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Media Summary

Iran unveils new missile with 800 mile range

The BBC, Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Independent and Financial Times report on Pope Francis’s visit to the UAE. The BBC reports that Pope Francis has arrived in the UAE for the first ever visit by a pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula. He landed in Abu Dhabi where he was greeted by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. The Pope will take part in an interfaith conference and on Tuesday hold Mass in which 120,000 people are expected to attend. Before leaving he expressed concern about the war in Yemen, in which the UAE is engaged. “The population [in Yemen] is exhausted by the lengthy conflict and a great many children are suffering from hunger, but cannot access food depots,” the Pope said. “The cry of these children and their parents rises up to God,” he said. It is not clear whether the Pope plans to raise the issue in public or in private while visiting the UAE. The UAE is involved in Yemen as part of a Saudi-led coalition. Yesterday the Guardian published an editorial about the visit, arguing that: “The demonstration that Christians can worship peacefully and in large numbers in a Muslim country will send an important, and welcome, signal round the world.”

The Guardian, Independent and Financial Times report on Iran. The Guardian reports that Donald Trump wants to keep US troops in Iraq, in order to “watch” Iran. The President made the comment in an interview given to CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’ because the network is this year’s Super Bowl broadcaster. Despite the invasion of Iraq being “one of the greatest mistakes … that our country has ever made” he said, he wanted to maintain a military presence. Asked if he wanted to strike Iran, Trump said: “No, because I want to be able to watch Iran. All I want to do is be able to watch. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It’s perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up.” He added: “We’re going to keep watching and we’re going to keep seeing and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do.” In the Financial Times, Michael Peel asks: “Can Europe’s new financial channel save the Iran nuclear deal?” The Independent reports that, according to Iranian state television, Iran has unveiled a new cruise missile with a range of 800 miles (1,300km). This came as the Islamic Republic displayed its achievements during celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “With a range of more than 1,300 km … this cruise missile needs a very short time for its preparedness and can fly at a low altitude,” Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami said in remarks carried by state television during the unveiling ceremony. Hatami said the new surface-to-surface missile, named Hoveizeh, was from the Soumar family of cruise missiles, which were unveiled in 2015. Western experts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, although there are concerns about its long-range ballistic missiles.

In the Independent, Bel Trew argues that: “Racism against Arab Israelis will reach unprecedented levels by Israel’s April elections – and the world won’t care”. Trew writes that issues such as racial discrimination were “once kept in check” by the left in Israel and Jewish diaspora in countries like the United States, however that “backlash seems to have quietened”. Trew uses the example of the Nation State Law, which passed through the Knesset last year with “little to no reaction abroad”, to demonstrate this point.

Reuters reports that three British lawmakers, on Monday, endorsed reports that women activists detained in Saudi Arabia have been tortured, and said responsibility for what is likely a violation of international law could lie with “Saudi authorities at the highest level”. Amnesty International said last month it had documented 10 cases of torture and abuse – including sexual harassment, electrocution, flogging and death threats – while the activists were held at an undisclosed location last summer. Reuters reported earlier that an aide to Prince Mohammed who was fired for his role in the Khashoggi murder personally oversaw the torture of at least one of the women months earlier. Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy where public protests and political parties are banned, says it does not have political prisoners and denies torture allegations. Officials have said monitoring of activists is needed to ensure social stability. Yet British lawmakers Crispin Blunt, Layla Moran and Paul Williams said they found reports by international rights groups and news media to be credible, describing the detainees’ treatment as “cruel, inhuman and degrading”. The lawmakers, who formed a review panel with prominent lawyers, said the Saudi authorities had also violated international law by holding the detainees incommunicado and denying them access to legal advice.

The Telegraph have published a dispatch, reporting from the Yemeni city of Al Ghaydah, which is “increasingly suffocated by the Saudi blockade”. The city of Al Ghaydah, and the wider governorate of Al Mahra, have been spared much of the devastation of Yemen’s civil war, says the report. But now, locals say, it is facing is an increasingly suffocating blockade by Saudi Arabia – businesses are failing, hospitals are chronically low on supplies, and local fishermen are prevented from leaving the shore.

The Guardian reports that, according to a survey, large numbers of people in Christian-majority countries in the West see a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of their nation. However, significantly fewer people in the Middle East and North Africa view Christianity in the same way. Nearly half the people taking part in the poll in France and Germany, and nearly one-third in the US and the UK, thought there was a clash between Islam and the values of society in their country. When asked the same question about Christianity, 25 per cent of people in Saudi Arabia and 22 per cent of Algerians said there was a clash with the values of their country, but the proportions fell to 13 per cent in the UAE and 7 per cent in Egypt. The poll on attitudes towards religion, carried out by YouGov, was commissioned by the Muslim Council of Elders to mark the first papal visit to the Arabian peninsula. Pope Francis is attending an interfaith conference in Abu Dhabi and will hold an open-air mass on Tuesday expected to be attended by 120,000 people.

The Financial Times reports that members of the Egyptian parliament have submitted a motion calling for amendments to the constitution that could see President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi remain in power beyond the end of his second term in 2022. Mahmoud Badr, one of about 120 lawmakers who submitted the motion on Sunday, told a television interviewer that one of the proposed changes would extend presidential terms from four to six years. Egypt’s constitution limits the president to two terms in office. Mohamed Abu Hamed, a member of parliament, said last month that if presidential terms were extended, it would probably mean that the clock would be reset, and Sisi would be eligible for two new six-year terms. The president’s supporters have been clamouring for an extension of his rule arguing that a change of leadership would be destabilising and that he needed to complete the big infrastructure projects he had launched. Some have even gone to court to request a ruling forcing parliament to debate amendments to the constitution so that Sisi could remain in office.

The Guardian reports that the neutrality of the chief gatekeeper to the UK’s arms control regime has been brought into question after he repeatedly attacked the integrity of British NGOs’ claims about civilian deaths in Yemen. Graham Jones, a Labour MP and chair of the Commons committee on arms export controls (CAEC), also said that blame for the war in Yemen lay primarily with Iran, and not the West or Saudi Arabia. Jones is the most senior parliamentarian overseeing Britain’s arms control regime, including the lawfulness of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Yemen’s UN-backed government, supported by Saudi and UAE forces, has been trying to dislodge a Houthi militia in the country. Jones told the defence select committee that NGOs were “dishonest” in their reporting. “We see it time and time again with regards to airstrikes – there is a gross exaggeration by NGOs as to what has happened. You just have to pick up the newspaper. The examples they finally do get to attribute, you suddenly find after investigating they are inaccurate and grossly inaccurate.” Jones said there was “a constant stream of stories” generated by NGOs based on so-called evidence that turned out to be false.

The Telegraph reports that a prayer caller at a mosque in the Israeli city of Acre is appealing for his job back after he says he had been fired over photos posted online of him in a revealing outfit at a bodybuilding contest. Ibrahim al-Masri said he lost his job as chief muezzin of the Al-Jazzar Mosque after local officials came upon the photos of him at the state bodybuilding championship in 2017. “Each sport has a specific type of clothing. Football has its own, tennis has its own, swimming has its own. Same thing for bodybuilding,” Masri said, referring to the wire-thin briefs competitors typically wear. “I never dreamed this would happen. Because I know that Israel is a democratic country, and if someone makes a mistake, they can fix it,” Masri said. He added: “But to fix a mistake with another mistake? It’s not right.”

The Israeli media report increasing political tension in the Likud party ahead of tomorrow’s primary elections in which 120,000 registered Likud members will choose their candidates for the party’s Knesset list.

Yediot Ahronot, Haaretz and Maariv report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking steps to prevent Gidon Saar from leading the Likud Knesset List. Netanyahu launched the inaugural broadcast of “Likud TV” last night, which is based in Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv and gave an interview to reality TV star, Eliraz Sadeh. Netanyahu said people had told him Saar had asked them for their support so that the task of forming the next government would not be assigned to Netanyahu after the elections. This manoeuvre won’t succeed, Netanyahu said. Two months ago, Netanyahu accused Saar of a subversive plot hatched in collusion with President Reuven Rivlin in which Rivlin would assign the task of forming the government to Saar. The alleged “plot” was vigorously denied by the President and by Saar. Saar said in response to Netanyahu’s latest accusation: “Regrettably, two days before the primary, the prime minister had chosen to recycle the false libel that he made a few months ago.”

Netanyahu also attacked former IDF Chief of Staff and Israel Resilience Party leader Benny Gantz. “Is Gantz left wing?” he asked. “You aren’t listening to the media. They say that he is to the right of Genghis Khan. They are trying to hide the fact that Gantz can only be elected by a blocking majority of the left wing and the Arab parties. Without that, he doesn’t have a chance.” The Israel Resilience Party said: “Thank you Netanyahu for the last decade. We’ll take it from here.”

Writing in Maariv, Ben Caspit said: “It turns out that the ‘plot of the century’ is still alive and kicking, at least in the residence on Balfour Street. Not a single journalist in Israel has ever succeeded in locating those ‘more than two-three people’ [who told Netanyahu about Saar’s plot]. There isn’t a single Likud activist who can even point in their presumed direction.” Caspit writes about plans for a potential merger between the Israel Resilience Party and Yair Lapid’s party Yesh Atid as well as former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi: “Ashkenazi… is the person who is trying to square the circle, or to draw a circle around Gantz and Lapid… his work plan is to create a ‘dream team’ in the centre-left that will be able to extricate Israel from the dead-end it has fallen into. Once upon a time that was to have been a united front comprised of Kahlon-Lapid-Ashkenazi, but in the meantime a new elephant has entered the center-left’s living room and goes by the name of Benny Gantz. So the story now is to bring Gantz and Lapid together.”

Israel Hayom reports that Netanyahu is pressuring for mergers in the right-wing bloc to prevent votes from being lost. Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu asked National Union Chairman Bezalel Smotrich to merge with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, in addition to calling on Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri to form a united ultra-Orthodox bloc with the United Torah Judaism Party. Netanyahu is looking to avoid a scenario where one or two factions do not receive enough votes in April to cross the electoral threshold. A statement from the Prime Minister announced that: “Netanyahu is calling on Jewish Home to work toward uniting with National Union and Otzma [Yehudit], so that the right-wing bloc will not lose seats, which could result in the formation of a leftist government.” Party lists must be finalised by February 21.

Yuval Karni writes in Yediot Ahronot that: “Netanyahu appears to be deeply troubled by the political map that is coalescing,” adding that “a senior Likud minister said a few days ago in a private conversation that the possibility that Netanyahu would be hard put to form a stable coalition was not groundless. Netanyahu can win 35 seats in the elections, but he will find himself without natural partners. If parties like the Jewish Home, Jewish Identity, Otzma Yehudit and perhaps even Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu fail to cross the electoral threshold, Netanyahu will have a hard time forming a new government. It’s all a matter of arithmetic.”

Kan Radio reports that Rabbi Avi Peretz, who was the IDF Chief Rabbi, was selected chairperson of the Jewish Home. This was announced by a consulting committee that was appointed by the Jewish Home’s Central Committee. He is to confirm his appointment today and choose the Jewish Home list for the Knesset. The party is expected to once again merge with the National Union party for the elections.

Kan Radio reports that the Labour Party intends to play down the Palestinian issue in its election campaign and to highlight socio-economic issues. It comes after the party’s Chairperson, Avi Gabbay, said in closed-door meetings that much of the public had no interest in the Palestinian issue.

The Times of Israel writes that Iranian state media has reported that Iran has equipped its most advanced, longest-range missiles, which can hit Israel and US bases in the Gulf, with new precision-guided warheads. According to the unsourced report in the Fars news agency, the new home-made guided warheads have now been attached to the Khoramshahr, a missile with a range of 1,250 miles.

Maariv reports that a Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese news channel broadcast previously unseen footage of the moment a Palestinian sniper in the Gaza Strip shot an Israeli officer in the helmet last month, causing him light injuries. On January 22, a gunman from the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad group fired at the Paratroopers Brigade company commander during a riot along the southern Gaza border. The bullet struck the officer’s helmet, which saved his life.

Haaretz reports that Petah Tikva Mayor Rami Greenberg has asked residents to report to a hotline any asylum seekers they see in their vicinity in order to expel them from the city. “After creating an intelligence infrastructure, the municipality and the Immigration Authority will work together to remove them from the city,” Greenberg said last week after a meeting with the head of the Enforcement and Foreigners unit of the Population and Immigration Authority, Yossi Edelstein.