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Media Summary

IISS report says Iran winning the battle for influence in Middle East

BBC News, including the Today Programme, Guardian and the Telegraph report that Iran is winning the strategic struggle for influence in the Middle East against its rival, Saudi Arabia, according to a study by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Iran’s regional rivals have spent billions of dollars on Western weaponry, much of it from the UK. Yet for a fraction of that cost, sanctions-bound Iran has been able to successfully embed itself across the region into a position of strategic advantage. It has a major influence – verging on a controlling influence in some cases – over the affairs of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. The 217-page report by the IISS, entitled “Iran’s Networks of Influence in the Middle East”, provides unprecedented detail on the extent and reach of Iran’s operations in the region.”The Islamic Republic of Iran,” says the report, “has tipped the balance of effective force in the Middle East in its favour.” It has achieved this, argue its authors, “by countering superior conventional forces with influence operations and use of third-party forces”.

BBC News, Independent and The Times report that two former employees of Twitter have been charged in the US with spying for Saudi Arabia. The charges, unsealed on Wednesday in San Francisco, allege that Saudi agents sought personal information about Twitter users including known critics of the Saudi government. Court documents named the two as Ahmad Abouammo, a US citizen, and Ali Alzabarah, from Saudi Arabia. A third person, Saudi citizen Ahmed Almutairi, is also accused of spying. The New York Times says it is the first time that Saudi citizens have been charged with spying inside the United States.

Sky News, Guardian, Independent and BBC News reports that the wife of the former IS leader who died during a raid on his compound last month has been captured by Turkey, the country’s president has announced. It comes after US President Donald Trump announced last month that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had killed himself during a raid on his compound in north-west Syria during an operation by his country’s special forces. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the announcement wife in a speech at Ankara University.

BBC News, Telegraph, Guardian, Daily Mail and The Times report that four foreign tourists and four locals were injured in a knife attack in the Jordanian city of Jerash. Three Mexicans and a Swiss national were among the wounded. One of the Mexicans and a Jordanian tour guide were hurt seriously, the health minister said. The suspected attacker was arrested nearby by police.

The Telegraph and BBC News report that Israel’s government has approved a controversial Jerusalem cable car that will ferry thousands of passengers an hour over Palestinian homes in the east of the city to within a few hundred yards of the Western Wall. The plan, which was given the green light this week, imagines a cable car beginning in west Jerusalem and swooping over a valley towards the Old City, where it will deposit visitors at the 16th-century Dung Gate. The cars will carry up to 3,000 people an hour and Israel’s government says the plan will boost tourism, relieve traffic congestion, and make it easier for worshippers to reach the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites.

Josie Ensor reports for the Telegraph that President Donald Trump has approved a mission for US troops to return to Syria to “secure” its oil fields, despite promises to withdraw all forces from the war-torn country. Under Mr Trump’s new plan, troops would protect a large swath of land controlled by Syrian Kurdish fighters that stretches nearly 90 miles across the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor in the east. The Pentagon will not say how many of the 2,000 forces it once had in Syria would remain, however officials have suggested the total number could reach as many as 800.

BBC News reports that two Jordanians whose detention by Israel for months sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries have been freed and transferred to Jordan. Hiba al-Labadi and Abdul Rahman Miri were held after entering the occupied West Bank in August and September. Israel said it had prevented attacks by Palestinian and Lebanese groups. Last month, Jordan withdrew its ambassador to Israel in protest at the pair’s detention, while Ms Labadi spent six weeks on hunger strike.

Julie Bindel argues in the Guardian that “young Kurdish feminists make me hopeful for the future of the region.” She writes: “When I received an email from the Kurdish feminist writer and activist Houzan Mahmoud, asking if I would speak at the first conference on sexual violence against women and girls to be held in Iraqi Kurdistan, I could barely contain my excitement.”

The Guardian reports that the head of the main UN agency for Palestinian refugees has resigned after becoming embroiled in a scandal involving accusations of nepotism, abuses of authority and having an affair with an employee. In a statement on Wednesday, the UN said Pierre Krähenbühl had resigned with immediate effect his from role as commissioner general at the agency after an internal investigation found “management issues.”

Richard Hall writes in the Independent that Donald Trump’s plan to ‘secure’ Syria’s oil is a meme come to life.

Israel asked US to fund Palestinian security forces: Israel’s Channel 13 news revealed that earlier this year, President Donald Trump rejected a request from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for $12m of US aid to be transferred to the Palestinian security forces. Despite Israel supporting the US move to cut funding to UNRWA, funding for the Palestinian security forces is considered vital to combat mutual security threats and prevent terrorist attacks. According to Barak Ravid it was Trump’s aides that wanted Israel to ask for the money to be transferred but Trump was unconvinced and reportedly replied, “if it’s that important to Netanyahu, he should pay the Palestinians”.  The money was never transferred.

Israel providing aid to the Kurds: Israeli media reported comments by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in the Knesset yesterday about aid to the Kurds when she said: “We identify with the deep distress of the Kurds, and we are assisting them through a range of channels.” Hotovely did not elaborate on the Israeli assistance, only adding that as part of “dialogue with the Americans… we stated our truth regarding the Kurds…and we are proud of taking a stand alongside the Kurdish people.”

UAE to allow Israel visitors: According to Yediot Ahronot, the United Arab Emirates intends to allow Israeli tourists to visit the country. Israelis will initially be allowed to enter the UAE to attend the Expo 2020 world fair in Dubai, which will include an Israeli pavilion. But UAE sources said Israeli visitors will be permitted to enter after the exhibition is over. Israel has no formal diplomatic relations with the UAE, but last year the Israeli minister for Culture and Sport attended an international judo tournament. They even played the Israeli national anthem when an Israeli won a gold medal.

Two Jordanians released: The Israeli media reports that two Jordanian citizens detained in Israel, returned to Jordan yesterday. The Prime Minister’s Office said: “Israel views the relationship between Jordan and Israel as a cornerstone of regional stability, and will continue to act to ensure the region’s security. Jordan will return its ambassador to Israel in the coming days, after an agreement was reached between the countries for the transferring of the responsibility of the two arrested Jordanians in Israel to the Jordanian security forces.”