Britain prepares for possible Iraq evacuation
The Times reports that the Ministry of Defence has sent military planners to Iraq as part of contingency plans to evacuate British forces and personnel. The Times also says that Ministers are considering warning British ships against travelling through the straits of Hormuz.
BBC News reports that Huge numbers of black-clad mourners have turned out to pay their final respects to Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in his home town of Kerman ahead of his burial. The Guardian reports that the number of mourners in Kerman appeared to match the turnout seen in the cities of Tehran, Qom, Mashhad and Ahvaz. The Independent reports that Suleimani’s funeral shows Trump may have underestimated how powerful anti-imperialism and nationalism is in Iran, which a former US official warns may crash the US into crisis.
The Financial Times reports that Iran is weighing up its retribution for Soleimani’s assassination, as Iranian officials face the balancing act of satisfying the Islamic regime’s desire for revenge whilst avoiding a full-scale war. The Independent reports that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have warned “all retaliation options are on the table” and they will “send American soldiers back in coffins” if US citizens do not pressure their government to withdraw troops from the country.
BBC News, The Guardian report that US President Donald Trump has faced growing criticism over his threats to attack Iran’s cultural sites, wherein the US president said cultural sites were among 52 identified Iranian targets that could be attacked if Iranians “torture, maim and blow up our people”.
BBC News, The Guardian, The Financial Times and The Telegraph report that US Defence Secretary Mark Esper has denied US troops are pulling out of Iraq, after a letter from a US general there suggested a withdrawal. Mr Esper said there had been “no decision whatsoever to leave”. General Mark Milley, the US’s top military official, asserted a leaked letter by the commander of US forces in Iraq indicating preparations for withdrawal was a “draft” and a “mistake”.
The Times reports that the driving force behind the assassination of Qasem Soleimani was Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, it emerged yesterday. A longstanding Iranian hawk, Mr Pompeo had urged President Trump for months to strike at the heart of the Iranian regime.
BBC News and The Financial Times report that opposition forces in Libya say they have taken control of the coastal city of Sirte, in what would be a key strategic gain. Sirte has been controlled by forces aligned with Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) since Islamic State (IS) militants were expelled in 2016. The Guardian reports that civilians killed or injured in Libya by explosive weapons rose by 131% last year, with the number of incidents at its highest since 2011, the year of the Benghazi uprising. The Independent reports that Turkey has begun to deploy troops and specialised equipment to Libya in an effort to thwart the ambitions of a renegade general to take control of the entire country, including the capital.
In The Times, Labour leadership contender Lisa Nandy asks why Prime Minister Boris Johnson has remained so quiet over the ‘capricious decision’ to assassinate Qassem Suleimani, contending ‘skilful British diplomacy’ will help avoid further escalation.
In The Financial Times, Gideon Rachman argues the US needs to ‘drop’ its ‘Dr Evil fallacy’ regarding the use of assassinations, asserting targeted killing is no substitute for patient and vigilant foreign policy with a clear strategic vision.
In The Times, Rachel Sylvester stresses that the Iran crisis is forcing Boris Johnson to decide whether ties to the United States matter more than those to Europe, claiming Johnson must make the transition from ‘showman to statesman’.
In The Guardian, Simon Jenkins argues Donald Trump’s belligerent threats to Iran’s cultural sites are grotesque, and would serve only to strengthen Iran’s clerical regime.
In The Independent, Kim Sengupta asserts the reason Soleimani was in Baghdad illustrates the complexity of the Iran crisis, as Iraq’s prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, alleged the commander was in Iraq to discuss moves to ease tensions between Tehran and Saudi Arabia.
In The Independent, Patrick Cockburn argues that Trump’s actions in Iraq could ‘plunge the country into crisis’ once again, as fighting between Iran and US on Iraqi soil could unleash untold chaos and allow ISIS to once again take root and flourish.
In The Independent, Emin Pasha contends that diplomats at the UN level are ‘losing sleep’ over Trump’s assassination of Soleimani, as it seems unclear whether the assassination is being complimented by a clear US strategy.
Yediot Ahronot reports that Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beteinu and Yair Lapid from Blue and White, are urging the Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to agree to form the Knesset House committee in order to vote on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution. The Israeli media also report that Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon has recused himself from handling substantive issues related to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s request for parliamentary immunity due to a conflict of interest. Yinon’s legal opinion from earlier this week that the Knesset House Committee could be formed prior to the election to vote on the Prime Minister’s immunity request has been severely criticised by the Likud. Maariv reports that the conflict of interest arose because Yinon’s partner, Deputy Attorney General Amit Merari, was a member of the team that drafted the indictment against Netanyahu. Yediot Ahronot notes that last year Likud MK Miki Zohar, who is leading the attacks on Yinon, described him as one of the best legal advisers in the world.
Israel’s Channel 12 News reports that the Blue and White Party is increasing its pressure on Labour leader Amir Peretz to unite with Meretz ahead of the 2 March election. According to the report, Blue and White officials told Peretz they would support his candidacy as the next president of Israel if he agrees to run on a joint ticket with Meretz. A Blue and White official is quoted telling Peretz: “History will not forgive you if one of the lists does not pass the electoral threshold.”
Haaretz reports that defence officials were shocked by Naftali Bennett’s proposal to treat Gazans who cross into Israel illegally as combatants, and imprison them as bargaining chips in a potential future prisoner exchange with Hamas. The security establishment views many of the infiltrators not as terrorists but individuals trying to escape Gaza out of distress and say they do not pose a threat to Israel.