Arabs and Kurds tussle over oil in Syria
The BBC, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph and Financial Times report that Iran has pulled out of key commitments under the 2015 international nuclear deal, a year after it was abandoned by the US. The BBC reports that President Hassan Rouhani said he would keep enriched uranium stocks in the country rather than sell them abroad. He also threatened to resume production of higher enriched uranium in 60 days. The accord was aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief, but Iran-US tensions have risen since Washington quit. Iran’s economy has since been hit by renewed US sanctions. The announcement comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unscheduled visit to Iraq, and a US aircraft carrier was deployed to the Gulf region. US officials have reported threats to US forces and their allies from Iran, but have given few details about the exact nature of the threat.
In the Guardian, Ian Black writes: “Britain needs to recognise Palestine as an independent state”, arguing that it is time for Britain to get off the fence and resolve the most toxic of global conflicts in the only way possible.
In the Telegraph, Con Coughlin asks: “Could trading relationships between America and the Arab world be the answer to the Palestinian / Israeli standoff?” Coughlin concludes that the prospect of forging closer economic ties between the US and the Arabs is certainly a novel way of resolving the political differences between Israelis and Palestinians, one that, if successful, would only serve to increase the political and economic isolation of an unreconstructed terrorist organisation like Hamas.
In the Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi writes: “The Eurovision boycott row confirms it: Palestinian lives don’t matter”, arguing that it feels like there is no acceptable way for Palestinians to protest against oppression.
In the Times, Richard Spencer writes: “Arabs and Kurds in tussle over oil”. A confrontation over oil between the Kurdish-led administration of eastern Syria and the Arab tribal forces who occupy much of its territory has highlighted the crisis facing its American and British backers as they contemplate withdrawal. Arabs have blocked roads and burnt tyres to prevent tankers travelling outside Deir Ezzor, the province neighbouring Iraq. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-led coalition of militias that the West joined to fight Islamic State in Syria, control the province’s oilfields, the biggest in the country. Among its buyers are the Kurdish-dominated areas of northeastern Syria and the Assad regime, which is suffering fuel shortages. Arabs claim that they should control and profit directly from local resources. Activists said that protests had been held in villages across Deir Ezzor.
The BBC reports that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unscheduled, fleeting visit to Iraq, amid growing tensions with Iran. Pompeo cancelled a trip to Berlin to meet Iraqi leaders during a four-hour stop in the capital Baghdad. He told the leaders that the US doesn’t “want anybody interfering in their country”, and asked them to protect US troops in Iraq. The visit came days after the US deployed an aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, to the region. Officials said the deployment was in response to threats to US forces and its allies from Iran. On Tuesday it was revealed the US was sending B-52 bombers. The US has given little information about the exact nature of the reported threat, which Iran has dismissed as nonsense. John Bolton, the US national security adviser, said only that the US was acting “in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” on announcing the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln on Sunday. Pompeo is also due to visit London on Wednesday, where he is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Theresa May and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
In the Financial Times, David Gardner writes that the risks of a war in the Middle East have risen, with the US’s stance towards Iran increasing the tension in an already combustible region. In the Middle East, argues Gardner, there are many dangerous moving parts, and many immoderate actors who believe in executive action (Messrs Bolton, Pompeo, Netanyahu, Putin, Assad, Erdogan and General Qasem Soleimani, the IRGC commander in Arab territories). And in the US there is a president as erratic as Trump. With a cast like this, he concludes, it is rational to expect mishaps — as Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif put it in New York last month. Some wars can and do happen by accident.
The BBC and the Times report on fighting in Idlib in north-western Syria. The BBC reports that the UN has called for an urgent de-escalation in north-western Syria, after fighting between government and opposition forces reportedly left dozens of civilians dead or injured. Secretary General António Guterres urged all parties to recommit to a truce covering opposition-held parts of Idlib, Aleppo and Hama provinces. Rescuers said at least 20 civilians were killed in air strikes on Tuesday. On Monday, two medical facilities were reportedly targeted by warplanes. Idlib, northern Hama and western Aleppo make up the last opposition stronghold remaining in Syria after eight years of civil war. The region is covered by truce brokered in September by Russia, which backs President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, which supports the opposition, that has spared the 2.7 million civilians living there from a major government offensive. The Times reports that Syrian regime forces have opened a ground offensive against insurgents in the northwestern province of Idlib, posing a new test for Turkey and its allies who have tried to prevent an upsurge in fighting. Waves of Russian and regime jets and helicopters have poured missiles and barrel bombs on to the enclave in the past week, destroying hospitals and killing scores of civilians.
The Times reports that the EU’s counterterrorism chief has warned about 45,000 children born in Iraq but denied citizenship because they were in areas controlled by Islamic State are at risk of becoming “the next generation of suicide bombers.” “This is a ticking time bomb,” Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counterterrorism co-ordinator, said at a conference in Rome yesterday, which also heard how deradicalising female ISIS recruits would be key to avoiding further terrorist attacks in Europe. The estimate of 45,000 stateless children was given in a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council, which predicted that the number would leap in a few days as more than 30,000 Iraqis return from camps in Syria — 90 per cent of whom are wives and children with suspected ties to ISIS fighters. Children denied papers in Syria have also been reported.
In the Financial Times, Andrew England and Ahmed Al Omran write that: “Nationalism [is] on the rise, as Saudi Arabia seeks sense of identity”. Activists warn, they write, that social media is being used to foster a ‘with us or against us’ mentality in kingdom.
The Times and Telegraph report that an Arab pro-democracy campaigner living in Norway has said he was placed under government protection after the CIA warned that he was being threatened by Saudi Arabia. The Times reports that Iyad al-Baghdadi is a Palestinian-born activist who used to live in the United Arab Emirates. After writing in support of the Arab Spring uprisings he was deported, and has become a vocal critic of the Gulf monarchies and in particular of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Baghdadi said he was approached two weeks ago by Norwegian secret service agents acting for the CIA who took him to an undisclosed location for a few hours. He was then told that “so long as I’m in Oslo I’m reasonably safe” but was promised police protection. The threat allegedly came from the Crown Prince, known as MBS.
The Independent reports that a controversial Saudi government app that can be used by men to control women’s movements and stop them from travelling, enables domestic violence and abusive labour conditions, a leading human rights organisation has warned. Absher, an app owned and operated by the kingdom’s interior ministry, is available in the Saudi version of Google and Apple online stores. Human Rights Watch has called for Google and Apple to strongly urge the Saudi government to end the male guardianship system. Under the kingdom’s restrictive guardianship system, women are legal minors and cannot marry, divorce, travel, get a job, be released from prison or have elective surgery without permission from their male guardians. Women are also forbidden from mixing freely with members of the opposite sex.
The Telegraph reports that Turkey’s opposition accused the country’s election board members of being “mobsters” under the control of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, after they voided an opposition victory in the Istanbul mayor’s race and ordered a re-run of the election.
The Israeli media is focused on Israeli Memorial Day for the ‘Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism’ in which Israel remembers the 23,741 fallen and which began yesterday evening at 20:00, when flags across the country were lowered to half-mast and a siren sounded for a one minute silence.
In his speech at the Western Wall, President Reuven Rivlin said the state was built on the twin promises of providing “a life worth living for our children, quiet and secure, and to bring them home even if they did not return from battle. The commitment that accompanies [the parents of soldiers] … is the promise that the state that we have been building here for almost 71 years will be a country fit for our children and grandchildren — strong and secure, and at the same time just and fair”. Army chief of staff Aviv Kohavi likened the sirens blaring through the country to “the cry of a mother who has lost her son and a daughter who has lost her father,” and called it “a unique moment that let’s us feel the heart’s cry and the storm of emotions. But the siren has another power. It erases borders between camps, dissolves barriers and unites the nation.”
The Israeli media also report the memorial ceremony held in Tel Aviv with bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families. The Tel Aviv event last night was the 14th such annual ceremony and was made possible after the High Court of Justice overruled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision — which he made in his capacity as Defence Minister — to deny entry to the 100 Palestinians who were planning to take part. Netanyahu decried the court’s ruling as “mistaken and disappointing.” Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg told Maariv: “I came to respect the memory of the fallen, to support the goals of conciliation and peace, and to express solidarity against the incitement and violence here outside. This incitement is even supported by MKs. There are bereaved parents here, and their bereavement is no less red.” Several dozen protestors held a demonstration outside the Tel Aviv memorial service, hurling insults and in some cases physical objects at the Israelis and Palestinians in attendance and right wing figures yesterday criticised the ceremony. Jewish Home leader MK Rabbi Rafi Peretz said: “The ceremony tries to equate IDF soldiers and victims of terrorism with terrorists who call themselves freedom fighters, whose only goal is to attack innocent people. The ceremony is an idol in the temple on the day that is holiest to Israeli society, and the judges who approved the entry of dozens of Palestinians to attend it proved who out of touch they are with the Jewish people. We will take steps to reconnect the justice system to the values of the people.”
Makor Rishon writes that the joint Memorial Day ceremony is a contentious issue in Israeli society and details how Combatants for Peace, the organisation behind the event last year released a video in which activists declared that they “recognise the right of return” adding that the organisation has received extensive funding from foreign countries and foundations. An opinion piece in Israel Hayom asks: “Why not, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, allow joint ceremonies with the families of the soldiers in the Nazi army who died in the war? After all, the majority of them weren’t murderers.” Alit Karp in Haaretz argues that: “The pain, how surprising, belongs to both sides, and acknowledging it will be the beginning of our redemption, not only on the other side of the Green Line, but inside it as well. That, rather than silencing, will make us grow.”
The Times of Israel reports that a first-of-its-kind ceremony in Jerusalem was dedicated to commemorating ultra-Orthodox IDF Forces soldiers who died in battle and Haredi terror victims. Some 800 members of the ultra-Orthodox community and soldiers attended the event at the Heichal Shlomo Jewish heritage center, including both chief rabbis of Jerusalem, Aryeh Stern and Shlomo Amar, bereaved families, senior IDF officials, rabbis, and members of the ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion, which organised the ceremony, Channel 12 reported.
In other news, Walla reports that Islamic Jihad Leader Ziad Nakhala said that he anticipated that war would break out in the summer. Speaking in an interview to Al-Mayadeen, Nakhala said: “What happened in Gaza was a manoeuvre with live fire in advance of the great war” adding “We visited Cairo with Hamas and we made a joint decision to operate a war room in response to the occupation. We won’t accept Israel dictating an equation in which it bombards the residents’ homes without a response. Had the last war continued, the possibility existed that Tel Aviv would have been shelled within a matter of a few hours.” Nakhala said: “The marches of return will never stop and Israel will honour the commitments it made in the Cairo understandings. Israel’s commitment to the understandings is what led us to our positions on the cease-fire. Our fundamental demand is to end the siege on Gaza and the attacks.”
Yediot Ahronoth writes that Tel Aviv District Attorney Liat Ben Ari yesterday informed Mickey Ganor, the state’s witness in the submarines affair (Case 3,000), of her decision to nullify the state’s witness agreement that was signed with him. Ganor had provided the police with a detailed account of the alleged roles that were played by other people who are suspected of wrongdoing in the case, including Brig. Gen. (res.) Avriel Bar-Yosef; the former commander of the Israel Navy, Maj. Gen. (res.) Eliezer Marom; Attorney David Shimron, who is the Prime Minister’s cousin and also serves as his lawyer; and David Sharan, who served in the past as Netanyahu’s chief of staff in the Prime Minister’s Bureau. Ganor was alleged to have doled out to the other suspects hundreds of thousands of shekels, in exchange for which they allegedly agreed to facilitate the sale of ThyssenKrupp’s submarines to Israel. Two months ago Ganor suddenly chose to withdraw some of the statements that he had made to the detectives and, instead, offered substantively different evidence.