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Media Summary

Nicki Minaj cancels Saudi Arabia concert

The Guardian and BBC report that Nicki Minaj has pulled out of a concert in Saudi Arabia because she says she wants to show support for women’s rights, gay rights and freedom of expression. “After careful reflection I have decided to no longer move forward with my scheduled concert at Jeddah World Fest. While I want nothing more than to bring my show to fans in Saudi Arabia, after better educating myself on the issues, I believe it is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression,” Minaj said in a statement on Tuesday to the Associated Press. Minaj was originally scheduled to headline the concert on 18 July. “This is what leadership looks like. We are grateful to Nicki Minaj for her inspiring and thoughtful decision to reject the Saudi regime’s transparent attempt at using her for a public relations stunt,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation.

The BBC reports that Iran’s Ambassador to the UN is insisting that the Europeans do more to compensate Tehran for economic losses inflicted by US sanctions – otherwise Iranians will continue to exceed limits on their nuclear fuel production. However, Majid Takht-Ravanchi told the BBC that Iran would stay in the nuclear accord for now. He also said there would be consequences if the UK didn’t release an Iranian oil tanker it seized recently off the coast of Gibraltar. “For the time being we are in the deal and we invite others to stay in the deal,” he said. But Iran would move to the “third phase” of its stepped-up uranium enrichment programme unless the Europeans kept promises to uphold the economic benefits of the accord.

Kim Sengupta writes in the Independent on the power struggle surrounding the UAE’s latest runaway princess.  Sengupta writes: “Legal battle lines have been drawn up for a court case in London at the end of this month in which unprecedented revelations are expected to be made about one of the most powerful monarchies in the Middle East. The case, involving the ruler of Dubai and his sixth wife, comes with some extraordinary chapters of intrigue, claims of violence, and accusations of abuse – all of which have received widespread international publicity.”

The Times reports that a Royal Navy warship has been deployed to escort a tanker through the Gulf after Iranian officials threatened to impound British vessels. HMS Montrose, a Type-23 frigate, yesterday moved to “shadow” the oil tanker Pacific Voyager, sailing under an Isle of Man flag, as it moved towards and passed through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf of Oman. The escort is expected to end once the tanker leaves the strait’s immediate threat zone but it is unclear how far that is deemed to extend. Concerns arose about Pacific Voyager after it appeared to drift off the coast of Iran on Saturday, a day after Tehran issued the threat against British vessels. It was a response to the detention of an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar suspected of being used to evade EU sanctions. Pacific Voyager had been en route from Singapore to Ras Tanura in Saudi Arabia to collect its cargo. The tanker was confirmed to be “safe and well” by UK Maritime Trade Operations, however, and was said to have halted to adjust its arrival time at the next port. It moved again about six hours later.

In the FT Laura Pitel and Ian Bott explain “Why Turkey’s S-400 missile purchase angers the US.”  The S-400 — or the SA-21 Growler, as it is known within the Nato defence alliance — is one of the world’s most advanced air defence systems. When deployed as part of a wider military infrastructure, the S-400 has the capacity to take out a wide range of threats including drones, fighter jets and cruise missiles. Though US officials have warned Turkey of the consequences of proceeding, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone ahead with the deal. Turkey, a Nato member, has not yet said where its two sets of S-400 systems, or “regiments”, will be deployed. Washington’s primary concern is that Turkey’s purchase jeopardises the security of Nato’s new F-35 stealth fighter jet. US defence officials say the Russian military could use an S-400 stationed in Turkey to collect sensitive data about the fifth generation aircraft, which is due to form the backbone of Nato member states’ future air operations.  Turkey disputes this, arguing that they will protect the security of the F-35 by ensuring that the new S-400 system is not linked up to Turkey’s wider, Nato-integrated defence architecture. The US remains unsatisfied by this proposal.

Josie Ensor reports in the Telegraph that Britain is ‘planning to send more troops’ to Syria to backfill US withdrawal. President Donald Trump in December declared a complete withdrawal of the US’s some 2,000 troops from Syria, an announcement that took even his own advisers by surprise. Senior officials and diplomats privately called the decision hasty, warning the Islamic State would continue to pose a serious threat even after its territorial defeat.

Jewish News has published an interview with Boris Johnson in which he tells Iran to “cease this madness” over its breach of the nuclear deal and said he was “prepared” to re-start sanctions against Tehran. The former foreign secretary’s comments came in the only Jewish media interview of his campaign to become prime minister, during which he vowed to maintain the proscription of terror groups on EU banned lists after Brexit and to pursue Palestinian leaders over their policy of paying salaries to terrorists. He also responded to concern over his labelling of Israel’s actions in the 2014 Gaza conflict as “disproportionate” and said “wild horses wouldn’t keep me away” from becoming the latest PM to visit the Jewish state. The Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP described himself as a “passionate Zionist” and Israel as “great country” that “I love”. It was in this context that he sought to explain his characterisation of the IDF’s operation against Hamas in 2014 as “disproportionate” – a claim that differentiated the London mayor’s response from that of David Cameron’s government. “Those of us who support Israel always want Israel to show the greatest possible restraint in all its actions and to do everything it can to minimise civilian casualties. It’s totally unacceptable that innocent Israeli civilians should face the threat of rocket fire and bombardment from Gaza. I understand why Israel reacted in the way that it did and I understand the provocation and the outrageous behaviour that occasioned that response. All I’m saying is that you know in any such response it’s always right to be proportionate.” Johnson said he “could see the logic” in moving the British Embassy to Jerusalem but believed “the moment for us to play that card is when we make further progress”. He also strongly condemned the Palestinian policy of offering salaries to terrorists. “There are funds that are made available to the Palestinian Authority that end up in the pockets of terrorist families, and that is indeed a point I raised with Mahmoud Abbas, and will continue to raise.”  Closer to home, the leadership frontrunner confirmed for the first time that “all the necessary steps” will be taken to ensure terror groups like Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade remain proscribed in Britain post-Brexit.  The former London mayor committed to “copy over the list of organisations that are currently on EU-only lists”.

The BBC reports that a UN expert is warning that the US must act on a report into Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death last October. “Silence is not an option. Speaking up is required but not enough. We have to act,” Agnes Callamard said. Her inquiry concluded that Khashoggi’s death at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul was “an extrajudicial execution”. The US should conduct an FBI or civil law investigation, she said.

Reuters has an exclusive report that Iran’s release last month of Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese businessman with U.S. permanent residency, after four years in prison was meant as an opening for U.S.-Iranian talks, according to three Western sources familiar with the issue. The gesture, however, was not enough for Washington, which did not pursue it. “It was a missed opportunity,” one U.S. source said of Zakka’s June 11 release and the U.S. decision not to pursue talks. “We should have explored whether there was something there.”

Reuters and the Guardian reports that the United States hopes to enlist allies over the next two weeks or so in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, where Washington blames Iran and Iran-aligned fighters for attacks, the top U.S. general said on Tuesday Under the plan, which has only been finalised in recent days, the United States would provide command ships and lead surveillance efforts for the military coalition. Allies would patrol waters near those U.S. command ships and escort commercial vessels with their nation’s flags. Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, articulated those details to reporters following meetings on Tuesday about it with acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The Guardian reports that officials in Saudi Arabia have privately complained about the kingdom’s low ranking on an influential press freedom index, less than one year after the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi murder squad. Campaigners at Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Saudis aired their dismay at a series of unprecedented meetings with government officials in Riyadh.

In the Israeli media Ben Caspit writes in Maariv that Prime Minister Netanyahu is examining the possibility of a new defence pact between Israel and the United States to give him a boost before the September election. Senior political officials who have been involved in the idea have denied that this is a “deal,” where Trump will announce a defence pact in exchange for secret promises from Netanyahu that he will give a positive answer to the US peace plan, which is expected to be unveiled after the elections. Nearly every US administration has discussed that complex issue, which has quite a few advantages and disadvantages for Israel. In most cases in the past, the Israeli security establishment had reservations about signing a full defence pact between the two countries. While such an agreement would provide Israel with an umbrella of American protection on the nuclear issue, it is thought it may severely hamper Israel’s freedom to act independently.

Most of the media is focused on domestic election news. Kan Television reports a poll that shows neither of the large blocs with a clear victory. If elections were held today, Likud and Blue and White would each win 30 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu and the Joint List would both win 9, UTJ 8, Shas and the Labour Party 7, Meretz 6, the Israel Democratic Party 5. A merger of the New Right with Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut would win 5 seats and the Union of Right-Wing Parties would win 4.

Yediot Ahronot and Israel Hayom report on tension within the right wing parties. Yediot Ahronot writes that to mark the agreement to run together, Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz and National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich met at Education Minister Peretz’s office and ratified the agreement between their two parties that was signed before the last election. But the smiles for the cameras concealed their tension over the third party to their union, which is threatening to dismantle the Union of Right-Wing Parties: Otzma Yehudit [Jewish Power]. Otzma Yehudit’s leader, Itamar Ben Gvir, who replaced Michael Ben-Ari (who was disqualified by the High Court of Justice on the eve of the last elections) has yet to ratify the merger agreement..  Israel Hayom writes that efforts to unite the right wing will intensify in the coming days, and the prime minister intends to become involved personally. Netanyahu plans to meet with his colleagues in the right wing and to urge them to form a large party so that the right wing does not lose votes. Likud MK Yariv Levin, commented yesterday: “The leaders of the right wing parties need to show responsibility and to merge. That is essential for the right wing’s victory in the elections. If they run as three, four or five small parties, most of which won’t cross the electoral threshold, the right wing will fall from power. We’ll wake up one day and discover that the left wing is in power and say ‘we made a mistake.’ A non-merger of the right wing is the greatest danger to the Land of Israel and to right wing rule.”

Maariv reports that the Blue and White party’s campaign team will be joined by the political strategist and pollster, Joel Benenson, who worked on Barack Obama’s two successful presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. Gantz said at the campaign launch: “We are strong and united on behalf of the goal – replacing the current government as well as leading the State of Israel and restoring the citizens’ confidence in the country. We will act on behalf of the public’s interests in security, education, healthcare, the courts and the rule of law, the economy and many other spheres. Israel deserves to have its next government work on behalf of the public and not on its own behalf.” MK Yair Lapid commented yesterday on Ehud Barak’s return to politics, and said it will likely end up losing the centre left bloc 100,000 votes if Barak’s party fails to win any Knesset seats.

Maariv reports on what it calls a ‘video war’ between Barak and Netanyahu. Yesterday a Likud film attacked Barak for his connections to billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who is suspected of raping and harassing minors. “Meet Jeffrey Epstein—suspected of paedophilia and with a rich past of sex offenses. Epstein managed the Wexner Foundation, which gave Barak 2.3 million dollars for research that was never done,” the clip asserts. “Barak refuses to this day to reveal the research. What else did the sex offender give Ehud Barak?” Within minutes, Barak released a clip in which the viewers were reminded of the ties between Netanyahu and another billionaire, Arnaud Mimran, who was convicted of fraud offenses and was sentenced to eight years imprisonment. The clip begins with the question, “Bibi, you’re talking about criminals? And what about… Arnaud Mimran?” The clip later shows reports from the media on the Mimran affair and Netanyahu’s statement that the donation from Mimran was for the 2009 election campaign and ends with the words: “the choice is in our hands, a State of bribery or a State of Israel ”

Yuval Karni in Yediot Ahronot writes that: “We thought that the do-over elections were going to be a copy-paste version of the exhausting elections that were held just recently…But it turns out that the do-over elections aren’t going to be anything like what we expected – and the political arena is showing signs of instability  ahead of an election in which the number of variables is far higher than anticipated. Take a look at the confusion and divisions within the right, and the uncertainty that has gripped the center-left…will the parties successfully overcome their ego-driven rivalries and infighting to unite (as political common sense mandates), or will they run separately and risk tossing votes into the bin?  To a great extent, the political order within the blocs will determine the results of the upcoming elections.” He adds that one senior Likud source said the party needs two things to happen to survive the upcoming elections: a very high voter turnout and a full merger on the right. “If those two conditions aren’t met in full, I can’t see Netanyahu forming the next government,” said the Likud source.

An opinion piece in Israel Hayom argues that: “Barak’s entry was the best news in the second 2019 elections. Not only because the Israel Democratic Party splits the left wing bloc, but also because of Barak personally. It’s hard to imagine a man more hated by the right wing than Ehud Barak. In the last elections, Netanyahu was forced to persuade his camp that Benny Gantz was a disaster. He doesn’t have to do this for Barak. They already know that very well.” It continues that “For now, the Likud’s messages are different from the last round. There is no more talk about a ‘strong’ right wing and a ‘weak’ left wing; instead the message is to juxtapose Netanyahu’s responsible and proven leadership with the left wing’s inexperience and floundering. Although the legal issue is still hot and Netanyahu might use it, as he did the last time when the indictment announcement was made public in the middle of the run-up to the elections, the prime minister this time would prefer to take a statesmanlike approach and to say clearly that he will not promote immunity or any steps that might damage the courts and the State Attorney’s Office, and that he will leave the Justice Ministry in the Likud’s hands…At the same time, it argues that the starting point of the upcoming elections is far worse than the last elections, mainly because of Lieberman’s defection and his departure from the right wing camp. All polls project that the Likud, the right wing and the Haredim will not win a majority of 61 seats. The polls also indicate that the chances become truly small if the right wing is splintered. The article concludes that Netanyahu can’t win unless the parties to the right of the Likud unite into a single party.