Iran releases seven members of UK-flagged tanker
The Guardian and Independent report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is travelling to London today to meet Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on a visit that had not been briefed in advance by either side. Netanyahu this week cancelled a scheduled trip to India, citing commitments at home surrounding the imminent general election in Israel. In London, he will also meet US Defence Secretary Mark Esper, according to the prime minister’s office. Esper’s visit coincides with a visit to the UK by US Vice-President Mike Pence.
BBC News, the Times and Reuters report that Iran is to lift all limits on nuclear research and development – the latest step in reducing its commitments to the JCPOA. President Hassan Rouhani said that from Friday the country would begin developing centrifuges to speed up the enrichment of uranium. Under the JCPOA, Iran would not operate more than 5,060 centrifuges – equipment used in making nuclear power and bombs. Reuters reports that President Rouhani has also given European powers another two months to save the JCPOA, but warned that Tehran was still preparing for further significant breaches of the agreement if diplomatic efforts failed.
BBC News and the Financial Times report that the US State Department has confirmed it offered millions of dollars to the captain of the Adrian Darya 1. Brian Hook, head of the department’s Iran Action Group, emailed the captain of the oil tanker about sailing it somewhere the US could seize it. Reports of the cash offer first appeared in the Financial Times on Wednesday and have been confirmed by the state department. “We have conducted extensive outreach to several ship captains as well as shipping companies,” a spokeswoman told AFP news agency.
The Financial Times and Reuters report that US officials have played down the idea of Washington backing a French proposal to give Iran a $15bn credit line and that the White House was wavering on its “maximum pressure” campaign. “We did sanctions yesterday. We did sanctions Friday. We did sanctions today. There will be more sanctions coming,” Brian Hook, the state department envoy for Iran said. “We can’t make it any more clear that we are committed to this campaign of maximum pressure, and we are not looking to grant any exceptions or waivers.”
Reuters reports that a European trade mechanism to barter humanitarian and food goods with Iran will not work until Tehran sets up a mirror company and meets international standards against money-laundering and terrorism financing, a French diplomatic source said. “The Iranian mirror structure is not operational. The day they have signed the necessary FATF (Financial Action Task Force) conditions we’ll talk about it and the day that we are sure that the first transactions through Instex aren’t put under American sanctions, (then) we’ll talk about it again,” the diplomatic source said. France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday the mirror company had not been set up.
Reuters reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu has urged world powers not to open a dialogue with Iran, after US President Donald Trump said he may meet his Iranian counterpart to resolve US-Iran tensions. “This is not the time to hold talks with Iran. This is the time to increase the pressure on Iran,” Netanyahu told reporters at Ben Gurion Airport. Netanyahu’s comments marked rare public discord between Netanyahu and Trump on the Iranian nuclear issue.
BBC News, the Guardian, Telegraph, Independent and Reuters report that Iran says it will free seven of the 23 crew members of the Stena Impero on humanitarian grounds. The sailors – five Indians, one Latvian and one Russian – had already left the ship, a foreign ministry spokesman told state television. “We have no problem with the crew and the captain and the issue is violations that the vessel committed,” an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi said.
Reuters reports that the US has blacklisted an “oil for terror” network of firms, ships and individuals allegedly directed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for supplying Syria with oil in breach of US sanctions. Washington also issued a new international shipping advisory about the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) use of “deceptive practices” to violate US sanctions on Iranian oil sales and warned that those doing business with blacklisted entities “are now exposed to US sanctions,” said State Department official Brian Hook, who oversees Iran policy.
Reuters reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu has visited Hebron settlement in the West Bank, pledging a permanent Israeli presence there. “We are not coming to dispossess anyone, but nor will anyone dispossess us,” he said. “Hebron will not be cleansed of Jews […] We are not strangers in Hebron. We will remain in it forever.” “We warn against the grave consequences of this raid by Netanyahu, who is trying to win the votes of the Israeli extreme-right,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement.
Reuters reports that Yemeni government officials have begun indirect talks with southern separatists in the Jeddah to end fighting in Aden and other southern provinces. “Indirect talks have started between the government and the STC (Southern Transitional Council separatists) via the Saudi side,” a senior Yemeni official, who declined to be named, told Reuters. “The situation is very difficult and complicated but we hope to achieve some progress.”
The Guardian and Independent report that a UN report states that countries who provide military support to a Saudi-led coalition may be complicit in war crimes. A UN panel of experts has published a list of 160 politicians and military officers who could face war crimes charges, including from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen government and the Houthi movement. UN investigators recommended all states impose a ban on arms transfers to the warring parties to prevent them from being used to commit serious human rights violations. “It is clear that the continued supply of weapons to parties to the conflict is perpetuating the conflict and prolonging the suffering of the Yememi people,” Melissa Parke, an expert on the independent UN panel said.
Reuters reports that Turkey may lose trade with Britain worth up to $3 billion in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said on Wednesday, adding that many Turkish companies lacked information on the consequences of such a scenario. Pekcan said the losses would stem from the UK hiking import tariffs after Brexit in sectors including steel, automotives and textiles. “We expect that the most affected sectors will be automotive by a trade loss worth up to $1.2 billion, textile with $1.3 billion and electronic and white goods by $500 million,” Pekcan told a business forum in Istanbul.
The Telegraph reports that an Iranian woman has set herself on fire outside a court in Tehran after being tried for resisting arrest by morality police for trying to enter a football stadium disguised as a male spectator. According to Rokna news agency, the woman has been taken to a local hospital with life-threatening burns. A spokesperson for Iran’s judiciary has said the woman “had been engaged in a physical confrontation with security forces in February” after resisting arrest on charges of and insulting police and bad-hejabi, refusing to abide by strict Muslim dress codes.
Reuters reports that Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecoms group, has been fined 30 million shekels ($8.6 million) for what the competition regulator said was an “abuse of the firm’s monopolistic position” in telecommunications infrastructure. The antitrust authority also imposed a financial penalty of 500,000 shekels on a senior Bezeq official and said on Wednesday it intended to levy a further 8 million shekel fine on Bezeq for misinformation during the authority’s investigation.
Likud and ultra-Orthodox parties attack Gantz.
- Likud and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) have accused the Blue and White party of incitement and being motivated by hatred for the ultra-Orthodox community. Yesterday Blue and White leader Benny Gantz announced that if he were to form the next government he would not include the ultra-Orthodox parties and would focus his campaign targeting only secular Israeli voters. Gantz said yesterday that he would seek to form a “liberal unity” government with Likud and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu.
- Lieberman claimed that Gantz’s announcement was an attempt to take votes away from his party and that Blue and White were actually in collusion with the ultra-Orthodox parties.
- The Likud party have proposed legislation that will allow CCTV cameras to be placed inside polling stations. Yesterday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this proposal was legally problematic.
Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri criticises Hezbollah
- Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri gave an interview to CNBC in which he said the Lebanese government are not responsible for recent attacks on Israeli territory and blamed Hezbollah. He said: “Hezbollah is not a Lebanese problem — only — it is a regional problem.”
- According to Ynet, Hezbollah is facing growing criticism inside Lebanon from the media, social media and politicians. Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who led the country during the 2006 war, told Sky News Arabic that Hezbollah was entangling Lebanon in a mess and that his country needed a defence strategy.
- A member of parliament from Prime Minister Hariri’s Party said the Beirut government alone – and not Hezbollah – must make decisions on the country’s defence policies. Another parliamentarian accused Iran of “pulling the strings” and deciding for Lebanon when and where such escalations would take place. “The decision to go to war is unfortunately in the hands of Hezbollah.”
90th Memorial Ceremony of attacks in Hebron
- President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended a memorial ceremony at the Tomb of the Patriarchs plaza in Hebron yesterday.
- Rivlin said: “Here in Hebron, the City of the Patriarchs, in a cave that was bought for full price, our right to this land was established as just and moral, a right to property over which is and will always be uncontestable.” The president was referring to the purchase of the cave of Machpela by Abraham. He added: “From that time and until the brutal massacre of 1929, the city was one of the four holy cities with continuous Jewish settlement that was renewed again after the victory in the Six Day War.” Sixty-seven Jews died from the 1929 Hebron massacre.
- Netanyahu said: “While we are not coming to banish anyone, neither will anyone banish us. To cite the late Menachem Begin and the late Yigal Allon: ‘Hebron will not be devoid of Jews.’ It will not be Judenrein. And I say on the 90th anniversary of the disturbances – we are not foreigners in Hebron, we will stay here forever.”