Hamas leader invited to Moscow
The Daily Mail reports on the findings of BICOM’s new report, “British Middle East strategy after Brexit,” that only a third of British diplomats stationed in Arab countries can speak Arabic.
The Financial Times, the Times, Reuters report on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s scheduled appearance at the G20 summit in Argentina. The Financial Times reports that when the Saudi Crown Prince attends the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires he will be in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Making his first appearance on the international stage since the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Prince Salman arrived early in the Argentine capital on Wednesday for the first major test of how toxic his brand has become. For many of the world leaders who will assemble at a riverside conference centre on Friday, the challenge will be to navigate between wanting to be seen as tough in their response to the killing and the pragmatic need to maintain relations with the world’s top oil exporter and their most powerful Arab ally. The Times reports that President Vladimir Putin has become the first leader to confirm that he will meet the Crown Prince at the summit in Argentina tomorrow. The announcement is a rare piece of good news for Crown Prince Salman in a week when he has been greeted with protests as he tours the Middle East, his first overseas trip since Khashoggi’s murder. The heir to the Saudi throne was snubbed by King Mohammed of Morocco, who was said by government sources in the country to have declined him an audience. Abderrazak Makri, the leader of Algeria’s main Islamist party, Society for Peace, accused the Crown Prince of trying to hide his role in Khashoggi’s torture and murder. In Tunisia, demonstrators took to the streets as he landed there. The Financial Times, via Benedict Mander reports that, after being accused of war crimes and torture by Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organisation, an Argentine judge has taken the first moves towards opening an investigation into the Saudi Crown Prince. The judge asked Argentina’s foreign ministry on Wednesday to request information from Turkey, Yemen and the International Criminal Court as to whether there were any legal proceedings already under way regarding the accusations Prince Salman. Reuters reports that two senior US Cabinet members urged senators on Wednesday not to downgrade ties with Saudi Arabia over the murder of Khashoggi, but lawmakers from both parties said they could not turn a blind eye to reports that the country’s de facto ruler was involved in last month’s killing. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said there was no hard evidence that the powerful Crown Prince was behind the killing, seemingly contradicting an assessment by the CIA about Khashoggi’s death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The Times and Daily Mail report on Moscow’s invitation to Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh. The Daily Mail reports that Hamas says he has received an invitation to make an official visit to Moscow. The office of Haniyeh said the invitation was delivered Wednesday by a visiting Russian diplomat. Its statement did not elaborate on the purpose of the visit. The Times reports that Haniyeh has been invited by the head of Russia’s mission to the Palestinian National Authority, Aidar Aganin. Moscow maintains high-level contact with Hamas and Haniyeh has praised Russia’s “support for the Palestinian people”.
The Times reports that diplomats are now calling Idlib in Syria “the world’s next Gaza” as President Bashar Assad’s enemies turn to kidnap and torture to survive. Idlib has become a fenced and patrolled limbo land, cut off from the rest of Syria but without the means to pursue anything more than a kind of half-life. After seven years of war, any remaining sense of normality is collapsing. Subject to sporadic bombardment by the regime, and over the weekend by Russian jets, and fearful that conquest by President Assad would make matters even worse, its residents are trapped in lawless towns and a failing economy.
The Guardian and Financial Times report on Yemen’s civil war. The Guardian reports that a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire and the resumption of humanitarian deliveries in Yemen has been stalled by the US and other members, after a lobbying campaign by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to diplomats at the UN. The resolution, drafted by Britain, called for a halt to the fighting for control of the port city of Hodeidah, the main entry point for supplies, and for guarantees from the warring sides that food and medicine could be delivered safely to a country at risk of a famine that could threaten the lives of 14 million Yemenis. A UK push last week to have the resolution adopted quickly ran into opposition led by the US mission. The US, China, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia all argued that the resolution should be delayed until the start of planned peace talks between the exile Yemeni government and Houthi rebels in Stockholm, which the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, hopes to broker at some point between 3 and 13 December. The Financial Times reports that the US Senate voted to push forward with a bipartisan resolution that would end US involvement in the civil war in Yemen, in defiance of Cabinet members, Defence Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Pompeo, who said that the US’s “first mission” in Yemen was to assist Saudi Arabia and the UAE in their battle against Iran-backed Houthi fighters. The resolution will now pass to a full floor debate in the Senate, and will be voted on again.
Reuters reports that the US ambassador to Israel on Wednesday called on Palestinians to free an American-Palestinian who was detained for “selling land to a Jew,” apparently violating a long-standing Palestinian ban on selling land to Israelis. Through its official Wafa news agency, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has accused property dealer Issam Akel, a US citizen, of attempting to sell a property in East Jerusalem without permission of his business partners or the authorities. The Wafa report did not identify the intended buyer. Palestinian law bars selling land to “a hostile state or any of its citizens”, and requires the permission of the PA for all land sales in East Jerusalem.
The Telegraph reports that two men have reportedly been arrested on Wednesday for the murder of British radio presenter Gavin Ford in Lebanon. The suspects, both Syrian, were detained in the Bekaa Valley in the east of Lebanon. A source at the Lebanon’s Internal Security Force told the MailOnline: “Two men have been arrested for the murder of the Radio One presenter Gavin Ford.” The DJ was reported to have been found bludgeoned and choked to death at his luxury home in Beit Meri in the early hours of Monday morning.
Reuters reports that the US on Wednesday indicted two Iranians for launching a major cyber-attack using ransomware known as “SamSam,” and sanctioned two others for helping exchange the ransom payments from Bitcoin digital currency into rials. The 34-month long hacking scheme wreaked havoc on hospitals, schools, companies and government agencies, including the cities of Atlanta, Georgia, and Newark, New Jersey, causing over $30m in losses to victims and allowing the alleged hackers to collect over $6m (£4.7m) in ransom payments. The deployment of the SamSam ransomware represented some of the highest profile cyber-attacks on US soil.
The BBC reports that a 9,000-year-old stone mask has been revealed by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA), one of only 15 in the world. The artefact has been traced back to the area around Hebron in the south of the West Bank. It has been reported that authorities recovered the mask from thieves earlier in the year, although details remain unclear. Made from pink and yellow sandstone, it was made in the Neolithic era.
In the Israeli media, Israel Hayom highlights infighting within the Government. Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett is quoted saying the coalition is“faltering,” adding that: “I am willing to keep this government in power, but right now, we aren’t able to pass any legislation. The business has pretty much come to a halt. Either we find a solution for it or we’ll have to hold elections.” The Education Minister said that he expected elections to be held in May.
Haaretz reports that a Palestinian man was arrested on the Italian island of Sardinia on suspicion of being affiliated to ISIS. Police suspect he was planning to carry out a chemical attack or poison pipes transporting drinking water. The 38-year old, Alaji Amin, has a residence permit that allows him to legally reside in Italy, but is originally from Lebanon and holds Palestinian documents, police said. He was arrested by an Italian special anti-terrorism unit after he left his home and drove his van to the Sardinian town of Macomer.
Yediot Ahronot reports that the Shin Bet security service discovered an embarrassing security breach, after it found a secret camera that had been installed outside the home of its Director Nadav Argaman. The camera was reportedly installed by a “civilian”— presumably a private investigator — on behalf of a client who was reportedly not after information about Argaman, and the incident had no connection to national security. While the person who installed the camera was questioned by the police, he was not questioned under caution as a suspect of any crime, and he was released without any restrictions. The client who ordered the camera’s installation was not questioned at all.
Haaretz reports that one of Avigdor Lieberman’s last actions before resigning as defence minister was an attempt to place the ministry’s own security department under his direct authority. Prime Minister and Defence Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reviewing the affair. The Defence Ministry’s security department is among the state’s most highly classified units; little has been disclosed about it over the years. It is under the authority of the ministry’s director general, the department is responsible for the security of the ministry itself and its facilities, Israel’s arms industry, the nuclear research centre in the Negev and other security bodies. Lieberman initiated a number of meetings in the past few months to bring it under his direct authority. It is understood that the professionals in the ministry were against the idea that a body with such extensive intelligence and investigative capabilities would be directly under the authority of the defence minister. Although discussion of the matter ended with Lieberman’s decision to take direct control and a document was apparently issued on the matter, the decision was not implemented.
Maariv reports on a meeting yesterday between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, the former chief of staff. The meeting sparked speculation that it was in order to close a political deal, as it is anticipated Gantz will soon enter politics. The Prime Minister’s office quickly issued a statement: “After the assumption of his duties as defence minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held security and professional consultations with former defence ministers and chiefs of staff. The prime minister has met with Amir Peretz, Moshe Arens, Benny Gantz, and will meet in the coming days with Shaul Mofaz and Gabi Ashkenazi.” The Prime Minister’s office also noted that “the prime minister’s military secretary was present in all the meetings,” as a way of further offsetting any speculation about whether the two men discussed political issues.
Haaretz includes a report that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak was approached in 2015 by a man claiming he represented Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The man wanted his help to sell cyber-tech to assist the Saudis in eavesdropping on their citizens’ and enemies’ phone conversations. According to a recording of a conversation, the man said he wanted Barak to take on a representative role in the company he had established. He also mentioned companies whose technology interested the Saudis. According to a statement released on behalf of Barak, the former prime minister rebuffed the offer in the phone call, which came from the UAE.
Both Yediot Ahronot and Maariv include commentary discussing President Donald Trump’s latest comments on Israel. In Yediot Ahronot, “it seems that US President Donald Trump has learned a new magic word, ‘Israel,’ and he uses it every time that he finds himself hard put to explain an unpopular decision he has made about the Middle East … We have enough public image problems in the US and Europe as is, and there is no reason to force us to carry on our narrow shoulders the weight of journalists who have been murdered and chopped into pieces in the service of the Royal House of Saud. On the issue of the American military presence in Syria, while Israel certainly does have a vested interest in having that presence maintained, the American interest in doing so is far broader”. In Maariv: “Now, in the wake of Trump’s remarks, a new situation is liable to be created: if American soldiers die on the Middle Eastern battlefield, Israel’s adversaries and anti-Semites from the American extreme right wing are liable to accuse Israel of being responsible for that. Even now, just a day after Trump gave his interview, some people have begun to say that, mainly on social media. If Trump had thought just a little before speaking (and that is too much to ask of him), he would have given a different reason for the decision to keep American troops in the Middle East.”