Saudi Arabia Ignites Oil Price War, Sends Markets Tumbling

Saudi Arabia and Russia had a falling out over how to deal with the impact of coronavirus on the demand for oil. The result—a global stock market rout unseen since the financial crisis of 2008. Saudi Arabia’s surprise decision to increase crude oil production, coupled with the lockdown in Italy and, at the time, a seeming inadequate response by the U.S. to the virus, sent stock markets tumbling. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

Since then, Saudi Arabia has intensified the price war by continuing to step up production to a record high of 13 million barrels a day. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

Likud Picks Up One Knesset Seat for 36 Total, but Conservatives Come Up Three Shy of Majority Block

The big news in Israel the past several weeks has been the upcoming elections, which were held on March 2. Although exit polls confirmed a surge for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, it wasn’t enough to put his conservative/right-wing coalition over the top. Although Likud captured 36 seats to rival Blue and White’s 33, the right-wing bloc supporting Likud still came up three seats short of the majority needed to form a government. Voter turnout was an impressive 71.32 percent. Reported by The Times of Israel (03/05/20). Read more…

On the conservative side of the ledger, Likud picked up 36 seats, the Shas picked up 9 seats, Yamina picked up 6, and the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) picked up 7, bringing the right wing bloc a total of 58 seats. On the center-left side of the ledger, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) picked up 33 seats, the Arab Joint List picked up an unprecedented 15, and Labor-Gesher-Meretz picked up 7 seats, for a total of 55 seats. And once again sitting as kingmaker is Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party with 7 seats that can make a majority for either block. Reported by The Times of Israel (03/04/20). Read more…

 

Liberman Expected to Play Kingmaker, Expected to Back Gantz

Speculation soon began that Liberman would recommend that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz be tasked with forming a new government. If Liberman backs Gantz, the latter could receive more recommendations as a result. Reported by The Times of Israel (03/05/20). Read more…

Liberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, announced that it would support legislation barring Netanyahu from forming the next government. Blue and White, Labor-Gesher-Meretz, and the Arab Joint List have all said they would back the legislation, ensuring a majority. Reported by The Times of Israel (03/05/20). Read more…

Benjamin Netanyahu accused Gantz of “trying to steal the election.” Netanyahu told a meeting of right-wing factions that support him, “The people’s will is clear. The national Zionist camp includes 58 seats. The leftist Zionist camp includes 47 seats.” He also said that “The Joint List, which attacks our soldiers and opposes the State of Israel, is not part of the equation.” Reported by The Times of Israel (03/04/20). Read more…

Netanyahu repeated the accusation on Saturday, while praising Likud’s victory, 36 seats, the most it has ever garnered. Reported by The Times of Israel (03/07/20). Read more…

In turn, Benny Gantz accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of inciting violence. Linking the accusation to Netanyahu’s upcoming corruption trial, Gantz said, “Netanyahu and his people are intentionally fueling violent and extreme discourse. Netanyahu is ignoring the election results and is prepared to burn everything on his way to avoiding trial.” Reported by The Times of Israel (03/06/20). Read more…

Likud has also said that it will petition Israel’s high court the require all tallying protocols to be released. The party says it wants to correct “errors in the recording and writing up of results,” though it provided no evidence of errors. Israel’s Central Election Committee rejected any suggestion by Likud there was political interference in the tallying of the vote. Reported by The Times of Israel (03/06/20). Read more…

Meanwhile, on Saturday, lawmakers from the Blue and White and Yisrael Beiteinu parties vowed they would form a government without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Reported by The Times of Israel (03/07/20). Read more…

Two weeks prior to the election, Israel’s Justice Ministry announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial would start on March 17, 2020. Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, filed indictments against Netanyahu on January 28, 2020, charging him with fraud, breach of trust, and bribery. Reported by The Times of Israel (02/28/20). Read more…

Prior to the election, Netanyahu challenged Benny Gantz to a televised debate. Describing his challenge as an offer that could be impossible for Gantz to reject, Netanyahu said, “We will debate on TV, we will speak to the people without any scripts.” Reported by i24 News (02/19/20). Read more…

Gantz rejected the challenge, noting that Netanyahu has avoided debates for over a decade, including Gantz’s challenge in the last round of elections. Gantz said, “This whole event is one big media spin. I don’t work for this spin, I don’t work for Netanyahu.” Netanyahu fired back, saying, “Gantz is scared of a debate and he knows why. Israel needs a strong leader and not a coward. If Gantz is scared to come to a debate against the prime minister, how will he withstand the great challenges of the State of Israel?” Reported by The Times of Israel (02/19/20). Read more…

However, half of Israelis polled said they would like to see a debate between Netanyahu and Gantz. Reported by i24 News (02/20/20). Read more…

A week prior to the election, Netanyahu announced that he would move forward with a highly controversial plan to build settlements east of Jerusalem. The move was seen as an offering to hardline nationalist voters. Although the plan was drafted back in 1995, it has been put on hold repeatedly due to strong international condemnation because its effect would be to cut the West Bank in two and connect the Maale Adumim settlement to Jerusalem. Reported by The Guardian (02/25/20).Read more…

 

Arab Joint List Garners Historic 15 Seats

Saturday before the election Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, predicted his party would pick up 15 seats. Speaking to Israel’s Channel 12, Odeh said Israeli Arabs “want the fall of Netanyahu because he is the greatest inciter against Arab citizens and the godfather of the ‘Deal of the Century.’” Reported by i24 News (02/29/20). Read more…

He was right about picking up 15 seats, and after the results came in, Odeh said the party had made a “huge achievement” and told Israeli Arabs, “Brothers and sisters, you have created a historic day. From the first elections in 1949 until today, we have not received this degree of support and this number of seats.” Reported by The Times of Israel (03/03/20). Read more…

Netanyahu and Gantz Trade Jabs Before and After Election

In a bid to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel filed a petition with Israel’s High Court of Justice arguing that Netanyahu should not be allowed to form the next government as he faces trial on criminal charges. The group said that “A person accused of criminal charges, in particular serious charges such as bribery, fraud and breach of trust, cannot be seen as fit to take upon himself the role of forming a government.” The organization also accused the interim prime minister of “launching direct and harmful attacks against the components of Israeli democracy” and engaging “in a methodical and premeditated process of delegitimization of law enforcement authorities and their executive bodies — from the police, through to the State Attorney’s Office, the attorney general, the Knesset legal adviser, the courts and judges.” Reported by The Times of Israel (03/03/20). Read more…

Shortly after the results started coming in, Avigdor Liberman pledged that his Yisrael Beiteinu party would do “everything” to prevent a fourth round of elections. “As we promised voters, we will do everything to prevent fourth elections,” Liberman told reporters. Reported by The Times of Israel (03/03/20).Read more…

A week later, Liberman laid out five conditions for joining a potential coalition. Likud rejected the conditions because they contained secularist demands unacceptable to the ultra-Orthodox parties that support Netanyahu. Blue and White, however, quickly accepted the demands. Reported by The Times of Israel (03/08/20). Read more…

 

Hardline Conservatives Win Big in Iran Parliamentary Elections

Israel wasn’t the only country having elections. Iran also had parliamentary elections, and in response to the disqualifying of numerous moderate candidates, the United States slapped sanctions on the five Iranian officials responsible for winnowing the field of moderates. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin issued a statement regarding the sanctions, saying, “The Trump administration will not tolerate the manipulation of elections to favor the regime’s malign agenda, and this action exposes those senior regime officials responsible for preventing the Iranian people from freely choosing their leaders.” Reported by i24 News (02/20/20). Read more…

Iranian hardline conservatives hope that anger at Iran’s moderates will drive the conservative vote and allow them to retake parliament. If so, they would be able to curb the power of Iran’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani. Iranians are angry about government corruption, falling living standards, and political mistakes made by the current government. Reported by The Guardian (02/20/20).Read more…

Concerns that turnout would be low caused Iran’s senior leaders to warn that no-shows for the elections would only encourage U.S. President Donald Trump to increase sanctions against the country. And Iran’s reformist politicians are divided over whether to participate in the elections—those who advocate abstention say the elections are rigged, while those who support voting say the stakes are too high to let the conservatives take the parliament. Reported by The Guardian (02/21/20). Read more…

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said before the elections that “Enemies want to see what the results of the U.S. maximum pressure are.” Khamenei cast his ballot Friday, saying, “Anyone who cares about Iran’s national interests should participate in the election.” Reported by Fox News (02/21/20). Read more…

Despite senior leaderships efforts, turnout was low for the elections, with only about 20 percent of the eligible voters participating. Reported by The Guardian (02/21/20). Read more…

Yet that may have worked in hardliners favor, as they soundly beat moderate candidates winning a landslide victory. Reported by The Guardian (02/22/20). Read more…

 

Tehran Moves to Contain Coronavirus

Iran is also dealing with the coronavirus threat. Iran announced measures to prevent the spread of the virus, which include limiting parliamentarians’ contact with the public, as there are 23 new cases of the virus in the parliament. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also ordered the military to assist the Health Ministry in combatting the virus. Iran has the highest rate of infection outside of China, where the virus originated. Reported by Fox News (03/03/20). Read more…

Authorities have warned that they may use “force” to limit travel in the country in an effort to blunt the spread of the virus. Kianoush Jahanpour, the head of Iran’s Health Ministry, said 124 people have died from the virus, while another 4,747 have been infected. Reported by Fox News (3/07/20). Read more…

Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has accused the United States using the virus as a biological attack. An Iranian news agency reported that Salami claimed the virus may be the product of an “American biological invasion.” Reported by Fox News (03/05/20). Read more…

At least one high-ranking official has been killed by coronavirus. Hossein Sheikholeslam, 68, a former ambassador to Syria has died. Sheikholeslam is famous in Iran for being a leader of the radical students who stormed the American embassy in Iran in 1979 and took 52 Americans hostage for 444-days. The virus has also killed several other Iranian officials, including Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a member of the council that advises supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Reported by Fox News (03/07/20). Read more…

 

Iran Enriched Ukranian Stockpile Triples Says IAEA

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium, in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal. In its most recent count, the IAEA says that Iran now has 1,020.9 kilograms of enriched uranium, compared to 372.3 kilograms on November 3, 2019. Reported by Fox News (03/04/20). Read more…

A week earlier, Israel’s Benny Gantz told Israel’s i24 News that Israel has the option to strike Iran’s nuclear sites. “We have the option, we will keep the option, we will develop the military option, we will constantly nurture it to the degree that we might one day have to use it,” Gantz said.  Reported by i24 News (02/25/20). Read more…

 

Netanyahu Says Arab Israeli Towns Won’t Be In Future Palestinian State

An area of contention is whether Trump’s plan redraws the border to include several Arab Israel towns in a future Palestinian state. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says that isn’t so. In a media interview with Israel’s most popular Arabic news website PANET, Netanyahu stated, “We need to erase the idea of transfer. There is no transfer. There won’t be a transfer. No one, Jewish or Arab, will be uprooted from his home.” Netanyahu also told the media site that the right was missing only three seats for victory and that he would be happy if they came from Arab citizens, “I will be very happy if I actually get them from the Arab citizens — do you know why? Because I really believe in that, because we are working for all and we’re the only ones who’ve done it in infrastructure and welfare.” Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh later told Channel 12, “only a true racist like Netanyahu can think the Arab citizens are foolish enough to forget that only two months ago he wrote we want to annihilate children and women. Two interviews will not cover for a decade of incitement and fanning of hatred.” Reported by The Times of Israel (02/20/20). Read more… Reported by i24 News (02/19/20). Read more…