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Media Summary

IRGC hints at more attacks on US forces

BBC NewsThe Guardian, The Financial Times, The Economist and Reuters report that evidence suggests an Iranian missile brought down a Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed near Tehran, possibly in error.  The Guardian reports UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has said there was now a “body of information” that indicated the Tehran plane crash was caused by an Iranian missile. The Independent reports that Iran has invited Boeing experts to join the plane crash investigation.

The Guardian and The Times report that Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) aerospace commander, Brig Gen Amir Ali Hajizadeh, claimed this week’s strikes aimed US troops at military bases in Iraq were just the start of “big operations” across the region.

Reuters reports that the US military is weighing adjustments to its defensive posture in the Middle East after Iran upended assumptions by staging a missile attack in Iraq, a country where it wields influence, a US defence official said on Thursday.

The Guardian reports that Saudi Arabia has sent a message to Washington and London that it wants to see a de-escalation of the United States’ struggle with Iran, in a sign that Saudi Araba is nervous about its vulnerability to Iranian missile strikes – and uncertain about the reliability of US commitment to its Gulf allies.

The Sun reports that Boris Johnson has demanded an end to hostilities in a direct phone call with the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani.

The Independent reports that Palestinians have hit back at US Secretary of State Pompeo’s claim that US support for Israeli settlements will advance peace and opportunities for a two-state solution.

The Economist reports that reports of an uneasy alliance between Iran and al-Shabab will worry Washington, after an attack on US forces in Kenya raised concerns over Iran’s role in the attack.

BBC News reports that Israel has released two Syrian prisoners as a “diplomatic goodwill gesture”, following the transfer last year of the body of an Israeli soldier missing since the 1980s.

The Financial Times,Reuters and The Independent reports that the US House of Representatives has voted to limit Trump’s war powers in Iran, although the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass a parallel resolution, underscoring partisan divisions in Washington over the crisis with Tehran.

The Economist reports that Turkey is set to send troops to Libya, although Ankara will need to cut deals with Russia and other regional players with stances pertaining to the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

The Financial Times reports that global investors pumped a record amount of cash into fixed-income funds totalling $23.2 billion for the week ending Wednesday, after the threat of war prompted them to seek shelter in safe havens.

Reuters reports that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan remained deadlocked after two days of talks in their disputes over a hydropower dam on the Nile, though Cairo said it hoped the issues would be resolved by 15 January in line with a deadline agreed with Washington.

In The Times, Justin Bronk writes that ‘stress, fear and incompetence’ are the ‘most likely culprits’ for the Tehran air disaster, as photos showing the sections of a Iranian SA-15 missile circulated on Thursday morning.

Writing for BBC News, Jeremy Bowen writes that the death of Qassem Soleimani is ‘good news’ for ISIS, as the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group have been given ‘no other choice’ but to suspend their operations in Iraq.

In The New Statesman, Lawrence Freedman writes that the US assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani has lit a tinderbox in the Middle East, meaning that ‘sober strategy’ must replace ‘wounded pride’ before conflict eases in the region.

In The Financial Times, Hisham Melham argues the US will bear the ‘fruits of its strategic turn’ in the Middle East, as the assassination of Soleimani has dealt a definitive blow to Iran and its proxies throughout the region.

In The New Statesman, Jeremy Cliffe says that Iran and Saudi Arabia remain locked in a Cold War-style stand-off, but the multidimensional situation in the Middle East means the region is more volatile and fluid than ever.

In The Guardian, Simon Jenkins asserts that Donald Trump’s stance against Iran represents the ‘howl’ of a dying US empire unable to maintain its hegemonic role in the Middle East.

In The Jewish Chronicle, Anshel Pfeffer explains that Israel is unlikely to face Qassem Soleimani-based reprisals from Iran, Israel’s leaders and security chiefs decided the best way to proceed was to maintain a low profile.

In The Times, John Kampfner argues Donald Trump ‘has been outgunned’ in the Middle East, given the lack of a comprehensive US strategy dating back to the Obama administration.

In The Telegraph, David Patrikarakos asserts that Iran’s narrative of strength for the people at home is what matters most to its leaders, indicating the Khamenei regime is likely to pursue further measures to rally nationalist sentiments in the coming weeks.

In The Times, James Rogers argues Britain’s strategic policy is ‘obsolete’ at present, requiring the Johnson government’s upcoming security, defence and foreign policy review to reconfigure ‘outmoded assumptions’ informing contemporary British foreign policy choices.

In The Times, Gareth Browne argues protesters in Baghdad ‘want to end Tehran’s influence’ and many protestors are content with seeing the US and UN help rebuild Iraqi institutions.

In The Independent, Etan Nechin stresses Israel no longer want to be America’s pawns in the Middle East, citing growing regional relations in the Gulf and Eastern Mediterranean as exceeding commonalities with Washington.

Israel releases prisoners: Two Druze residents of Israel’s Golan Heights were released today from Israeli prison as part of what is believed to be a goodwill gesture towards Russia, all Israeli media reported. Sidqi al-Maqt was jailed in 2017 for spying for Syria and was serving a 14-year sentence. Amal Abu Salah was jailed in 2015 for taking part in the killing of an injured Syrian transported into Israel for medical care; Abu Salah was serving an 8-year sentence. The curious prisoner release was reportedly approved by the Israeli security cabinet in December, and is believed to be part of a trade off for Moscow’s role in securing the return last year of the remains of missing Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel from inside Syria.

Edelstein to decide on Netanyahu immunity bid: Yediot Ahronoth reported that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein will decide on Sunday whether a Knesset committee can be formed to debate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s immunity request. The Blue and White party, who along with other allies hold a Knesset majority, want the Knesset House Committee to be formed so it can vote before the March election. Edelstein, as speaker, had indicated he would reject the request – although the Knesset’s legal adviser still has to issue an opinion on whether a speaker has such authority. In recent days Blue and White have threatened to replace Edelstein as speaker if he blocks the committee’s formation.

Ministerial appointments postponed: Maariv reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided to postpone the appointment of several new ministers after criticism from the Supreme Court. Four new ministers were set to be appointed next Sunday, due primarily to Netanyahu relinquishing several portfolios after his formal indictment last month (ministers indicted are required by law to resign their post, unlike a prime minister). The Supreme Court is thought to be weighing the validity of so many ministerial appointments during a transition government. The ministries in question include Housing, Health, Agriculture, and Diaspora Affairs. David Bitan (Likud) is reported to have said he won’t accept his expected appointment as agriculture minister after it was heavily criticised because police recommended he be indicted for corruption.