Greece, Cyprus and Israel will press ahead with the development of a pipeline channeling natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ office said on Sunday. Mitsotakis, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nicos Anastasiades, the president of Cyprus, will sign an agreement on the so-called EastMed pipeline in Athens on Jan. 2. The agreement will be concluded when Italy signs off too, the announcement said, without providing further details. European governments and Israel agreed in April to move forward with a Mediterranean pipeline project to carry natural gas from Israel to Europe, setting a target date of 2025 for completion.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL • NAZIH OSSEIRAN AND SUNE ENGEL RASMUSSEN
Lebanon’s president named a university professor and former education minister as new prime minister, in an effort to break a political deadlock amid an economic crisis and nationwide protests against the nation’s ruling class. Hassan Diab, the designated premier, was backed by Hezbollah, a Shiite political and militant group that is allied with Iran and considered a terrorist group by the U.S and several European countries. Thursday’s move risked inviting broader international sanctions and impeding Western aid to Lebanon.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS • SAMY MAGDY
Egypt’s president Wednesday called for “decisive” and “collective” action against countries supporting “terrorism” in an apparent reference to Turkey and Qatar, who back the Muslim Brotherhood group, which is outlawed in Egypt. The three countries also support opposing factions in the war-torn Libya. Addressing a two-day forum on peace in Africa in the southern city of Aswan, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi also said achieving sustainable development in Africa is needed, along with efforts to fight militant groups in Egypt and the Sahel region that stretches across Africa south of the Sahara Desert.
Times of Israel
With just hours remaining until the Knesset likely calls Israel’s 3rd elections within a year, Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz on Wednesday said that the country was only facing another vote because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking immunity from prosecution. Gantz, speaking at a Knesset conference on “protecting the rule of law” held by Labor-Gesher MK Revital Swid, said, “It now seems that we will be going into a third election cycle today because of Netanyahu’s attempt to obtain immunity.” Addressing his own Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting, meanwhile, chairman Avigdor Liberman placed the blame on both Blue and White and the Likud party, saying, “The two major parties, which together have 65 seats, are responsible.” If no candidate receives the support of 61 MKs by midnight Wednesday, national elections will automatically be called. Due to various timing conflicts, the Knesset is voting throughout the day on a bill to set the date of the elections before the end of the currently mandated 90-day waiting period, on March 2. See also, “ Israel Heads to Record Third Election, Extending Deadlock “ (New York Times)
BLOOMBERG • SIMONE FOXMAN AND ABBAS AL LAWATI
Qatar sent its prime minister to an annual gathering of Gulf Arab monarchs in the Saudi capital Tuesday, signaling progress in ending the 30-month regional rift though not enough for the country’s ruler to attend. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al Thani will lead Qatar’s delegation at the request of the emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, according to a statement carried by the state-run Qatar News Agency.
Times of Israel
At First in History, Knesset Enters 21-Day Period for Forming Coalition
Israel’s political system was to make history Thursday, entering for the first time a specially designated 21-day grace period in which any member of the Knesset will have the opportunity to become prime minister. Rivlin’s office said Wednesday the president would inform Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Thursday morning that the three-week grace period had begun. During this time, a majority of 61 serving MKs may ask Rivlin to appoint as prime minister any member of Knesset who agrees in writing to take on the role. That includes those who have already failed to do so in previous rounds, according to Article 10 of Israel’s Basic Law: The Government, so Netanyahu and Gantz are both still in the running.
In a sharp rebuke to the Trump administration, the 14 other U.N. Security Council members on Wednesday strongly opposed the U.S. announcement that it no longer considers Israeli settlements to be a violation of international law. They warned that the new American policy undermines a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The council’s monthly Mideast meeting, just two days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement, was dominated by negative reaction to the new American policy from countries representing all regions of the world who said all Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. Only Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, who is not a council member, spoke in support of the U.S. action, saying it “rights a historical wrong.” He also called the criticism an “obstacle to peace” that is “preventing direct negotiations” between Israelis and Palestinians.See also, “EU countries condemn US shift on Israeli settlements” (i24 News)
Bernie Sanders got applause at a Democratic presidential debate when he said it not good enough to be pro-Israel, and called for treating Palestinians with dignity.Sanders, a Vermont senator and among the front-runners in the race to garner the Democratic nomination, was one of several candidates asked Wednesday by MSNBC/Washington Post moderators whether they would take a tougher stance on Saudi Arabia, considering its human rights abuses. All the candidates said they would be less conciliatory to Saudi Arabia, and Sanders, who is Jewish, volunteered that he would also be tougher on Israel. “The same thing goes for Israel and the Palestinians,” Sanders said. “It is no longer good enough for us to be pro-Israel, I am pro-Israel, but we must treat the Palestinians with the dignity they deserve.” See also, “Sanders Says U.S. Must Rethink Israel Policy, Biden Slams Saudi Arabia in Dem’ Debate (Ha’aretz)
Amnesty International, citing “credible reports,” said Tuesday it believes at least 106 people have been killed during protests in Iran over a rise in government-set gasoline prices. Iran’s government, which has not made nationwide numbers available for the toll of the unrest that began Sunday, did not immediately respond to the report. Amnesty added that it “believes that the real death toll may be much higher, with some reports suggesting as many as 200 have been killed.” Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Tuesday that the protests have been a security matter, rather than caused by fuel prices, and not carried out by the people.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said he would submit his resignation on Tuesday, declaring he had hit a “dead end” in trying to resolve a crisis unleashed by huge protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite. The Sunni politician addressed the nation in a televised address after a mob loyal to Shi’ite Muslim groups Hezbollah and Amal attacked and destroyed a protest camp set up by anti-government demonstrators in Beirut. Lebanon has been paralyzed by the unprecedented wave of protests against the rampant corruption of the political class that has collectively led Lebanon into the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. See also, “What’s next for Lebanon after PM Hariri resigns?”(AP)
New York Times
US House Passes Resolution Recognizing Armenian Genocide
The House voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to formally recognize the Armenian genocide and denounce it as a matter of American foreign policy, a symbolic vindication for the Armenian diaspora made possible by a new torrent of bipartisan furor at Turkey. The passage of the legislation, by a 405-to-11 vote, is the first time a chamber of Congress has officially designated the 1915 mass killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide. Lawmakers had previously shirked from supporting such a resolution to preserve the United States’ relationship with Turkey, a NATO ally that has steadfastly denied that the atrocities amounted to genocide. See also, “U.S. HOUSE RECOGNIZES ARMENIAN GENOCIDE, BACKS TURKEY SANCTIONS” (JPost)
THE NEW YORK TIMES • RUKMINI CALLIMACHI AND FALIH HASSAN
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the cunning and enigmatic black-clad leader of the Islamic State who transformed a flagging insurgency into a global terrorist network that drew tens of thousands of recruits from 100 countries, has died at 48. His death was announced on Sunday by President Trump, who said al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest during a raid this weekend in northwestern Syria by United States Special Forces. Mr. Trump said preliminary tests had confirmed his identity.
THE NEW YORK TIMES • THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
The killing of the founder and leader of the Islamic State by United States commandos operating in Syria should certainly further weaken the most vile and deadly Islamist movement to emerge in the Middle East in the modern era. The world is certainly a better place with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi dead and a measure of justice meted out on behalf of all the women ISIS raped, all the journalists ISIS beheaded and the tens of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis it abused. Good for President Trump for ordering it, for the intelligence agents who set it up, for the allies who aided in it and for the Special Forces who executed it.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS • BASSEM MROUE
Lebanon’s embattled prime minister sought international support Tuesday for economic reforms announced a day earlier, which were intended to pacify massive protests calling for his government to resign. Saad Hariri hopes the reform package will increase foreign investments and help Lebanon’s struggling economy. But the nationwide demonstrations that began last week only grew larger Monday after the reforms were announced, with protesters dismissing them as more of the same “empty promises” seen in past decades that never materialized.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday that he cannot establishment a new Israeli government and that he is returning the mandate to form a coalition to President Reuven Rivlin, paving the way for a different candidate to try to create a government for the first time in over a decade. The premier made the announcement two days before his final deadline to present a coalition. Rivlin stated in response that he intends to tap the prime minister’s rival and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz. He is expected to formally announce his decision within 72 hours, by Thursday evening. Gantz will have 28 days to try to form a coalition. Responding to Netanyahu’s announcement, Gantz wrote on Twitter: “It’s time for Kahol Lavan.” In an official statement, his party said: “The time for spins is over, now is the time for actions. Kahol Lavan is determined to form a liberal national unity government headed by Benny Gantz, for which the people voted last month.”
See also, “NETANYAHU GIVES UP EFFORT TO FORM GOVERNMENT, RETURNS MANDATE” (JPost)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Saturday said that she was open to making aid to Israel conditional on whether the government ceases settlement building in the West Bank. “Right now, Netanyahu says he is going to take Israel in a direction of increasing settlements, [but] that does not move us in the direction of a two-state solution,” Warren responded when asked what her stance was on aid and settlement-building. “It is the official policy of the United States of America to support a two-state solution, and if Israel is moving in the opposite direction, then everything is on the table,” she said, before repeating: “Everything is on the table.” Warren and some Democrats, including fellow 2020 primary contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have criticized Israel’s settlement construction efforts as well as the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinian protesters.
REUTERS • TOM PERRY
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri indicated that solutions to a political crisis that has paralyzed his government were almost within reach following a meeting on Thursday with President Michel Aoun. The crisis spiraled out of a deadly June 30 shooting in the Chouf mountains that pitted groups represented in Hariri’s administration against each other.
House Majority Leader Hoyer: 90 Percent of Congress Stands with Israel
THE JERUSALEM POST • HERB KEINON
Regardless of who will emerge next summer as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, there will be a strong pro-Israel plank in the party’s platform, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. Hoyer, who is leading the largest-ever delegation of Democratic congresspeople to come to Israel on a trip sponsored by an AIPAC-affiliated charity, made the comments when asked to speculate how Israeli-U.S. relations might look under a Bernie Sanders presidency. Sanders, a leading presidential candidate, has been extremely critical of Israel, threatened to use U.S. military assistance to pressure the country, and has called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government “racist.”
BLOOMBERG • BARIS BALCI
Turkey can no longer “stay silent” about the threat posed by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters and will deploy troops east of the Euphrates River, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday. Erdogan said he had informed Washington and Russia of the decision, which came as talks are to continue this week on creating a “safe zone” in Syria — a move Turkey has called for to avert threats to its border.
New York Times
Saudi Arabia announced on Friday that it would allow adult women to obtain passports, travel and work without securing the permission of a male relative, dealing significant blows to the kingdom’s so-called “guardianship” system that has long been criticized by rights campaigners as oppressive to women. The new regulations, made by the Saudi cabinet and published in a government publication, are the latest in a series of steps by the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to shake off the kingdom’s image as one of the world’s most restrictive places for women. Since his father, King Salman, ascended to the throne in 2015 and began handing tremendous powers to his son, Prince Mohammed has launched initiatives aimed at diversifying the Saudi economy, confronting the kingdom’s regional foes and loosening social restrictions by allowing concerts and movie theaters.
Times of Israel
If a two-state solution is not achieved, Israel will suffer “demographic death” and will not be able to exist as a democratic state, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Tuesday. “Israel stands today before a big challenge — either the two-state solution or a demographic death,” Shtayyeh said in a speech at a meeting of Socialist International, an organization that brings together socialist parties around the world, at the upscale Carmel Hotel in Ramallah. “For the first time since 1948, the demographic balance is in favor of the Palestinians. Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, there are 6.8 million Palestinians — 3 million in the West Bank, 2 million in Gaza and 1.8 million in 1948 [Israel]. The Israelis are 6.6 million. The Palestinians are 200,000 more than them. “Either the two-state solution or a demographic death; either the two-state solution or no democratic or Jewish state; either the two-state solution or a racist regime in practice and law; either the two-state solution or no peace,” he declared.
BLOOMBERG • EDITORIAL
European nations, alarmed by Iran’s capture of a British oil tanker, are mounting a response to protect their commercial shipping in the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf. The Royal Navy has started to escort British ships, and a plan for a European naval mission has been endorsed by Denmark, France and Italy. It’s a promising start. But effectively curbing Iran’s misbehavior and safeguarding ships in the region will require a more ambitious — and truly international — effort. Most important, it needs to involve the U.S. Navy. The Europeans are wary of combining their fleets with a nearby American operation for fear of being identified with President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. France’s foreign minister says a separate effort is needed to reduce tensions and “create the conditions for inclusive regional talks on maritime security.”
THE WASHINGTON POST • DAVID IGNATIUS
Among intelligence professionals, President Trump’s nomination of an inexperienced, partisan politician to oversee America’s spy agencies prompted deep dismay — but also a stolid reaffirmation of the spymaster’s credo: Let’s get on with it. This combination of incredulity and stoicism was voiced by a half-dozen current and former officers I spoke with Monday about Trump’s choice of Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) to become director of national intelligence. The worry is partly that Ratcliffe lacks any real experience, and perhaps more that he has embraced Trump’s “deep state” conspiracy theories about the CIA and FBI. “This makes the workforce wonder, what are we doing here?” said one veteran CIA station chief. But a few moments later he affirmed: “This place is under siege. People say, carry on, protect the mission, avoid the firing range.”
Times of Israel
Canada’s Federal Court on Monday ruled that wines produced by Israelis in the West Bank can no longer be labeled as “Made in Israel.” Challenging a previous decision by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Judge Anne L. Mactavish determined that labels describing wines made in the settlements as Israeli products are “false, misleading and deceptive.” In her ruling, she did not take a position on how exactly such wines should be labeled, saying this was for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to decide. Mactavish also noted that settlements are not considered part of the State of Israel, as Canada does not recognize Israeli sovereignty beyond the pre-1967 borders. While the judge’s decision is legal and not political in nature, it could potentially strain otherwise strong ties between Jerusalem and Ottawa.In 2015, the European Union said goods produced in the settlements must not be labeled as made in Israel. Many senior officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced the union for the move, suggesting that it was comparable to the Nazi boycott of Jewish goods before World War II. See also, “Canadian federal court: ‘Misleading’ to label West Bank wine ‘Products of Israel’(JNS)
Portugal has suspended the issuance of entry visas for Iranian nationals for unspecified security reasons, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said on Tuesday, adding the move was not related to bilateral relations between the two countries. Answering a question from a lawmaker at parliamentary committee on whether such a move had been taken, Santos Silva said during the televised meeting: “Yes, we suspended those for security reasons … I will provide explanations later, but not publicly.”
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS • ARON HELLER
As Benjamin Netanyahu becomes Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, he is solidifying his place as the country’s greatest political survivor and the most dominant force in Israeli politics in his generation. He has persevered through scandals, crises and conflicts, winning election after election even as the country grows more bitterly polarized. His supporters credit him with keeping Israel safe and prosperous, maintaining its Jewish character and boosting its standing internationally. His opponents, with equally visceral emotion, claim he has dashed hopes for peace with the Palestinians, torn society apart with vicious attacks on minority Arabs and left-wing opponents, and infused politics with a culture of corruption.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Wednesday that he will not allow evictions of any communities, presumably referring in part to the evacuation of West Bank settlements as part of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Netanyahu made the statement at an event at the settlement of Revava marking the 40th anniversary of the Samaria regional council in the West Bank.“I personally commit to this, and the commitment has no expiration date. We will not let any community or town in the Land of Israel be evicted, neither Jewish nor Arab. We don’t forcibly evict people. We’re done with this nonsense. Israel under my leadership will not repeat the mistakes of the past,” he said, referring to the 2005 evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip under the leadership of PM Sharon. See also, Netanyahu: No uprooting of settlements in any peace plan” (JPost)
Iran is enriching uranium to 4.5% fissile purity, above the 3.67% limit set by its deal with major powers, the U.N. nuclear watchdog policing the deal told member states in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, diplomats familiar with the figures said. The International Atomic Energy Agency had previously only said Iran was over the 3.67% limit. It also said on Wednesday that Iran’s stock of enriched uranium was now 213.5 kg, over the deal’s 202.8 kg limit, and more than the 205 kg verified on July 1.
THE JERUSALEM POST • MAAYAN JAFFE-HOFFMAN
Nearly 50% of Palestinians living in Gaza believe the best means of ending the “occupation” is through armed conflict, according to a report released Monday by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR). According to the survey, 46.3% of Gazans and a third of Palestinians living in the West Bank believe that armed conflict is the best means of ending the conflict.
The Palestinian Authority is liable for civil damages for a series of terror attacks carried out during the Second Intifada (2000-2005), the Jerusalem District Court ruled on Monday. The unprecedented decision was obtained by Shurat Hadin on behalf of eight victims’ families. As the case moves forward to its next stage, the PA could be responsible for compensating the families with a maximum of $1 billion in damages. Some of the attacks involve Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but the court, based on the evidence presented, still held the PA liable.
THE FINANCIAL TIMES • DAVID SHEPPARD AND ANJI RAVAL
Iran’s oil minister has warned that the future of Opec is in jeopardy over the growing dominance of Saudi Arabia and Russia in the cartel’s affairs. The oil group and its allies are on course to extend production cuts of 1.2m barrels per day for at least another six months, after Iran said it would not block a deal struck at the weekend between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Wall Street Journal
Iran raised the stakes in its standoff with the U.S. and Europe on Thursday, warning that if the 2015 nuclear agreement unravels, it would follow the path of North Korea and quit a treaty aimed at stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. The threat, voiced by an Iranian official to reporters, marked the first time Tehran has explicitly used its participation in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, as leverage in its talks with European officials over keeping its commitments in the separate 2015 deal. Iran ratified the NPT in 1970, committing not to develop or allow the spread of nuclear weapons and to basic international inspections of its nuclear program. Leaving the NPT would suggest Iran is prepared to turn its back on years of insisting its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. See also, “Iran says it will never build a nuclear weapon” (Guardian)
THE TIMES OF ISRAEL • RAPHAEL AHREN
Bahrain sees the U.S.-led economic workshop taking place in Manama this week as a possible “gamechanger” tantamount in its scope to the 1978 Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, the Gulf state’s foreign minister said Wednesday, also firmly backing Israel’s right to exist. “We see it as very, very important,” Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop. Khalifa also stressed that his country recognizes Israel’s right to exist, knows that it is “there to stay,” and wants peace with it.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, that he remains a firm believer in a two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, but that it will only happen “when the economics and politics are right.” Speaking to Kushner at the Bahrain conference on Wednesday, Blair said the “Peace to Prosperity” plan was a good basis for doing the economics, but that a “deep cultural acceptance” on both the Israeli and Palestinian side was needed for the politics to work. See also, “Former UK PM reaffirms support for two-state solution to Palestinian issue” (Xinuah)
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS • SYLVIE CORBET
The U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, is meeting with top French, German and British diplomats in Paris for talks on the Persian Gulf crisis at a time when European powers are trying to save the 2015 nuclear deal struck with Tehran. European countries want to avoid a further escalation in tensions between the U.S. and Iran and are trying to persuade Iran not to leave the nuclear deal, which the U.S. pulled out of last year.
HA’ARETZ • JONATHAN LIS AND CHAIM LEVINSON
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed on Wednesday reports that he will consider an initiative to call off the September 17 election after it was proposed by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. The prime minister denied that he offered opposition party Kahol Lavan to form a rotation agreement, by means of which Likud and Benny Gantz’s party will share the premiership. “At no point was a rotation [agreement] offered, to this point there is contact between the Likud and Kahol Lavan and I don’t intend to give up on my natural partners to form a right-wing government,” the premier said.
THE TIMES OF ISRAEL • AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF
More than $110 million was raised Tuesday at a pledging conference to support the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, which has been struggling since the United States slashed funding. UNRWA chief Pierre Kraehenbuehl said the funding would allow the agency, which provides education and health services to Palestinians, to cover costs for the coming months and avoid a budget crisis. Around 35 countries took part in the conference, mostly European and Arab nations, with the biggest contributions coming from the EU, Germany and Britain.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS • AYA BATRAWY
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks Monday with leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about countering the military threat from Iran by building a broad, global coalition that includes Asian and European countries. While Pompeo has seemingly willing and wealthy partners in the two Arab allies, he is likely to face a tough sell in Europe and Asia, particularly from those nations still committed to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that President Donald Trump repudiated last year.
The first stage of President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan will be launched on Tuesday at a conference the White House touts as a bid to begin drumming up $50 billion in investment but which Palestinians deride as an “economy first” approach doomed to fail. The two-day international meeting in Bahrain, led by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been billed as the first part of Washington’s long-delayed broader political blueprint to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which will be unveiled at a later date. But neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments will attend the curtain-raising event in the Bahraini capital, Manama. See also, “Jared Kushner, US peace team face credibility test in Bahrain” (CNN)
THE WASHINGTON POST • MOHAMMAD SHTAYYEH
The Trump administration on Saturday unveiled the economic portion of its long-awaited diplomatic plan for Palestine and Israel. The release preceded a two-day “economic workshop” in Bahrain beginning Tuesday that is intended to drum up regional support for the proposal. Unfortunately, what has been revealed confirms our belief at the Palestinian Authority that the plan, which is being drafted by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and other Trump administration officials, is simply a repackaging of a stale, discredited concept known as “economic peace” long advocated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a longtime friend of the Kushner family.
Trump’s Mideast plan: $50 billion for Palestinian projects, travel corridor between West Bank and Gaza
HA’ARETZ • AMIR TIBON AND REUTERS
The Trump administration’s $50 billion Middle East economic plan calls for creation of a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies, and construction of a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza, according to U.S. officials and documents reviewed by Reuters. The “economy first” approach toward reviving the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process could be a hard sell to a largely skeptical region. The plan, set to be presented by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, at an international conference in Bahrain next week, includes 179 infrastructure and business projects, according to the documents.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL • DUSTIN VOLZ AND NANCY YOUSSEF
The U.S. covertly launched offensive cyber operations against an Iranian intelligence group’s computer systems on Thursday, the same day President Trump pulled back on using more traditional methods of military force, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The cyberstrikes, which were approved by Mr. Trump, targeted computer systems used to control missile and rocket launches that were chosen months ago for potential disruption, the officials said. The strikes were carried out by U.S. Cyber Command and in coordination with U.S. Central Command.
HA’ARETZ • JACK KHOURY
A Qatari delegation delivered $20 million in cash to the Strip on Sunday evening which is expected to be given to some 108,000 Gazan families as aid on Monday, sources in the enclave told Haaretz. Each family will receive $100 dollars that will be handed out at local branches of the postal bank. The rest of the money will be used to pay for electricity and humanitarian projects.
THE NEW YORK TIMES • EDITORIAL
What can be said with certainty about the explosions that rocked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday is that attacks on civilian targets are reprehensible. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a likely culprit, and a video taken by a United States Navy surveillance plane demands an explanation. It shows what American officials say was a Revolutionary Guards patrol boat pulling up alongside the Kokuka Courageous, one of the damaged tankers, several hours after the initial explosion, and removing a mine. Iranian officials denied involvement, and the Japanese owner of the Kokuka Courageous said Friday that the tanker was struck by a flying projectile, not a mine.
DEFENSE NEWS • JOE GOULD
The U.S. Senate on Thursday rejected Sen. Rand Paul’s measures to block sales of munitions to Bahrain and Boeing AH–64E Apache helicopters to Qatar. The vote on Bahrain was 43-56 and Qatar 42-57, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., announced their opposition Thursday. The White House earlier this week threatened to veto the measures.
BLOOMBERG • ISABEL REYNOLDS
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told visiting Shinzo Abe that his country doesn’t intend to produce, possess or use nuclear weapons, the Japanese leader said after a trip aimed at easing tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Abe, making the first visit of a sitting Japanese prime minister to Iran in 41 years, held talks with Khamenei on Thursday. Abe said he conveyed to Khamenei what he thought were the views of U.S. President Donald Trump, who sanctioned the visit when he met Abe for a summit in May.
BLOOMBERG • SELCAN HACAOGLU AND FIRAT KOZOK
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the U.S. of arming Kurdish militants in Syria as part of an effort to topple his government, elevating tensions already strained over a Turkish missile deal with Russia. Turkey is pushing the U.S. to collect heavy weapons it supplied to the Syrian Kurds, a key sticking point in a joint effort to create a “safe zone” across a section of northern Syria, according to a senior Turkish security official. Turkey wants to secure an area along its border to keep the Kurdish fighters away from the frontier.
THE TIMES OF ISRAEL • TIMES OF ISRAEL
For three and a half years, Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency played a cat-and-mouse game with the Hezbollah terror group to stymie its efforts to establish explosives storehouses from Thailand to New York, an Israeli intelligence official confirmed this week. The largest cache, containing some three tons of ammonium nitrate, a key ingredient for some types of explosives, was found at four locations in north London, sites raided by the Metropolitan Police in September 2015. Other caches planted by Hezbollah cells were discovered in Cyprus, Thailand and as-yet unnamed European countries, according to reports.
Russia said on Tuesday it plans to deliver its S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey in July, setting the clock ticking on a U.S. threat to hit Ankara with sanctions if it goes ahead with a deal that has strained ties between the NATO allies. Turkey and the United States have sparred publicly for months over Ankara’s order for the S-400s, which are not compatible with the transatlantic alliance’s systems.
The UN nuclear watchdog believes Iran has followed through with threats to increase enriched uranium production, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told a press conference on Monday. The revelation comes as the International Atomic Energy Association said earlier on Monday it was worried about increasing tensions over Iran’s nuclear drive following Tehran’s announcement it would be disengaging in part from the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers. Iran recently announced it would be suspending some of its commitments in the Joint Plan of Action (JCPOA) aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Amano declined to elaborate on the rate of Iran’s current uranium enrichment, a key aspect of Iran’s nuclear program. See also, “Iran’s foreign minister: Netanyahu wants to destroy us, and we will respond” (TOI)
THE NEW YORK TIMES • DAVID M. HALBFINGER
Israel has a right to annex at least some, but “unlikely all,” of the West Bank, the United States ambassador, David M. Friedman, said in an interview, opening the door to American acceptance of what would be an enormously provocative act. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to begin annexing Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a move that would violate international law and could be a fatal blow to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Under certain circumstances,” Mr. Friedman said, “I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”
ISRAEL HAYOM • NETA BAR
Iran is working to arm the various terrorist organizations active in Judea and Samaria with the aim of sparking fresh hostilities against Israel, recent remarks by senior officials in Tehran reveal. A report published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on Wednesday exposed a series of comments from officials showing that the Iranian regime has not abandoned its hopes of instigating a bloody uprising in Judea and Samaria. Former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, who now serves as security adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, spoke on Quds Day — marked last Friday — and said that support for the Palestinians was a fundamental principle of the Islamic Revolution, and would continue until the “Zionist regime” was eliminated.
THE JERUSALEM POST • BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
Germany’s Bundestag rejected a bill on Thursday to outlaw the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah in the federal republic. An array of parties comprising the Christian Democratic Union, Christian Social Union, the Social Democratic Party, the Left, the Greens and Free Democrats opposed an anti-Hezbollah bill authored by the far-right party Alternative for Germany party.
THE WASHINGTON POST • CURTIS RYAN
The recent visit of Jared Kushner to Amman left many Jordanians worried that the Kushner plan, or President Trump’s alleged “deal of the century,” will try to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Jordan’s expense. Less than a year ago, Jordanians were on edge over rumors regarding a Trump administration peace plan, including a potential confederation between Jordan and Palestinian territories — a proposal that was floated as new but was in fact quite old and a nonstarter for Jordan. Even as a political crisis in Israel could jeopardize the plan, regional meetings and summits on the horizon have Jordanians concerned about what the Trump administration has in store.
THE WASHINGTON POST • LOVEDAY MORRIS AND MIRIAM BERGER
In a stunning turn, Israel will head to elections for a second time in less than six months after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government before a midnight Wednesday deadline. Rather than give someone else the chance to do so, his party advanced a bill to dissolve the parliament and trigger new elections in September.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Thursday urged Muslim nations to confront recent attacks in the region that the U.S. and its allies have blamed on Iran with “all means of force and firmness.” Ibrahim al-Assaf made the comments at a meeting of foreign ministers of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation ahead of a series of summits in the kingdom beginning Thursday.
THE JERUSALEM POST • KHALED ABU TOAMEH
The Palestinians can’t continue recognizing Israel as long as it does not recognize them, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said on Sunday. “We will reexamine all agreements signed with Israel,” he said in a speech delivered during a Ramadan iftar meal for families of Palestinian prisoners and those killed by the IDF in the city of Halhoul, 5 km. north of Hebron. “It is impossible to continue recognizing Israel as long as it does not recognize us.”
THE TIMES OF ISRAEL • TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF
Israel and Hamas have reached an agreement for a six-month ceasefire along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, Channel 12 news reported Monday. According to the report, the agreement includes a Hamas obligation to halt violent incidents along the border fence, maintaining a buffer zone 300 meters from the border; an end to the launching of incendiary balloons at Israeli communities and nighttime clashes between Gazans and security forces; and a stop to flotillas trying to break through the maritime border between Gaza and Israel. In return, Israel will once again allow fishing at up to 15 nautical miles off Gaza’s coast, enable United Nations cash-for-work programs, allow medicine and other civil aid to enter the Strip and and open negotiations on matters relating to electricity, crossings, healthcare and funds.
Times of Israel
PM Dismisses Claims that Annexation Would Endanger Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to former security senior security officials who reportedly warned yesterday against annexing parts of the West Bank. Dismissing the claims that such a move — pledged by the premier days before last month’s elections — would “endanger the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu says that “regions in Judea and Samaria are not just a guarantee of Israel’s security — they are also our patrimony.” “The same ‘experts’ supported the Iran nuclear deal and warned that ‘Bibi is taking a wrong turn and ruining the alliance with America,’” he adds in a tweet. Earlier today, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan of Netanyahu’s Likud party said annexation was a “natural and moral” step, and Likud MK Sharren Haskel reportedly filed a bill proposing an annexation of the Jordan Valley.
USA TODAY • MICHAEL DORAN
Donald Trump has a well-articulated strategy toward Iran. Like almost every other Republican candidate for president in 2016, he argued that President Barack Obama empowered Iran at the expense of America’s traditional allies and its own vital interests. Trump has implemented instead a policy of containment. When critics claim that his strategy lacks an “endgame,” they are really expressing nostalgia for the clarity of Obama’s vision. The Iranian regime, Obama told us, was moderating, it was willing to dispense with its ambitions to become a nuclear weapons state and was eager to stabilize the Middle East in cooperation with the West. Taken together, these trends inevitably led to an attractive endgame: strategic accommodation between Washington and Tehran.
Times of Israel
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has vowed that his country would never pay restitution for Jewish properties stolen during the Holocaust, saying that such a move would be a “victory for Hitler.” At a Saturday campaign rally in Lodz, Morawiecki doubled down on his insistence that his Law & Justice party “would not consent” to claims of Holocaust restitution, telling voters “We will defend Poland.”Morawiecki said paying restitution “violates international law and would also be a posthumous victory for Hitler, which is why we will never allow it.” Poland is the only country in the European Union that has not passed comprehensive national legislation to return, or provide compensation for, private property confiscated by the Nazis or nationalized by the communist regime.
Jordanian King Abdullah II fired several senior officials over the past week following reports of a plot to destabilize the kingdom, including the general intelligence chief, the king’s adviser on policy and information and several other senior advisers. The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas reported that several senior and influential Jordanian figures had conspired to hold a mass protest outside the royal palace in Amman to demonstrate a lack of public confidence in Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz and to create instability in the kingdom. The newspaper cited sources that it described as reliable. See also, “Jordan in crucible of Middle East peace deal and Syrian refugee crisis” (The Hill)
President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, had already tweeted “False!” on Friday to what he said were reports that the proposal would give part of Egypt’s Sinai desert to the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. On Wednesday, Greenblatt denied that the plan envisages a confederation involving Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “Please don’t spread rumors,” Greenblatt wrote.
The White House is discouraging the use of the term “two-state solution” when describing possible outcomes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A senior White House official on Monday confirmed, “The two-state solution term means different things to different people… There is no point in using a phrase that never achieved peace. Our plan provides a clear, realistic and detailed vision of what peace could actually look like.”
The Next Israeli Government?
Benjamin Netanyahu is set to continue as Israel’s Prime Minister after final results show that his Likud party can form a 65 seat coalition with five other parties.
The New Right – which failed to win any seats by only a few thousand votes – called for a recount of the 200,000 double envelope votes which include those of soldiers, hospital patients and diplomats posted abroad. Gesher and Zehut failed to win any seats.
Times of Israel
Foreign ministers from G-7 countries had “clear differences” during discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian situation, the group said in a joint statement. The final communique from the G7 came after a two-day meeting in Brittany, France. While the ministers’ statement didn’t outline their disagreements, it said that they “remain united in our belief that this conflict has gone on for too long.” The foreign ministers called for a resumption of talks between the two sides and asked for an end to incitement and violence. They also said the humanitarian and security situation in the Gaza Strip needed “addressing.”
U.S. officials are preparing an official document to codify recognition by the United States of Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights and President Donald Trump is likely to sign it next week, a senior administration official said on Friday. Trump announced on Thursday that it was time for the United States to recognize Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights that Israel seized from Syria in 1967. Trump is likely to sign the presidential document when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Washington on Monday, the official said.
Iran publicly hangs man on homosexuality charges
THE JERUSALEM POST • BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
The Islamic Republic of Iran publicly hanged a 31-year-old Iranian man after he was found guilty of charges related to violations of Iran’s anti-gay laws, according to the state-controlled Iranian Students’ News Agency. The unidentified man was hanged on January 10 in the southwestern city of Kazeroon based on criminal violations of “lavat-e be onf” – sexual intercourse between two men, as well as kidnapping charges, according to ISNA. Iran’s radical sharia law system proscribes the death penalty for gay sex.
Amid threat of new sanctions, Iran accuses France of ‘destabilizing’ Middle East, ttps://www.timesofisrael.com/amid-threat-of-new-sanctions-iran-accuses-france-of-destabilizing-middle-east/ via @timesofisrael
Saudi Arabia appears to be testing ballistic missiles program, satellite images show https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/saudi-arabia-appears-to-be-testing-ballistic-missiles-program-satellite-images-show-1.6873634
16 January 2019
Election Wild Card: Joint (Arab) List Seeks To Overcome Internal Turmoil
By Julia Altmann | The Media Line
January 13, 2019, http://www.themedialine.org/news/election-wild-card-joint-arab-list-seeks-to-overcome-internal-turmoil/