the escalation last week, the political deadlock in Iraq continues. This week, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi organized another meeting with members of the main political factions, with a view to prepare for early elections. The meeting was boycotted by Muqtada al-Sadr’ who continues to refuse engagement with members of the Iran-linked Coordination Framework. The meeting on 5 September reportedly established a committee to prepare for early elections, as parliament resumed duties following the conclusion of the Sadrist occupation.
Supreme Court rules against Sadrist case for dissolving parliament
On 7 September, the Federal Supreme Court dismissed the Sadrists’ case for dissolving parliament, reiterating a previous ruling by the judiciary that precipitated the escalation on 29/30 August. The ruling was postponed on four occasions amidst fears of a Sadrist backlash, but the announcement did not generate significant pushback despite existing tensions. On 28 September, the Supreme Court is also set to hold a hearing regarding a Sadrist-led appeal challenging the legality of the resignations in June, when Sadr ordered loyal MPs in parliament to resign their positions. The upcoming hearing potentially sets conditions for another round of demonstrations. See the full Talos Report.
Israel announced results of investigation into journalist death
On 5 September, the Israeli Defense Forces revealed the results of the investigation into the death of US-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during a security operation on the West Bank in May. Israeli officials initially claimed Akleh was killed by Palestinian fire, however the investigation concluded that there is a “high probability” that she was accidentally killed by an Israeli soldier. The report also said no soldier would be punished for the incident.
Palestinian reactions to the investigation were predictably negative, with the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and various pro-Palestinian human rights organizations criticizing the report as an attempt to evade responsibility. Al-Jazeera Network, which employed Akleh at the time of her death, also condemned the report. The US adopted a more moderate position by welcoming the investigation yet underscoring the importance of accountability.
OPEC+ agrees to modest production cuts
On 6 September, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia (OPEC+) agreed to cut oil production by 100 thousand barrels/day for October. The minor yet symbolically significant reduction represents a reversal of the previous decision to increase production by 100 thousand barrels in September and constitutes another setback for US-led efforts to incentivize a more significant production increase to alleviate energy prices. To recall, President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia in July failed to elicit any change in Riyadh’s posture which remains firmly committed to its informal energy alliance with Russia.
EU inaugurates new office in Doha during visit focusing on energy cooperation
On 7 September, President of the European Council Charles Michel inaugurated a new office of the European Union Mission in Doha, Qatar. Michel said the opening of the office underscores the EU’s intent to expand ties with Doha, amidst signs of growing energy cooperation. Earlier in the day, Michel also met with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani with reports preceding the visit focusing on Qatar’s role in potentially alleviating the energy crisis in Europe after Russia announced the closure of the North Stream 1 gas pipeline. The visit follows reports in recent months of multiple interactions between state-owned Qatar Energy – the world’s fifth largest gas company – and European companies, however, no public agreements have been announced.
Multiple fatalities in large-scale AQ attack in Abyan province
On 6 September, suspected Al-Qaeda-linked members conducted a large-scale attack against members of the so-called Security Belt – a force linked to the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council – in Ahwar, Abyan province. According to various sources, at least 25 soldiers were killed, and several others wounded in subsequent clashes that lasted several hours. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, however it is widely suspected that militants linked with Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula were behind the operation., which is one of the single deadliest recorded in the country this year.