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Media Summary

Greenblatt resigns as US Middle East envoy

The Guardian, Financial Times and Reuters report that US special envoy for the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, has resigned, raising doubts about the publication of the long-delayed US Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. Greenblatt may stay in the role until the publication of the plan, which is now due to be released after the Israeli elections.

BBC News, the Guardian, Telegraph and Reuters report that Turkey has warned it may reopen the route for Syrian refugees to enter Europe if it does not get more international support for creating a safe zone in north-east Syria. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for “logistical support” to establish a safe zone and threatened to move its troops unilaterally into the zone unless progress is made.

Reuters reports that Iran has lifted restrictions on research and development activities on advanced centrifuges to speed up the enrichment of uranium. “Foreign Minister (Mohammad Javad) Zarif, in a letter to EU (European Union) policy chief (Federica Mogherini) announced that Iran has lifted all limitations on its (nuclear) Research and Development (R&D) activities.” BBC News examines the significance of the Iranian decision “if Iran resumed higher levels of enrichment that would pose a more serious proliferation risk and shorten the “break-out time” – the time it would theoretically take to acquire enough fissile material for one bomb”.

The Times reports that China will invest $280 billion in Iran’s oil and gas industry. The cash injection, part of a $400 billion agreement reached between the two countries in 2016, will be planned to minimise repercussions to Chinese companies for breaching US sanctions, with China using the Yuan along with “soft currencies” earned from international trade in weaker economies. In return, China will be able to buy oil, gas and petrochemical products at a guaranteed discount of at least 12 per cent, and will have first refusal to run all new or rebooted oil, gas and petrochemical production projects.

The Guardian and Reuters report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Boris Johnson as part of a drive to discourage world powers from dialogue with Iran. Netanyahu was in Downing Street for 29 minutes. A Downing Street spokesperson later said the two leaders “agreed on the need to prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon and stop wider destabilising Iranian behaviour”, while Johnson “stressed the need for dialogue and a diplomatic solution”. The Telegraph reports that Downing Street appeared to reject Israeli calls for the UK to take a harder line against Iran and continue support for the JCPOA.

The Times reports that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has refused to sign a peace deal with the Taliban amid growing unease over the draft accord aimed at ending the conflict in Afghanistan, according to officials. It has emerged that senior figures within the Trump administration (Pompeo included) harbour deep misgivings about striking a deal with the insurgents after a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up near the US embassy in Kabul on Thursday. Several former US ambassadors to Afghanistan had already warned in an open letter this week that a hasty withdrawal of US troops risked plunging the country into “total civil war”.

The Guardian, the Times and Independent report that US Defence Secretary Mark Esper has warned that European nations refusing to repatriate IS fighters are creating a risk to regional security. Esper said there were around 2,000 foreign fighters held in north-east Syria, but asking the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to keep them in makeshift jails was an increasing risk to regional security. Esper also said that the US has no plan to seize the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1. The tanker appears to have turned off its transponder in the Mediterranean west of Syria.

Reuters reports that seven of the 23 crew members of the Stena Impero have reached Dubai after Tehran agreed to their release. An official with Russia’s embassy in Tehran said the seven crew members obtained their visas in Tehran on Wednesday and flew to Dubai. The remaining 16 crew members will remain on board the ship “until the fate of the tanker itself is decided”.

Reuters reports that the EU has set up a common counter-terrorism register, hoping to facilitate prosecutions and convictions of suspected militants returning from fighting with IS in Iraq and Syria. The new database will put together information from the EU28 on ongoing investigations, prosecutions and convictions of militants, facilitating cooperation among national prosecutors. The EU security commissioner Julian King told Reuters that at least 1,300 EU citizens, of which more than half are children, are held in Syria and Iraq.

Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia has called on southern Yemeni separatists to cede control of Aden and voiced its support for the government, an indication that its rift with the UAE had deepened. In a statement, the kingdom refused any “new reality” imposed by force in the south and added any attempt to destabilise Yemen’s security would be a threat against Saudi Arabia and “will be dealt with decisively”. The Kingdom is hosting indirect talks to resolve the crisis between the UAE-backed separatists and officials of the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Reuters reports that the Saudi-led coalition has dismissed as subjective and biased a UN report calling for a ban on arms transfers the coalition and Houthi movement. The report said the US, UK and France may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen by arming and providing intelligence and logistics support to the coalition. “The report was based on a number of inaccurate assumptions by the U.N. experts […] which stripped it of objectivity and impartiality,” said a statement published by Saudi state news agency SPA.

Reuters reports that Russian gas exports to Turkey fell by more than a quarter in the first half of 2019 as cheaper liquefied natural gas (LNG) and new Azeri supplies helped the region reduce reliance on Russia. Russian exports to Turkey, the biggest regional market, fell 36% compared to the first half of 2018, data published by Gazprom showed.

The Independent reports that Iranian police have detained 22 men and women at a mixed-gender party in Tehran province. The party, illegal under Iranian law, was held in a villa near the city of Damavand, IRNA reported. Damavand prosecutor Hassan Ebrahimi was quoted as saying 13 men and nine women were arrested. He said “some alcoholic beverages were confiscated from them”.

In the Independent, Richard Hall asks “what’s happening between Hezbollah and Israel?”: “Israel has said it would not spare any part of Lebanon in a future conflict. And Hezbollah has in its possession thousands of rockets capable of hitting deep inside Israel.  All of which makes the stakes of testing these ‘red lines’ extremely high”.

The Economist suggest that Israeli Arabs could hold the key to political change: “They are unhappy, and they can vote”.

In the Financial Times, Ilan Ben Zion examines the Israeli culinary boom which has allegedly stirred Palestinian charges of “cultural appropriation”.

White House envoy Greenblatt resigns:

  • The Israeli media report the surprise resignation of US presidential envoy Jason Greenblatt, a key figure in the Trump administration’s efforts to produce a plan for Israeli-Palestinian talks.
  • The White House stated that Greenblatt had only originally planned to serve in the administration for two years (it has been two and a half years), with President Donald Trump tweeting that Greenblatt was “leaving to pursue work in the private sector.” US and Israeli officials, including Trump, publicly praised Greenblatt’s efforts. “I would like to thank Jason Greenblatt for his dedicated work on behalf of security and peace, and for not hesitating for a moment to speak out and tell the truth against all those who spoke ill of the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted.
  • The release of the political section of Trump’s  deal, authored by Greenblatt, has been repeatedly delayed – the latest due to Israeli election later this month. Greenblatt’s resignation fuelled speculation that the US plan would now be delayed again, although Haaretz reported that the White House was still intent on unveiling its plan after the Israeli election.

President Rivlin criticises Netanyahu and says there won’t be a third election:

  • Israeli President Reuven Rivlin told Channel 12’s Influencers Conference yesterday that he was “surprised” Prime Minister Netanyahu did not return the mandate for forming a government back to the President last May after failing to cobble together a ruling coalition – thereby giving someone else a chance. Instead, Netanyahu successfully dissolved parliament and sent the country to repeat elections.
  • “We have no constitution. Until the last election there was an unwritten constitution, there were clear rules of play,” Rivlin said, in a veiled criticism of Netanyahu. Rivlin also made clear he would not countenance a repeat of the same scenario, saying he would do everything he could to prevent it from happening. “Like all citizens….we have to make an unrelenting effort that there will be no third election,” Rivlin said.
  • The President could play a major role if Netanyahu or his chief rival, Benny Gantz, fail to secure a clear governing majority after the September 17 ballot.

Hezbollah preparing a drone attack on Israel:

  • Hezbollah is preparing another attack against Israel, likely through unmanned aerial vehicles flown into Israel from Lebanon, Kan Radio reported citing Israeli military assessments.
  • In response, Israel has deployed additional Iron Dome and Patriot air-defence batteries to northern Israel. Hezbollah is seeking to avenge two recent Israeli strikes against its personnel and bases– one in Syria, the other reportedly in Lebanon.
  • Hezbollah earlier this week launched two anti-tank missiles at an Israeli military vehicle driving near the Israel-Lebanon border. An Israeli military investigation yesterday called it “a “serious operational failure” since the soldiers and vehicle were not permitted to be on that road. The two anti-tank missiles missed their mark and none of the six soldiers in the vehicle were injured.