Iranian oil tanker ‘goes dark’ near Syria
Reuters reports that Israel has accused Hezbollah of setting up a factory for precision-guided missiles in the Bekaa valley, in a veiled warning of further possible Israeli counter-strikes. Sunday’s shelling exchange was the fiercest between Israel and Hezbollah since the 2006 Lebanon war. While neither is keen to escalate, Israel has said it could act against any upgrades of Hezbollah’s missile arsenal, while Hezbollah has said it would retaliate for attacks on Lebanese soil. In a statement accompanied by satellite images, the Israeli military said that Hezbollah had been bringing specialised equipment to a weapons factory near the Bekaa village of al-Nabi Sheet with a view to setting up a production line for precision-guidance missiles.
BBC News, the Independent and Reuters report that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has ruled out ever holding bilateral talks with the US. “There have been a lot of offers for talks but our answer will always be negative,” Rouhani told MPs. But he said Iran would agree to resume multilateral talks if all US sanctions on Iran were lifted. Rouhani has threatened to suspend further JCPOA provisions unless European countries take action by Thursday to shield the Iranian economy from US sanctions. The Financial Times and Reuters report that France has confirmed it is spearheading an initiative to offer Iran a $15bn international credit line in an attempt to reduce regional and rescue the JCPOA. The Times reports that Iran is refusing to provide answers to UN inspectors about its alleged storage of radioactive material and equipment at a site in Tehran in breach of its undertakings to world powers, diplomats have said.
The Telegraph and Reuters report that the tanker at the centre of the diplomatic row between Iran and the UK “went dark” yesterday night off the coast of Syria, where it is suspected she may be delivering a controversial cargo of Iranian crude oil. The Adrian Darya 1, formally named Grace 1, would be doing so in breach of an agreement made to secure its release. The vessel was detained by British Royal Marine commandos off Gibraltar on July 4 as it was believed to be en route to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. Two weeks later, Iran seized Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz. Gibraltar released the Adrian Darya on 15 August after receiving formal written assurances from Tehran that the ship would not discharge its 2.1 million barrels of oil in Syria.
BBC News, the Guardian, Telegraph, Independent and Reuters report that UN experts have said that the UK, US, France and Iran may be complicit in possible war crimes in Yemen over their support for parties to the conflict there. A new report warns the countries they could be held responsible for aiding or assisting the commission of violations by the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels. Their report documents air strikes on civilian infrastructure, indiscriminate shelling, snipers, landmines, as well as arbitrary killings and detention, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and the impeding of access to humanitarian aid.
Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia has deployed more troops in southern Yemen to contain clashes between nominal allies in the Saudi-led military coalition. Saudi soldiers and armed vehicles arrived over the weekend in the capital of the oil-producing Shabwa province where the United Arab Emirates-backed separatists have been battling forces of Yemen’s Saudi-backed government for control, two local officials said. “Saudi forces arrived in Shabwa and started working with the local government for a de-escalation and a ceasefire. All parties responded positively to the coalition’s calls,” coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said on Monday.
BBC News and the Independent report that a Palestinian student who was denied entry to the US last month to study at Harvard has now been admitted. Ismail Ajjawi said he was barred entry after border agents questioned him for hours at Boston Airport over social media posts written by friends. The Customs and Border Protection said that Ajjawi had overcome “all grounds of inadmissibility and was admitted into the United States as a student on a F1 visa”. The agency did not elaborate on why he had been denied entry and later admitted.
The Financial Times and Reuters report that the US has imposed sanctions on Iran’s civilian space agency, accusing it of developing Tehran’s ballistic missile programme. The sanctions, which were issued against the Iran Space Agency and two affiliated research institutes on Tuesday, will affect foreign companies and governments that interact with the Iranian agency, and freeze any of the agency’s assets in the US. An Iranian rocket exploded on its launch pad at Imam Khomeini Space Center before its scheduled launch last Thursday, according to Reuters.
Reuters reports that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said that a de-escalation zone in Idlib is slowly disappearing because of military attacks by government forces. Erdogan also said he would make all necessary contacts with parties to find a solution to the Idlib situation, adding that a Syria safe zone which he has proposed to host Syrians fleeing the war is nothing more than a name. “Idlib is slowly disappearing. Idlib is in a situation that it started to disappear and become torn down in a way Aleppo is. It is not possible to stay silent against this,” Erdogan said.
Reuters reports that Turkey’s interior minister on Tuesday threatened “to devastate” the mayor of Istanbul over his support for three Kurdish mayors who were replaced by state officials over alleged terror links less than five months after the trio were elected. Last month, Turkey replaced pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayors in Diyarbakir, Van and Mardin with state officials, and detained more than 400 people over suspected militant links, in a move sharply criticised by the opposition.
Reuters reports that nine former US Ambassadors have warned that Afghanistan could collapse in a “total civil war” if President Trump withdraws all US forces before the Kabul government and Taliban conclude a peace settlement. “A major troop withdrawal must be contingent on a final peace […] The initial US drawdown should not go so far or so fast that the Taliban believe they can achieve military victory”. The nine issued their warning after US chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad announced a draft accord with the Taliban for an initial drawdown of 5,400 troops.
The Guardian reports that the owner of the Independent and the Evening Standard Evgeny Lebedev hosted a private dinner for Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, raising further questions about the media mogul’s links to Saudi Arabia. Lebedev’s news outlets are being investigated over Saudi investment made through offshore bank accounts, with the UK government suggesting that the Independent and Standard are part-owned by the Saudi state. The culture secretary, Nicky Morgan, has until Friday to decide whether or not to appeal against a court ruling that the UK government missed a deadline to intervene in the deal.
The Independent reports that Palestinians have taken to the streets to protest against the suspected killing of a 21-year-old woman. Israa Ghrayeb, a Palestinian make-up artist from Beit Sahour in the occupied West Bank, died on 22 August after being severely injured two weeks earlier. Campaigners say she was severely beaten by family members in a so-called honour killing attack and have called for an end to domestic abuse and femicide which is defined at the gender-motivated killing of women.
In the Times, Hannah Lucinda Smith argues that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has “inspired a generation of European populists to downgrade democracy”.
In the Financial Times, Anjli Raval, Andrew England, Arash Massoudi and Simeon Kerr argue that the appointment of Yasir al-Rumayyan as Chair of Saudi Aramco demonstrates the influence of the Public Investment Fund. In the Financial Times, David Shepphard argues that Khalid al-Falih’s loss of status puts him under new pressure to meet Mohammed bin Salman’s goals.
Netanyahu alleges Arab voter fraud cost him election: Israeli media reported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allegation, made live yesterday on Facebook, that voter fraud in the April election allowed the Arab-Israeli Balad party to win seats, decreasing the right-wing bloc’s seats in Israel’s proportional representation system and, by extension, costing the Likud the election. Netanyahu warned of similar offences in the upcoming September 17 poll. Haaretz reported that the premier’s claims lack any evidentiary basis: while the police are investigating voter irregularities at some 150 polling stations, state legal authorities only have approximately six cases pending, out of which only one is likely to be moved forward. “It’s only speculation, it’s not a scenario anyone thinks has some kind of basis,” a senior Likud official told Haaretz.
Gantz seeking “liberal unity government” with Likud: Yediot Ahronoth reported yesterday that the Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz, has shifted its campaign strategy, giving up on ultra-Orthodox political support to form the next government and instead focusing on secular Israeli voters. Gantz said yesterday that he would seek to form a “liberal unity” government with Likud and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, and only thereafter approach parties on the right and left to join the existing coalition. “I pledge to establish a government that is based on the majority, without extremists and without blackmail,” Gantz said at a campaign stop.