Russia's Putin Travels to Iran To Solidify Alliance
Plus: US President Biden's trip to the Middle East, Lebanon's judge raids the central bank, thousands of al-Sadr supporters rally in Iraq.
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Putin's trip to Iran
Russia, Iran, and Turkey met in Tehran, the Iranian capital, on Tuesday, July 19, indicating that Vladimir Putin is pushing back against ostracism from the West.
Putin traveled to Iran this week to meet to solidify an Iranian-Russian alliance.
He met with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, who issued a declaration of support for Putin's war in Ukraine.
Putin also held a three-way summit meeting focusing on Syria with the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and their Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was also in Tehran.
Erdogan has renewed warnings that Turkey could launch a new military operation in northern Syria.
The three countries reaffirmed the determination to continue their ongoing cooperation to eliminate terrorist individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities, according to a trilateral statement released after Erdogan urged his Russian and Iranian counterparts to back his efforts to fight "terrorism" in Syria.
However, Khamenei cautioned Erdogan against launching an operation into Syria, a plan that has been in Ankara's pipeline for weeks.
After he met with Khamenei, the Turkish President attended a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi and demanded full cooperation against terrorist organizations. In addition to the PKK and YPG, Erdogan named Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), calling the three "a calamity" to befall both countries.
PJAK, an offshoot of the PKK, is focused on autonomy in Iran's Kurdish areas and has been conducting a string of hit-and-run attacks against Iranian targets in recent years.
During Putin's visit to Iran, Russia was reported to invest $40 billion in Iran's oil industry, building upon the $4 billion the Eurasian country has already invested in the sector.
The move follows a cooperation agreement between Russian companies, including the gas giant Gazprom, and the Islamic Republic, demonstrating how Western sanctions have brought the two countries together.
Putin has also claimed that progress has been made that may allow Russia to lift the blockade on Ukrainian wheat and thanked Erdogan for his mediation to help "move forward" a deal on Ukrainian grain exports.
Turkey, a NATO member, and Russia have been in opposing camps not just in the conflict in Syria but also in conflicts in Azerbaijan and Libya.
However, Ankara hasn't imposed sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine, making it a much-needed partner for Moscow.
Source: various news agencies.
Biden's first trip to the Middle East
The United States "will not walk away" from the Middle East, US President Joe Biden reaffirmed to allies during his trip to the region last week.
When he landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Biden made a series of pronouncements reaffirming Washington's commitment to Israel's security and his own affinity for the country.
As he headed to Palestinian territories, Biden struck a more balanced tone without explicitly criticizing Israel.
During the visit, Biden pledged $100m in additional aid to hospitals that serve Palestinians in Jerusalem.
While US officials say they are committed to reviving the Iran nuclear deal and Israel openly opposes the agreement, Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid displayed a united front against Tehran.
In Saudi Arabia, Biden said he brought up the killing of Khashoggi in a meeting with the crown prince and other Saudi officials. However, rights groups were quick to criticize the President over the encounter.
The trip didn’t result in an explicit agreement to boost production from the kingdom to tame oil prices that skyrocketed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But Biden appeared optimistic when addressing the issue.
In a joint statement on Friday, July 15, Washington and Riyadh "reaffirmed their commitment to a stable global energy market."
The White House later said the two countries finalized several bilateral agreements, including on energy security, without providing details.
Biden also attempted to reassert US leadership in the Middle East during the GCC+3 summit Saturday, July 16, with key regional leaders and promised that his administration would stay actively engaged amid fears that China and Russia could swiftly fill a leadership vacuum.
Since taking office, Biden's foreign policy focus has been mainly on countering China's growing geopolitical influence and Russia's war in Ukraine, raising questions about Biden's commitment to engagement in the Middle East.
Lebanese security forces, investigative judge raid central bank
Lebanese security forces, accompanied by judge Ghada Aoun, raided the country's Central Bank on Tuesday, July 19, in a divisive investigation against the bank's embattled governor.
Aoun had been investigating Gov. Riad Salameh and charged him with illicit enrichment and money laundering in March.
A handful of European countries, including Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein, are also investigating Salameh for alleged money laundering and embezzlement.
Aoun told the press after leaving the premises that she did not find Salameh and could not look for him in the building's offices and storage rooms.
State security forces raided Salameh's home earlier Tuesday, but he was not there.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the raid in a statement, calling it a "brash" move for a sensitive case in the troubled country.
Lebanon is grappling with a staggering economic crisis that has pushed over three-quarters of its population into poverty.
Many hold Salameh responsible for the crisis. The 71-year-old Central Bank governor, who has held the post for the past three decades, still enjoys the backing of most Lebanese political parties.
Iraq: Thousands of Moqtada al-Sadr supporters rally in Baghdad
In a show of strength for the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, hundreds of thousands of his supporters gathered for Friday, July 15, prayers in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad amid failed attempts to form a government.
Al-Sadr's bloc became the biggest faction in the Iraqi parliament, but he ordered his lawmakers to resign en masse after Sunni and Iraqi parties failed to come to a power-sharing agreement acceptable to the cleric.
Al-Sadr seeks to exclude his rivals from Iran-backed Shiite groups.
Although al-Sadr himself did not attend the Friday prayers, the mass gathering showed his ability to mobilize his support base and potentially disrupt the political process.
That's all for this week. Thanks for reading Inshallah. Share this article and subscribe to be up to date about news from the Middle East every week. It's free.
My name is Dario Sabaghi, a freelance journalist. I am interested in human rights and international news focusing on the MENA region.
Check out my work at dariosabaghi.com.
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Cover photo: AP