Iran using hit squads in Iraq to silence critics
Reuters reports that, according to Russia’s RIA News Agency, Syria’s air defence forces shot down an Israeli war plane and four missiles on Thursday. RIA cited a Syrian security source, but Israel’s military said the report was bogus. The Syrian source said the missiles aimed at the town of Kiswah, south of the capital Damascus, were struck before they reached their targets that Syrian opposition sources said were Iranian-backed strongholds. The area where the incident is said to have occurred is where Lebanon’s Hezbollah, a group backed by Iran, has its communications and logistics hub for southern Syria, according to two senior regional intelligence sources. The Israel Defence Forces said in a statement on Twitter: “In the course of Syrian ground-to-air missile fire, (Israel’s) air defences sighted a single trajectory towards an open area of the Golan Heights. At this stage it remains unclear whether there was indeed an impact in our territory. Our forces are scouring the area. Furthermore, the report about a strike on an Israeli aircraft or an Israeli aerial target are bogus.”
The Guardian, Independent and Reuters report that Prime Minister Theresa May plans to speak to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 Summit in Argentina. The Guardian reports that the Prime Minister will raise the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and the situation in Yemen with the Crown Prince. “I am intending to speak with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. The message that I give will be very clear … on this issue of Jamal Khashoggi but also on the issue of Yemen,” the Prime Minister told reporters before touching down in Buenos Aires. “[On Khashoggi’s killing] we want to see a full and transparent investigation in relation to what happened and obviously those responsible being held to account. On the issue of Yemen we continue to be deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation,” May said. “The long-term solution for the Yemen is a political situation and we will be encouraging all parties actually to look for that and work for that.” Western nations are calling for an end to the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen launched by Crown Prince Salman.
The Telegraph, Reuters and the Express report on Iran’s role in Iraq. The Telegraph reports that according to British security officials, Iran is using teams of hit squads in Iraq to silence critics of Iranian attempts to meddle in Iraq’s new government. The hit squads are said to have been deployed on the orders of Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, with the aim of intimidating opponents of Iranian interference in Iraqi politics. The hit squads were deployed after Iraq’s general election in May, when Iranian attempts to establish a controlling influence over the new Iraqi government were stymied by the failure of Tehran-backed candidates to win sufficient votes. “Iran in intensifying its campaign of intimidation against the Iraqi government by using assassination squads to silence critics of Tehran,” a senior British security official told the newspaper. “This is a blatant attempt to thwart efforts by the new Iraqi government to end Iran’s meddling in Iraq.” Reuters reports that the US has displayed pieces of what it said were Iranian weapons deployed to militants in Yemen and Afghanistan, a move by President Donald Trump’s administration to pressure Tehran to curb its regional activities, the paper said. The presentation of Iranian weapons by the Pentagon, much of which was handed over by Saudi Arabia, coincides with growing concern in Congress over US military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war, which has led to a deep humanitarian crisis. The Express reports that Iranians have taken to the streets as thousands of teachers and factory workers stage mass demonstrations in defiance of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s government. Massive demonstrations of steel and sugar cane workers began two weeks ago. Teachers joined them in solidarity last week chanting anti-regime slogans such as “death to Rouhani” in nationwide walkouts. The workers demanded their unpaid salaries, better working conditions and the release of their imprisoned colleagues.
The Daily Mail and the Guardian report that CNN has fired a commentator for his comments regarding Israel. The Daily Mail reports that the comments were described by critics as a ‘dog whistle’ advocating the elimination of Israel. During a speech at the UN on Wednesday, Marc Lamont Hill accused the Israeli government of “normalising settler colonialism” and called for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea”. Hill made the comment during a meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People in observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. On Thursday, a spokesperson for CNN told Fox News that Marc Lamont Hill is no longer under contract with CNN.
The Times reports that senior Republican lawmakers have rebuked President Trump by voting to limit his ability to give military support to Saudi Arabia. The 63 to 37 vote, with 13 Republicans joining the Democrats, was held after senators were denied a briefing by Gina Haspel, the CIA director, on the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Haspel flew to Turkey to review a Turkish recording of the incident. The block on US military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen was an “unprecedented setback for the Saudis and the Trump administration,” Bruce Riedel, of the Brookings Institution, said.
The Independent reports that in Syria, according to researchers, the regime and Russian armed forces deliberately and repeatedly targeted ambulances as part of a calculated strategy to gain the upper hand in the country’s civil war. Researchers analysed over 200 individual attacks involving 243 ambulances, more than half of which were deliberately targeted. Some 60 per cent of the attacks were carried out by the Syrian regime, while 29 per cent were blamed on Russia, which joined the conflict on the side of President Bashar Assad in 2015. This is according to researchers writing in BMJ Global Health, an online peer reviewed journal.
The BBC reports that a 19-year-old British expat has been arrested in Egypt on suspicion of spying. According to his family, Muhammad Abul-Kasem, 19, originally from Manchester, was detained in the country on 21 November. A relative told the BBC Abul-Kasem was arrested upon his arrival from Libya after authorities found a photograph of a military aircraft on his mobile phone. The Foreign Office confirmed a British man had been arrested in the Egyptian port of Alexandria. They said he now faces charges of spying, although no details have been confirmed by Egyptian authorities.
The Daily Mail reports that an Israeli court has extended the remand of the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem for three days following his arrest Sunday in connection with an investigation related to a land sale. Palestinian officials have condemned the arrest of Adnan Gheith and claim it is intended to pressure the Palestinian leadership over the land sale case. Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court extended Gheith’s remand until this Sunday as the investigation continues, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Gheith was arrested on 25 November for the second time in as many months. He was also taken for questioning a number of times in recent weeks and his office was raided on 4 November.
Haaretz, Yediot Ahronot and Israel Hayom follow up reports of an Israeli attack in Syria. Maariv reports that Syria military sources are claiming they had intercepted Israeli missiles and caused Israeli planes to retreat. The Al-Arabiya network reported that Israel Air Force planes attacked Iranian militias and depots with Iranian weapons in Al-Kiswa, south of Damascus. Syrian television reported that the anti-aircraft system of the Syrian army had succeeded in repelling the attack and that the enemy planes had been unable to hit even a single one of its targets. The IDF did not comment on the reports in the Arabic media outlets, although it did state that there was no truth to the allegation that an Israeli aircraft had been hit. Maariv also reports that an Iranian plane landed in Beirut with arms shipments for Hezbollah.
Yediot Ahronoth, Maariv and Israel Hayom lead with the report that the Goldberg Committee has rejected Moshe Edri’s nomination for police commissioner, a decision Yediot Ahronot calls a “bombshell”. The panel based its recommendations on a meeting Edri had with the lawyer of Rafi Rotem who had complained about him, concluding that it’s enough for the meeting to smell funny to cast a cloud over his nomination and take him out of the running.
Kan Radio reports that Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said that he did not accept the Goldberg Committee’s decision because its arguments did not prove any moral flaws in Edri’s behaviour or in his integrity. Erdan asked to appear before the committee to explain why Edri is an appropriate appointment. The committee met yesterday for 10 hours to discuss the matter and issued its decision after midnight. Two members supported the appointment and two were opposed, among them the chairman. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called to cancel the Goldberg Committee arguing that if the appointment of Edri were to come before the cabinet, she would vote in favour. She said that the opinion of two members of the committee, Goldberg and Einhorn, was unreasonable.
Haaretz and Maariv report that in advance of the release of the recommendations in Case 4,000, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to replace his defence team, though attorney Amit Hadad will continue to represent him. Navot Tel-Zur, who has represented a series of public figures in the past, including Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Aryeh Deri, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Dani Dankner, and Zvi Bar, will head the new team. Attorney Liat Ben-Ari, who is assigned to the Netanyahu case, passed on her opinion on Case 1,000 (the gifts affair) and Case 2,000 (the Netanyahu-Mozes conversations) to State Attorney Shai Nitzan for a decision, with a recommendation to indict Netanyahu. Nitzan will pass his decision on to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and a final decision will then be made. Haaretz argues that the State Attorney’s Office believes a decision in the Netanyahu cases will be significantly delayed.