Media Summary

Iran threatens to retaliate if US bans IRGC

The BBC, Financial Times, Times and Guardian report that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if he is re-elected. The BBC reports that Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday and Netanyahu is competing for votes with right-wing parties who support annexing part of the West Bank. The settlements are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. Netanyahu was asked during an interview on Israeli TV why he had not extended Israeli sovereignty to large settlements in the West Bank. “You are asking whether we are moving on to the next stage – the answer is yes, we will move to the next stage,” he said, adding: “I am going to extend [Israeli] sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements.” A spokesman for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told Reuters: “Any measures and any announcements will not change the facts. Settlements are illegal and they will be removed.”

In the Guardian, Simon Tisdall writes that Netanyahu’s proposal of annexation is likely to have had the nod from US President Donald Trump, but would bury a two-state solution.

In the Financial Times, Andrew England and Mehul Srivastava write: “Netanyahu’s narrative of fear and strength grips Israelis” ahead of Tuesday’s elections, with polls showing the Prime Minister remains the preferred choice.

In the Guardian, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen writes: “The secret of Netanyahu’s success? A simple tale of good versus evil”. She argues that the Prime Minister is a master storyteller but his narrative is raising a generation for whom peace would mean betrayal.

The Telegraph reports that Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Right-wing Israelis that he is in danger of losing power if they do not rally around him, as the final polls of the election showed his party trailing its centrist rival. The last set of public polls before Tuesday’s election showed the centrist Blue & White coalition, led by former army chief Benny Gantz, on course to win more seats than Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party. However, the same polls also showed that Likud and other Right-wing parties would still hold a slim majority in parliament, which could be enough to give Mr Netanyahu a fifth term as Israel’s prime minister. Blue & White is hoping to win at least four more seats than Likud and then appeal to Israel’s president to give them the first chance to form a coalition, even if their path to cobbling together a majority is unclear. Netanyahu seized on the polling to urge supporters of other Right-wing parties to rally around Likud. “The Right is in danger,” he said. “If those on the Right do not go to the polls as a single force and vote for Likud, a Left-wing government will arise here.”

In the Independent, Bel Trew reports that after a particularly difficult year, and ahead of a general election in Israel on Tuesday, many members of the country’s Arab minority say they are refusing to vote in a poll predicted to re-elect Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel’s estimated 1.9 million Arab population makes up around 20 per cent of the country, and across Druze areas and other Arab communities in Israel, there has been a growing clamour for a boycott.

The Observer yesterday published an editorial regarding the Israeli elections. The newspaper argued that Benjamin Netanyahu’s confrontational style has cut the country off from its friends and exposed its citizens to harm. The editorial concludes that above all his failings, the Prime Minister’s bullish intransigence and ill-disguised racism have damaged Israel’s international standing. Netanyahu has had his chance. Better for all concerned that he go – and go now.

In the Telegraph, Raf Sanchez writes on Benny Gantz: “The former Israel general is in striking distance of toppling Netanyahu”.  Gantz’s party at the elections, Blue & White, says Sanchez, harbours its best hope of victory by defeating Netanyahu’s Likud by at least four seats and then appeal to Israel’s president to give them a chance to form a government. It will take a series of backroom deals with Ultra-Orthodox parties and some Right-wing factions to cobble together a majority.

The Guardian reports on Israel, with a page dedicated to Tuesday’s elections. Oliver Holmes provides details on when we will know the results, what is at stake, the frontrunners, the indictment charges facing Netanyahu and how the Palestinian issue fits into the picture.

The BBC reports that a welfare group, Four Paws, have said that more than 40 animals have been moved out of “terrible conditions” in a Gaza Strip zoo to a reserve in Jordan. Four Paws say they have taken the animals from Rafah Zoo near the border with Egypt. Lions, monkeys, peacocks and porcupines were among the 47 creatures rescued. They were sedated for the journey 300 kilometres (190 miles) through Israel, which gave its permission for the transfer. Four Paws vet Amir Khalil told the BBC the cages had become too small to house the animals. Only birds were left behind at the zoo by the group. Two of the lions saved will eventually be moved to South Africa.

The Independent reports that Iran has threatened to retaliate against the US if it designates its elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation. Washington is reportedly expected to designate the IRGC as terrorists next week, marking the first time it has formally labelled another country’s military a terror group. In response, a majority of Iranian parliamentarians said: “We will answer any action taken against this force with a reciprocal action.” The statement was issued by 255 out of the 290 Iranian politicians, according to state news agency IRNA. “So the leaders of America, who themselves are the creators and supporters of terrorists in the [Middle East] region, will regret this inappropriate and idiotic action,” it added.

The BBC reports that Libya’s UN-backed government says 21 people have been killed and 27 wounded in fighting near the capital, Tripoli. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for an immediate halt to the fighting and called for talks. Rebel forces under Gen Khalifa Haftar have advanced from the east with the aim of taking Tripoli. Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj has accused him of attempting a coup and says rebels will be met with force.

In the Times, Richard Spencer writes: “Egypt shows signs of rebuilding Jewish links”.  After the uprising of 2011, writes Spencer, the authorities deemed Alexandria too insecure to guarantee the safety of the annual Israeli visitation. Shortly after, in a symbolic blow, the roof of the city’s Eliahou Hanavi synagogue fell in. This year, however, the sound of hammers has rung out. Renovation has begun, sponsored by the antiquities ministry, intent on not just repairing the roof but rebuilding the finest synagogue in the Middle East. Spencer concludes that, perhaps the biggest miracle is that 2,350 years after Jews helped Alexander the Great to build his dream city, they are still there. Maybe, with the restored synagogue, some will return. Even if not, they will have a fitting memorial.

The Guardian published an editorial on Sunday regarding Turkey, arguing that the opposition’s dramatic advance in local elections has sent a powerful message to the weakened President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. With this opportunity however, the paper argues, comes the great danger that Erdogan will simply ignore the results and arrange the outcome to suit his purposes. Up till now he has ruled as an authoritarian populist. He could morph into something worse.

The Times reports that Labour’s official Jewish affiliate has declared that it has no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership after nearly four years of antisemitism rows. A motion of no confidence in the Labour leader was passed “overwhelmingly” yesterday at the annual meeting of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), which has been formally tied to the party for 99 years. Last month the JLM voted not to secede from the party. Internal Labour Party documents on antisemitism claims were leaked to the Sunday Times showing a complaints system bedevilled by delays, inaction and reported interference from Mr Corbyn’s office.

The Financial Times reports that Saudi Aramco’s impending debut international bond has already drawn tens of billions of dollars of demand from investors, who are putting aside concerns over close linkages with a repressive state government to back the world’s most profitable company. Reflecting the scale of appetite for the deal, bankers are pushing for the multibillion-dollar bond to come at a cheaper borrowing cost for the oil company than for Saudi Arabian government bonds, according to people familiar with the debt sale — a highly unusual quirk. Early indicative interest from investors has already swelled to nearly $30bn for an expected total issuance of around $10bn across several maturities, said the people, although some investors expect the deal will increase in size.

All the Israeli media are dominated by election stories. Yediot Ahronoth’s lead headline declares it the “moment of truth” and displays images of Prime Minister Netanyahu on half the page with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz on his motor bike with a helmet on, on the other half. Maariv choose almost identical images and declare “photo finish.” Haaretz’s main headline focuses on the small right-wing parties battling for survival. While Israel Hayom quotes Netanyahu: “It’s not in the bag, the right wing must wake up.” All the papers report the displeasure of the small right wing parties that feel threatened by Netanyahu’s campaign to siphon off their votes. Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri accused the prime minister of being ungrateful. According to Deri: “We said what no one else said, that we would support Prime Minister Netanyahu as long as the law permitted, up until the last minute. No other party was as loyal and supportive as we were. But to my regret, and this pains me to say, I think this is ingratitude.” Yediot Ahronoth speculates: “Could it be that Netanyahu’s desperate call, “the right wing is in danger” no longer excites all the right wing voters and his coalition partners? Have some of them gotten used to this and realise that it is the usual, last-minute rescue campaign, a worn spin? And perhaps the right wing voters are asking themselves: perhaps it’s not the right wing government that is in danger but rather Netanyahu’s government, and stems from other reasons entirely?” The paper quotes a senior right wing politician: “We know him by now. This is classic Bibi. He wants to warn that the right wing is in danger of losing power, but is thinking of himself.”

Both Israel Hayom and Maariv continue to focus on undecided voters. The latter claims, that between 6 – 7 per cent of prospective voters have not yet decided who to vote for, leaving up to 9 seats in the Jewish sector alone up for grabs in tomorrow’s election. Israel’s most prominent pollster, Dr. Mina Zemah says: “There aren’t more undecided voters in these elections than there were in previous ones, perhaps even fewer. The strong polarisation this time between the two camps caused the centre to disappear. Instead, what we have is the for-Bibi camp and the against-Bibi camp, and the voters feel that they have to choose between the two.”

Nahum Barnea in Yediot Ahronoth notes: “The reason these elections have sparked interest outside of Israel is the way the authorities here have had to cope with the cyber expanse. The American presidential elections in 2016 were compromised by the Russian penetration of social media and email accounts; the campaigns for and against Brexit were similarly tainted… Elections are going to be held in a large number of European countries, India and Canada in the course of 2019. All of them have good reason to fear meddling by foreign countries and the disruption of the democratic process from within by means of social media. That is why those countries have taken a special interest in the Israeli elections. We’re serving as their guinea pig, a light (or a darkness) unto the nations.”

Yediot Ahronoth and Maariv report the hunger strike by Palestinians inside Israeli prisons with prisoners reporting progress in their contacts with the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) administration. Yesterday, the Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli prisons decided to suspend the hunger strike they began in the morning following progress in their negotiations. The hunger strike, led by the Hamas prisoners’ leadership, was announced after mobile phone signals were jammed. The papers quote Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who led the jamming project: “There are no negotiations with the security prisoners, and we continue as usual to block the mobile phones in which they direct terror from within the prison.”

Kan Radio reports comments comments by US Democratic 2020 candidate Beto O’Rourke who called Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a racist. He said at an election event in Iowa: “The US-Israel relationship is one of the most important relationships that we have on the planet, and that relationship, if it is successful, must transcend partisanship in the United States, and it must be able to transcend a prime minister who is racist, as he warns against Arabs coming to the polls, who wants to defy any prospect for peace as he threatens to annex the West Bank, and who has sided with a far-right racist party in order to maintain his hold on power.”

Maariv reports on the progress of the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet that has successfully performed its first manoeuver around the moon on Sunday morning. The spacecraft is expected to land on the moon on Thursday.