Taking tankers. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said that on July 14 it seized in the Persian Gulf a foreign tanker loaded with 1 million liters of smuggled fuel. The IRGC did not identify the tanker or the nationalities of the 12 crew members, but a cargo shipment tracking service said Iranian forces towed a Panamanian-flagged vessel owned by the United Arab Emirates, which it identified as the MT Riah, on the day in question. And on Wednesday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said Iran had towed a ship – which the United States said belonged to the UAE – suffering a technical malfunction into an Iranian harbor. This comes as CNN reported that the U.S. is sending 500 troops to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia as part of the deployment of 1,000 troops to the Middle East that was announced last month. The United Kingdom also announced earlier this week that it was deploying a third warship to the gulf to defend shipping lanes.
UAE draws down. The United Arab Emirates has withdrawn 260 troops stationed on Socotra Island, located off the coast of Yemen, for training that’s set to take place in the UAE. The Emirati government has not elaborated on what the training would entail or why it couldn’t take place on Socotra. The soldiers are expected to return to the island afterward, but the timing is curious as the UAE is generally drawing down its forces in Yemen. Over the past week, Saudi Arabia has taken control of two ports – Mocha and Khokha – that were previously held by the UAE.
Disagreement in Italy. Italy’s governing coalition is still in turmoil. The Five Star Movement and the League are struggling to agree on granting greater autonomy to two northern regions, with the League backing the north and Five Star concerned about the impact on public funding for the south. Both parties are also ramping up for a fight over next year’s budget – Five Star wants to prioritize a minimum wage, the League wants tax cuts. At the EU level, Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio accused the League of reneging on a promise to vote for European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen, which he said put Italy at risk of isolation in the bloc. And beyond Europe, League party chief and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has been dragged into a scandal involving illicit Russian funding for his party. Five Star has not pressed the issue too hard, but Di Maio has called on Salvini to appear before parliament to answer questions. For his part, Salvini told two Italian dailies that everything will change if Five Star keeps holding up talks on justice reforms, regional autonomy and the budget.
- The World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency of international concern in the Democratic Republic of Congo following 2,500 confirmed cases of Ebola – the second-largest outbreak in history.
- A Reuters poll of 40 economists found that most believe Turkey’s economy will see a 1.5 percent contraction by the end of this year.
- The U.S. government formally expelled Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program in response to its decision to buy the Russian-made S-400 air defense system.
- Estonia’s outgoing air force chief said NATO’s response time needs to improve, adding that the country was contemplating jointly developing or purchasing an air defense system with Latvia and Lithuania.
- Poland’s industrial output fell by 2.7 percent in June year over year, confounding forecasts of an increase by nearly that much. This may be an indicator of weakening domestic demand in Germany and the eurozone.
- The British House of Commons passed by a 41-vote margin a motion that will prevent the next prime minister from proroguing Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31.