Media Summary

Exiled Saudi Prince calls for regime change in Saudi Arabia

The Financial Times reports that Mizrahi-Tefahot, Israel’s third-largest bank, has agreed to pay $195m to the US after admitting it helped American taxpayers hide their wealth from tax authorities. The bank and two subsidiaries entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice in which it admitted enabling US taxpayers to hide their income and assets from the Inland Revenue Service between 2002 and 2012. The penalty announced on Wednesday was lower than the $342m the bank said last year the justice department had demanded. “Mizrahi-Tefahot solicited customers in Los Angeles and other US cities to open offshore accounts with the hope they would never be linked to the American clients,” said Tracy Wilkinson, first assistant US attorney for the central district of California, in a statement.

In the Guardian, Dr Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation writes: ‘The truth is out about Israel’s lethal actions in Gaza. Will the world listen?’ Erekat argues that: ‘The UN’s damning verdict on the 2018 Gaza protests should prompt the international community into ending Israeli occupation.’ There is now an opportunity, writes Erekat, to send the right message about the Israeli occupation in the upcoming human rights council discussions – and to take long-overdue steps towards a just and lasting peace by affirming the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

The Telegraph reports that according to the Israeli military, a senior Hezbollah commander captured by British Special Forces in Iraq has resurfaced in southern Syria where he is setting up a network to launch attacks against Israel. Ali Musa Daqduq, a Lebanese Hezbollah operative, conducted a number of bloody operations against Western forces in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, including an attack which killed five US soldiers. He was captured by the SAS in Basra in March 2007 and spent five years in prison. Iraq’s government released him in 2012 despite strong protests from the Obama administration. Israel’s military now says he has re-emerged in the Syrian Golan Heights where he is the leader of a unit known as the ‘Golan File,’ an emerging Hezbollah network tasked with launching attacks against Israel.

In the Guardian, Amjad Iraqi, contributing editor at +972 magazine and advocacy coordinator at the legal centre Adalah, writes: ‘Netanyahu is right: Israel is a nation with no interest in equality’. He argues that as a Palestinian citizen of Israel, he is subject to insidious discrimination that is enshrined by law – and no major party sees it as an issue.

Reuters reports that according to Iran’s Defence Minister on Wednesday, the country will respond firmly to any Israeli naval action against its oil shipments. The comments that came a week after Israel’s Prime Minister said its navy could act against Iranian oil “smuggling” to enforce US sanctions. Iran’s Minister of Defence, Amir Hatami, said such confrontation would be considered as “piracy” and warned that “if it happens, we will firmly respond. The Iranian armed forces have certainly the capabilities to protect the country’s shipping lines in the best way against any possible threat,” Hatami said.

The Independent reports that an exiled Saudi prince has launched an opposition movement calling for regime change back home, and has vowed to protect critics fleeing Saudi Arabia, after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by officials last year. Prince Khaled bin Farhan al-Saud, who escaped Saudi Arabia over a decade ago, told the Independent he wants to see a constitutional monarchy in place, with elections to appoint a prime minister and cabinet, in order to fight what he called endemic human rights abuses and injustice in the country. The Germany-based exile hopes the opposition group, dubbed ‘the Freedom Movement of Arabian Peninsula People,’ will provide those fleeing Saudi Arabia with lawyers, specialist translators and access to the media to help them seek asylum in Europe.

The Financial Times reports that according to US Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, the US is still in talks with Saudi Arabia about a possible deal to sell it civil nuclear technology, as part of a strategy to boost US exports while helping to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Speaking at the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, Perry told the Financial Times that the talks were making progress “closer to one mile an hour than to Mach 1.2,” but said the US was working on a deal to support the kingdom’s plan to develop a nuclear power industry. He added that one priority for the US would be to ensure any deal did not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, saying that would be a greater risk if Saudi Arabia chose to buy its technology from Russia or China. “We’re still making progress, we’re still talking,” Perry said, adding: “Our intent is for them to be our partner as they build their nuclear energy.”

The Financial Times reports that Iran has criticised the UK’s decision to grant diplomatic protection to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman imprisoned in the country, saying it will make it more difficult to resolve her case. “The new move could make it more complicated,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told the ISNA news agency on Tuesday. He said that extending diplomatic protection was a political decision by the British Government and did not confer new status on Zaghari-Ratcliffe under Iranian or international law. He added that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been given all her legal rights, including medical treatment, as an Iranian.

The Independent reports that according to the spokesman for Iran’s judiciary chief, a US Navy veteran held in Iran has been charged with a national security crime in a case that could worsen already frayed relations between Washington and Tehran. Michael White, a 47-year-old US citizen and California resident, had been traveling to the northeastern city of Mashhad to pursue a romantic relationship with an Iranian woman. He was arrested by security forces in the city last July. Gholamali Sadeghi, the Mashhad prosecutor, told a reporter for the ISNA news agency on Monday that “a verdict for this case has been issued,” adding that White had been indicted on security charges as well as a complaint filed by an individual.

The Times and Telegraph report that according to Red Cross officials, the Iraqi Government is preparing to take back 20,000 ISIS fighters, wives and children who are in custody in Syria. The Times reports that the ISIS families are in camps in eastern Syria, including the huge al-Hawl site where officials say health services are collapsing under the burden of 65,000 residents, more than three times its capacity. Fabrizio Carboni, Middle East director for the Red Cross, said that the organisation had been told of the Iraqi Government’s decision. Western nations, including Britain, are refusing to allow their citizens to return. It raises the question of how Iraq will prevent a repeat of its experience of a decade ago, when prisons full of jihadists became breeding grounds for militancy. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 47, the ISIS leader, met many future militants while incarcerated in Camp Bucca jail after the US-led invasion of 2003. Kurdish commanders who control prisons that also hold ISIS fighters have warned the West that they cannot cope with the number of terrorists and they may escape.

The Guardian reports that the UK government is being urged to move rapidly to help stranded families of British foreign fighters in Syria, including giving them access to cash, aid and indirect advice on how to return from British-funded aid agencies working in Syria. Thousands more ISIS fighters and their families surrendered to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Tuesday, placing a fresh burden on the overcrowded al-Hawl refugee camp. Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a Labour member of the international development select committee, said it would be safe to to rescue the children. “The refugee camp is managed by the UK’s principal allies against Islamic State on territory on which we have troops stationed and hundreds of journalists visit each year,” he said. “The government should stop thinking aloud and start taking this seriously.” Russell-Moyle, who has visited Kurdish Syria, added that leaving British children to die in refugee camps was “unconscionable”.

In the Guardian, Rhys Davies, a barrister specialising in international law, writes that Egypt executed 15 people in February and asks why is the UK staying silent? Britain is Egypt’s largest foreign investor, says Davies, yet at the recent Arab-EU summit, British Prime Minister Theresa May was oddly quiet on rights abuses.

The Independent reports that transgender woman arrested in Egypt last week for allegedly taking part in anti-government protests has been subjected to a forced anal examination that amounts to torture, a rights group has claimed. Malak el-Kashef, 19, was detained on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organisation, a reference to the banned Muslim Brotherhood. She had reportedly taken part in anti-government demonstrations sparked by a deadly train crash in Cairo. Following her arrest last Wednesday, rights groups had expressed concern that she may be targeted because of her gender. Kashef has undergone gender reassignment surgery, but is still officially registered as a male in Egypt. The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms said Kashef was forced to undergo a body cavity search at a government hospital over the weekend.

The Independent reports that a dozen children have been killed by Saudi-led airstrikes in a village in northern Yemen, the UN said. Medical sources quoted by the organisation said the attack in Kushar, in Hajja province, killed 10 women and 12 children. Another 30 people, including 14 under the age of 18, were wounded in the northern district, which is home to 100,000 people, was shelled. Lise Grande, a UN Coordinator based in Yemen, said: “Many of the injured children have been sent to hospitals in Abs district and in Sanaa for treatment and several require possible evacuation to survive.”

Yediot Ahronoth, Maariv and Israel Hayom all report what they describe as Hezbollah’s secret infrastructure on the Golan Heights. Kan Radio interviewed MK Ofer Shelah (Blue and White Party) who said that the information had been known for some time, but added that he did not believe the timing of the decision to make that information public had been influenced by electoral considerations. In a separate interview with Maj. Gen. (res.) Amiram Levin, former member of the Labour Party, Levin claimed the reports were a storm in a tea cup, describing them as an act of cynical exploitation of the army in an attempt to dictate a political agenda. Levin emphasised that Hezbollah is in deep distress and had been hobbled by the war in Syria. “Everyone wants quiet, and no one has any interest in stirring things up, except for the Prime Minister.”

In Israel Hayom, Yoav Limor writes: “For the third time in six months [after the precision guided missiles project and the tunnels were exposed], the secret-bearers in Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are going wake up this morning and try to figure out how yet another secret project of theirs has now been exposed and burned … just as with the other two projects, the Golan project was highly compartmentalised and very few people knew about its existence. Limor argues that Israel’s decision to publicly expose the information was designed have a psychological impact, and to serve seven main purposes: One — to ‘kill’ the infrastructure before it built up any real strength and before it became operational; Two — to embarrass Nasrallah and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The movement is currently in dire financial straits, and has slashed its budgets so investing money in Syria at the expense of paying salaries in Lebanon is certain to result in criticism; Three — as a message to Russia, which made a commitment to Israel that it would not allow any terrorist activity by Iran or its proxies within 80 kilometres of the Israeli border; Four — to send a message to Syria, which also had been unaware of the activity; Five — to burnish Israel’s reputation. This is yet another severe psychological blow to Hezbollah; Six — to send a message to Abu Hasin and his men that not only are they not safe and secure, but they are in Israel’s sights; And seven — to send a message to the US that Abu Hasin, who killed five American soldiers and managed to escape prison only thanks to insufficient evidence, has now been proven to have resumed his terrorist activity. Israel would like to see the Americans play a larger role in the northern theatre of operations in countering Hezbollah and and Iran’s activity.”

Maariv focuses on the commander of the “Golan file,” Abu Hasin Sajed, who had served in Iraq on behalf of Hezbollah in 2006 and oversaw operations in which five American soldiers were kidnapped and executed in 2007. He was arrested by the Americans and held in an Iraqi prison, but was released five years later, after which he returned to Lebanon. Sources in Israel said members of the organisation are acting under a semi-military cover, such as the military arm of the Socialist Syrian Party and the Syrian National Guard, thereby concealing their Hezbollah identity. The early disclosure of the ‘Golan’ organisation is intended to push those very buttons among the higher echelons of the Syrian Government, so that it will demand that Hezbollah stop building this terrorist infrastructure.

Yediot Ahronoth reports that Hadash-Taal officials appear have made Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a focus of their election campaign. The party’s new slogan is “Going in droves to the polling stations,” a reference to the video that Netanyahu posted on the day of the 2015 election in the hope of making right-wing voters anxious so that they would go out to vote. “It seems that the thing that frightens Netanyahu more than anything is a party that promotes Jewish-Arab partnership and messages of peace and equality,” said Hadash-Taal officials last night. “We will come out in droves to the polling stations, Arabs and Jews together, in order to replace the government.”

Haaretz reports increased tension at the Temple Mount where a police station was set on fire and the compound was closed, which resulted in clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian worshipers. The Jerusalem District Police ejected worshipers from the Temple Mount yesterday in response to violent demonstrations that were held on the site. This morning a decision was made to reopen the compound to Muslim worshipers and visitors. Nir Hasson argues that: “While the Waqf is seen among Israelis as being extremist, it is in fact a very conservative, establishment organisation, especially compared to other forces at work on the Temple Mount. The Waqf is an arm of the Jordanian Government and as such Israel has an interest in bolstering it over other groups. The Waqf also operates on the basis of rights it has been granted by Israel and via the Israel-Jordan peace treaty.” He adds that: “The Waqf lies between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, the Israeli police accuse it of helping terrorism and demand that it shut down the building. On the other hand, the Palestinian masses accuse it of giving up too much and even of collaborating with Israel.”

Yediot Ahronoth and Haaretz focus on Moshe Feiglin, the head of the Zehut party, which some polls predict will pass the 3.25 per cent electoral threshold and win seats in the 9 April election. One of Zehut’s main policies is legalising Cannabis. Haaretz says: “Besides Feiglin, who supports legalisation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Gesher chairwoman Orli-Levi Abekasis and others have spoken about the issue in recent days. But some parties’ stances, ranging from full legalisation to strict enforcement of existing legislation, still remain unclear.”