Iran broadcasts film of Zaghari-Ratcliffe arrest
The BBC and Guardian report that Iran has confirmed it is holding a US citizen, the first American detained in the Islamic Republic during the Trump presidency. The BBC reports that according to the foreign ministry of Iran, former US Navy sailor Michael R White, 46, was arrested “some time ago” and is being held at an Iranian prison. Spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said US officials had immediately been made aware of the arrest. Mr White’s mother told US media her son has been missing in Iran since July. Joanne White told the New York Times he had gone to visit a girlfriend, and was due to return via Dubai on 27 July. She said she did not know what charges he faces, and that he had previously visited Iran “five or six times”.
The Guardian reports that the UN’s Special Envoy for Yemen has given the Security Council a relatively positive view of the conflict there after the signing of a peace agreement – an assessment that contrasts with that of the UN-recognised government. Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council there had been “a significant decrease in hostilities” in Yemen since the parties signed an outline peace agreement in Stockholm last month. His assessment that the ceasefire terms were largely being honoured by both sides follows a visit this week to Yemen, a country ravaged by civil war and repeated mass food shortages. His view jars with claims by the UN-recognised government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi that Houthi rebels have refused to abide by key aspects of the deal, including the opening of vital aid routes. The Hadi government also claims that the promised unfettered humanitarian access to the Red Sea port of Hodeidah and its surrounding flour mills has not happened.
The Telegraph reports that Iranian state TV has released previously unseen footage of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s arrest in Tehran, as part of a programme accusing the UK of trying to “infiltrate” the Islamic Republic through the BBC’s Persian language channel. Iran’s TV Channel 3 broadcast the moment the British-Iranian charity worker was taken aside for questioning by security officials at Imam Khomeini airport in April 2016. The mother-of-one appears shocked but calm as she is approached by the official, who is filming the encounter using a hidden camera. “You are not allowed to travel and you must come with us to the prosecutor’s office, where you will hear about your accusations against you and your problem will then be solved,” the arresting officer tells Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, in footage which was posted on the Iranian judiciary’s website. It is unclear what motivated Iran to release the footage after more than two and a half years, but it is thought authorities are unhappy with the recent attention Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case has received since her announcement last week that she is to go on a hunger strike in protest at her denial of medical care. The programme also showed footage of Boris Johnson, former Foreign Secretary, wrongly telling the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Tehran training journalists when she was arrested. She was in fact in the country with her infant daughter Gabriella visiting her mother. Johnson later clarified his comment, however the slip has been used by the Iranian government as prove of their claims against Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
The Express reports that speaking from the Iranian city of Qom on Wednesday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei mocked American leaders and branded Washington as dishonest and untrustworthy. Addressing US sanctions on Iran, which were imposed late last year after President Donald Trump quit an Obama-era nuclear accord, he said: “US officials cheer, saying the current sanctions are unprecedented in history…Of course, their defeat will also be unprecedented.” Accusing the United States of acting like a “clown”, he said: “A US official recently said Iran should learn human rights observation from Saudi Arabia!” Khamenei added: “What can we call him but a clown? Neither their threats, nor their promises, nor their signatures are reliable and they should be distrusted.” These remarks came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with American troops and Iraqi leaders.
Reuters reports that according to a US official, US President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton raised US concerns about the use of Chinese telecommunications equipment in sensitive sectors during a weekend meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a US official said on Wednesday. The administration does not want any obstacles to being able to share sensitive information with the Israelis, the senior official told reporters ahead of the meeting, referring to the concerns about Chinese technology and investment at the port of Haifa. “We specifically put it on the agenda,” the official said. The Netanyahu government, frustrated by labour disputes that had disrupted Israel’s trade arteries, gave the green light in 2013 for China’s Shanghai International Port Group to operate a private port in Haifa – a major berth for the US Sixth Fleet.
The Independent includes an obituary, written by Harrison Smith, for Moshe Arens, the three time Defence Minister of Israel and mentor to Benjamin Netanyahu.
Reuters reports that, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on Wednesday, said that the US troop withdrawal from Syria will not be scuppered despite Turkish threats against Washington’s Kurdish allies there, promising to ensure that the Kurds would still be protected. Pompeo met leaders in Iraq’s capital and its semi-autonomous Kurdistan region on Wednesday, aiming to reassure them about Washington’s plans following President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement last month of an abrupt withdrawal from Syria. The unannounced visits to Baghdad and the Kurdish regional capital Erbil came on the second day of a Middle East tour also taking in Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman. Asked in Erbil if Erdogan’s pushback on the protection of the Kurds puts the withdrawal at risk, Pompeo told reporters: “No. We’re having conversations with them even as we speak about how we will effectuate this in a way that protects our forces”, and, adding: “It’s important that we do everything we can to make sure that those folks that fought with us are protected and Erdogan has made commitments, he understands that.”
The Israeli media continues to report the warning by Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman about plans by a “foreign country” to interfere with the general elections in Israel.
In ‘Methods Meant to Steal Your Vote’ Yediot Ahronot examines how a foreign country might interfere with elections. These include hacking the computers of parties and candidates in search of sensitive information that could be leaked, spreading fake news to influence voting patterns, or tampering with the Central Elections Committee’s computer system to sow confusion and mistrust. While not formally implicated by the information approved by the Military Censors Office for release, Russia denied any plans to interfere in the Israeli elections as well as denying ever having intervened in another country’s election in the past.
Yossi Melman in Maariv argues that “it’s hard to believe that denial. The intelligence services of the United States, Britain, France and other countries uncovered Russian involvement, which was carried out by an army of hackers that took orders from Russian military intelligence. The goal of the Russian intervention in election campaigns in the West is meant to ensure the election of the leader that Russia wants, the leader that it thinks will be best for it. For example, Trump was preferred over Hillary Clinton. But it also has another goal: to sew confusion in Western democracies and to polarize their societies. On that count, the rifts in the US weakens it and serves Russia’s interests.”
Kan Radio reports that Israel recently discerned prominent organised psychological warfare activity on social media that is clearly connected to Russia. Israeli cyber officials said the activity focused on playing up dissent and clashes in Israeli society and had no clear political affiliation. They added that Russia was not alone in that activity, and Iran had also played a role—though to a far lesser extent.
Kan Radio reports that National Security Adviser John Bolton raised the matter of the US’s concern about the use of Chinese communications equipment in sensitive sectors in Israel. He reportedly said that the Trump administration did not want there to be impediments that would make it difficult for him to share sensitive information with Israel. The Americans are also worried about China’s involvement in building a private port in Haifa, where the ships of the American’s Sixth Fleet often dock.
Haaretz reports that all Yeshiva students in Rehelim were summoned for questioning in connection to Aisha Rabi’s murder. Police have already questioned 30 Pri Haaretz students, and presented a summons yesterday for the remaining 50 students.
Israel Hayom writes that Netanyahu’s strategy for the election is ‘Even if an Indictment is Served—So What?’ adding that he has decided not to appoint a campaign strategist and has taken full responsibility upon himself for the Likud’s election campaign. According to the report, that campaign will focus solely on the anticipated decision by Attorney General Mandelblit to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The campaign is designed to desensitise the Israeli public in advance of Mandelblit’s anticipated announcement, on the one hand, and to minimise the importance that the public ascribes to a potential bribery charge, on the other.
Haaretz reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife received $300,000 from businessman Nathan Milikowsky (who is also a cousin) to fund their legal defence in pending criminal investigations without getting permission to accept the sum from the permits committee in the State Comptroller’s Office.
A poll among the Arab sector that was commissioned by Yedioth Ahronot found that 46% of Arab voters were displeased with the activity of the Joint List in the current term with 42% pleased. The poll also found that MK Ahmed Tibi (the Arab Movement for Renewal) who announced this week that he was resigning from the Joint List, is the candidate who is deemed best-suited to head the party. After the Joint List’s split, the Arab Movement for Renewal headed by Ahmed Tibi would win 43% of the Arab vote compared to only 38% for a party made up of Hadash, Balad and the Islamic List headed by Ayman Odeh.
Israel Hayom quotes Naftali Bennett in closed door meetings claiming his New Right party established with Ayelet Shaked would take votes from Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid rather than from Likud.