British arms to Saudi Arabia contributing to “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, court told
The BBC, Independent, Telegraph, Financial Times, Guardian, Economist and the Times report that following a tight election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to secure a record fifth term after 97 per cent of the results have been counted, which suggests a new right-wing coalition is likely. The BBC reports that his Likud party is expected to finish with a similar number of seats as ex-military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance. But Likud and right-wing allies are set to be the largest bloc with 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, local media said. The 69-year-old premier is facing corruption allegations. However, the election result means he could become Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister later this year, overtaking Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion. Exit polls had predicted a tight race with no clear winner, prompting both Netanyahu and Gantz to claim victory on Tuesday night. “It will be a right-wing government, but I will be prime minister for all,” Netanyahu told cheering supporters. “I’m very touched that the people of Israel gave me their vote of confidence for the fifth time, and an even bigger vote of confidence than previous elections”. He added: “I intend to be the prime minister of all citizens of Israel. Right, left, Jews, non-Jews. All of Israel’s citizens.”
In the Telegraph, Raf Sanchez writes: “The great survivor: How Benjamin Netanyahu clung on to power in Israel again”. Netanyahu had warned that he was in serious danger of losing power and being replaced by a government of the Left. The only way to stop that, he said, was if right-wing voters of all stripes rallied around his Likud party. The tactic, known in Israel as “hitting the panic button, ”worked in both 2015 and again in 2019. Voters who had been planning to support one of the smaller right-wing parties were frightened into supporting Netanyahu’s Likud at the last minute. In doing so, they helped hand the Prime Minister victory once again.
In the Independent, Bel Trew writes: “Amid a fraught general election, Israelis paint a picture of a nation divided,” arguing that with results so up in the air, both sides have fought a fierce battle to secure swing votes during what has become a divisive campaign.
In the Times, Anshel Pfeffer provides profiles of both Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz.
The Times reports that Madonna is set to defy calls for boycotts of Tel Aviv’s Eurovision, and will appear at the grand finale of the contest in Israel next month. The $1.3 million bill for her to perform two songs is being stumped up by a Canadian billionaire who is keen to counter the boycott. Madonna’s decision dismayed pro-Palestinian organisations, including the American organisation Jewish Voice for Peace, which issued an open letter calling on her to reconsider. Others have been urging all states participating in Eurovision to boycott the contest in Tel Aviv, so far to little avail. In France there have been street demonstrations. Anti-Israel protesters also disrupted a live performance on French TV by Netta Barzilai, the Israeli singer who won last year. The network France Television said that it would resist calls for a boycott because “song has no frontiers”. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has allegedly sent letters to all European states joining the competition this year urging them to rethink. Almost 100 LGBT groups are said to have signed up to the BDS campaign as well.
The Guardian reports that the UK court of appeal has heard that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia are contributing towards the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” where an estimated 24 million Yemenis are in desperate need of aid. There is “overwhelming evidence” of violations of human rights law by both the Saudi-led coalition and other forces in Yemen, lawyers for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) told the court on Tuesday. The appeal, against a high court ruling in July 2017 that the government’s granting of export licences for arms sales was “lawful,” came days after news of an airstrike that killed at least seven people, four of them children, at the entrance to a hospital.
In the Independent, Kim Sengupta argues: “Trump’s decision to brand the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] as a terror group undermines reformers in Iran.” He writes that the likelihood of the designation is that it will be the hardliners taking over in Iran, spelling an unpleasant scenario for the Iranian people and the outside world. Donald Trump’s designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organisation will have far-reaching consequences, and is a highly significant step in the escalation of tensions with Tehran. It is the first time the US has labelled another sovereign state’s armed forces as terrorists, and the move will renew charges that this is yet another step in Washington’s attempt to instigate regime change in Iran.
In the Financial Times, Naimeh Bozorgmehr, Aime Williams and Chloe Cornish write: “Iranians bridle at American threats to Revolutionary Guard” arguing that the designation of military force as a terrorist group is seen as another insult in Tehran. In the wake of the terrorist designation, Iranian legislators took to the floor of parliament wearing dark green guards’ uniforms and chanted “death to America”. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, a centrist who has at times been at odds with the guards, defended them as a force that had fought terrorism and helped to defeat ISIS. A political analyst close to hardliners said: “Ayatollah Khamenei showed in advance that designating the guards as a terrorist organisation or even killing a national hero would not make Iran give up its regional and defence policies. Americans may think targeting General Soleimani (reviled in the west as a hardline ideologue, and who has masterminded military operations in countries including Syria, Iraq and Lebanon) would be the ultimate loss for us. The supreme leader disarmed the US and said not even that can make Iran bow.”
The BBC reports that Standard Chartered bank is being fined $1.1bn (£843m) for violating US sanctions against Iran and over inadequate financial crime controls. The penalties, imposed in connection with a range of different investigations in the US and the UK, all date back to before 2014. The London-based banking firm set aside $900m in February in preparation for the settlements. Standard Chartered has also undertaken to improve its compliance procedures. The bulk of the settlement, $639m, relates to breaches of US sanctions against Burma (Myanmar), Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.
In the Times, Catherine Philip examines: “How Saudi Arabia is increasingly isolated in the Yemen war”. She writes that as global disquiet about the civilian toll grows, Britain remains reluctant to pull the plug on arms sales to its Saudi ally.
The Guardian reports that Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, was massively oversubscribed for its multi-billion dollar debut bond sale, in a further sign that investors have put aside concerns over doing business with Saudi Arabia following the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The state-owned firm is expected to raise more than $10bn (£8bn) through its first-ever bond issue. But a surge in demand meant the sale was oversubscribed, with orders exceeding $100bn. It reportedly sets a record for emerging market bond demand, trumping orders worth $52bn for Qatar’s $12bn deal last year, $67bn bid for Saudi Arabia’s bond sale in 2016 and $69bn for Argentina’s $16.5bn trade that same year.
Reuters reports that the White House has said US President Donald Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by phone on Tuesday to discuss Riyadh’s role in the Middle East, as well as way of maintaining pressure on Iran and the importance of human rights issues.
The Times reports that in Turkey, President Erdogan’s ruling party says it will seek a rerun of last week’s mayoral election in Istanbul after the electoral authority rejected its call for a full recount. Ali Ihsan Yavuz, a deputy chairman, insisted that there were “significant events and situations” that affected the outcome of the vote and said the party would use a right for an “extraordinary appeal.” Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party suffered a significant setback in the local elections held across the country on 31 March. Opposition candidates won in the capital, Ankara, and squeezed out the president’s party in Istanbul.
The BBC reports that UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has warned that attacks on civilians in Libya could amount to war crimes. She urged all sides to avoid bloodshed as forces led by military strongman Khalifa Haftar advance on the UN-recognised government in Tripoli. Some 47 people have been killed over the past three days, says the World Health Organization (WHO), as his forces seek to capture the capital.
In the Telegraph, Con Coughlin writes: “From Libya to Sudan, Islamist governments fail wherever they’re tried”. Coughlin argues that the era of Islamist misrule is nearing its end, a process that the West should support.
Reuters reports that US President Donald Trump praised his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as a “great president” on Tuesday, even as a bipartisan group of US lawmakers raised concerns about Sisi’s record on human rights, efforts to keep him in office for many years and planned Russian arms purchases.
In the Independent, Robert Fisk writes: “Ivanka Trump has already told us everything we need to know about The Donald’s meeting with el-Sisi”. Ivanka Trump, daughter of the US president and wife of Middle East “expert” Jared Kushner – he who has supposedly produced a Middle East “peace plan” to be revealed after Benjamin Netanyahu wins the Israeli elections – has just given her support to a regime which has locked up women political prisoners, “disappeared” others, and whose army forcibly carried out virginity tests on female protesters during the Tahrir Square revolution. “Well, what more do you expect from the Trump menagerie?” writes Fisk.
The Israeli media is dominated by election coverage. Due to the papers print deadline Maariv’s front page includes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz both declaring, “We Won”. Haaretz also leads with both leaders declaring victory. Yediot Ahronot leads with Prime Minister Netanyahu declaring, “I won” whilst Israel Hayom quotes Netanyahu from his victory speech calling the results “an incredible accomplishment”.
Kan radio captures comments from several party leaders. Netanyahu declared victory in the election in his address at 2am to supporters in Tel Aviv. He thanked the party activists who had delivered a fantastic, tremendous and nearly unimaginable accomplishment. Netanyahu said that the people of Israel had given him even more of its confidence for a fifth time. He said: “When did we receive so many seats? I don’t remember.” He said he had begun talks with the leaders of right-wing parties, which he called the natural partners of the Likud. He said that almost all of them had publicly declared they would recommend that the president ask him to form the next government. Gantz declared victory for his party after the exit polls and said that he would be the prime minister of everyone and not only for those who voted for him. Gantz called it a historic day in a speech that he gave in Tel Aviv. Gantz said: “A great light is shining upon our Israel, more than a million people voted Blue and White today”. Shas Chairman Arye Deri, Head of the United Torah Judaism party, Yaakov Litzman and Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon have said that they would endorse Netanyahu for prime minister. However, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman declined to say whether he would recommend Netanyahu or Gantz to President Rivlin. However, he did say that his party belonged to the right-wing bloc. Labour Party leader Avi Gabbay said after the exit polls were reported that the elections were a great disappointment and an electoral blow to his Party. Gabby said that he hoped that the government would be changed after the election and potentially mitigate the political price that the party had paid. He said that the party would begin analysing the campaign in the morning and prepare itself for the next campaign. While Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg said after the exit polls were reported that the public had voted Blue and White because the public wanted change and supported the values of Meretz. Hadash-Taal leade Ayman Odeh said that the next Knesset will be “Racist and harsh, but we will stand with dignity and responsibility.” He said that in another year the Arab public would have representation in the Knesset and Netanyahu would be in his natural place, in prison. The Unified Right leader Rafi Peretz said that his party would be the significant right-wing party by Netanyahu’s side: “The religious Zionist sector succeeded, this is not sectoral success, it’s something much greater.”
Haaretz and Israel Hayom quote extensively from Netanyahu’s victory speech, where he said: “I started holding talks with the heads of the right-wing parties, our natural partners, tonight. Almost everyone publicly declared that they would recommend me to form the next government. I intend to finish the task quickly in order to establish a stable national government,” He also declared that “this will be a right-wing government, but I intend to be the prime minister of all of Israel’s citizens, right and left, Jews and non-Jews alike.” Netanyahu also said that: “Immense feats were achieved by us, it’s not always published. But the public is smart, the public knows this.” He also cautioned that his next government is facing “serious challenges – in society, in the economy, with normalisation toward peace with the Arab world. I am certain that with joint forces we can overcome all of these challenges, and ask to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.”
Haim Shine in Israel Hayom writes: “In another day or two, when the lights in the campaign studios go out, we will hear about submarines, treason, steel and investigations once again, with a vengeance. The system is familiar and well known, and the people who voted Blue and White were even tempted to believe it. The media will focus the brunt of its effort in an orchestrated campaign to turn the attorney general into a senior party to the president’s decision about whom to assign the task of forming the government. We must only hope that the president will make his decision honestly and fairly, so that the public will find it recognisable as such.” He adds: “What is most necessary right now is to calm tempers. The election results showed that there are mighty and powerful waves of hatred and loathing within Israeli society. Once, many years ago, we paid a price for baseless hatred of our brethren. It’s important to remember that we are all citizens of one country, the home of all of us, and we have no other. The right-wing government will be formed, and let us hope that all of Israel’s citizens accept the decision.”
Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz argues: “Despite his inexperience, a haphazard campaign, the scandals and smears and stuttering in interviews, Gantz has answered a desire among a sizable proportion of the Israeli public for something different, for a change from Netanyahu. We also learned that, among another nearly equally large part of Israeli society, nothing anyone says about Netanyahu, no allegation of corruption, no excess of dog-whistling — no matter what, they will continue believing he is the best leader Israel has ever had or ever will have.”
In The Times of Israel, David Horovitz writes that Netanyahu “didn’t always play fair. His ‘vote Likud, only Likud’ gevalt mantra of the campaign’s final days siphoned votes away from his ostensible right-wing partners. His Likud party’s hiring of activists to deploy hidden cameras in Arab polling stations Tuesday will require further investigation, as will the impact that tactic had on turnout in the Arab sector. The effort to depict his key rival Benny Gantz as mentally unstable was truly a low. He proved spectacularly adept in turning the potential major embarrassment of an ostensible exposé of illicit twitter campaigning into a victory over his accusers, even at the price of bringing the homophobic extremist “Captain George” into the Prime Minister’s Residence. He also used reprehensible means toward the single end of winning by brokering the construction of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, with the inclusion of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit, when seeking to prevent the loss of vital right-wing votes (even as he was happy to try to consign Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right to political oblivion).”
Horovitz adds: “And as he now prepares to try to build a majority coalition, there is widespread suspicion that he will tacitly condition his recent promise of West Bank settlement annexation and key roles for his potential right-wing partners on their readiness to support legislation that would protect him from his looming indictment for fraud, breach of trust and, in one case, bribery. Netanyahu has denied this with greater and lesser conviction in recent days. Some potential partners, such as Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon, have said they would never support the immunity move; others, such as URWP’s would-be education minister Bezalel Smotrich, have said they will champion it. But at the end of it all — at the end of a bitter campaign in which he denigrated those three ex-chiefs of staff as “weak leftists,” and battered the media and the cops and the state prosecutors for leading an ostensible witch-hunt against him over his alleged corruption — Netanyahu overnight Tuesday-Wednesday was emerging victorious again, heading for his fifth term in office.”