Media Summary

ITV reports from Israel on the conflict with Iran

The BBC and the Times report that US President Donald Trump has said territory held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq could be “100 per cent” liberated as early as next week. The BBC reports that Trump told a gathering of coalition partners that: “It should be announced, probably sometime next week, that we will have 100% of the caliphate”. However, he also cautioned that he wanted to “wait for the official word”. US military and intelligence officials say ISIS could stage a comeback without sustained counter-terrorism pressure. “Their land is gone,” he told Wednesday’s conference in Washington. “The ISIS caliphate has been decimated.” But the group still had “tiny sections that can be so dangerous”, he said, and “foreign fighters must not gain access” to the US. He also referred to ISIS’s propaganda machine, which recruited fighters from Europe and other regions. “For a period of time they used the internet better than we did,” he said. “They used the internet brilliantly but now it’s not so brilliant.” The US leader thanked coalition partners, saying: “We will be working together for many years to come.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged the US would continue to fight ISIS, despite withdrawing troops from Syria. He called the troop pullout a “tactical change … not a change in the mission,” and said the world was entering an “era of decentralised jihad”.

The Times reports that according to satellite pictures, an advanced Russian anti-aircraft missile system exported by Moscow to Syria appears to be in position and under preparation for use. The S-300 system is a significant upgrade to Syrian anti-aircraft defences, and is regarded as a much greater threat to Israeli warplanes that have been regularly bombing positions in the country in the past two years. It was given to Syria last October by President Vladimir Putin after a Russian reconnaissance aircraft was shot down by existing air defences by mistake after an Israeli air raid.

In a letter to the Guardian, Rosa Gilbert of the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign writes on the “true aims of the Syrian Democratic Forces”. She argues that their military aim is the defeat of ISIS and their political goal is secular democracy and autonomy in northern Syria, “not the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad”.

The Times reports that, according to senior Kurdish officials in contact with the newspaper, the fates of John Cantlie and two other Western hostages missing for years in Syria are part of ISIS negotiations to escape annihilation in one of its last pockets of territory. ISIS is seeking a deal with US-backed Kurdish-Arab forces surrounding them, asking for safe passage in return for the release of hostages they claim to have. These include the British journalist, an Italian priest, Paolo Dall’Oglio, 64, and a female Red Cross nurse from New Zealand. The three were seized separately in the early days of the terrorist group’s ascent to power. Syrian-Kurdish officials and commanders have told the Times that all three hostages have been mentioned by ISIS prisoners and family members caught recently as they fled the encircled town of Foqani Baghuz. As many as 500 senior ISIS members, including foreign fighters, are trying to negotiate their passage from Baghuz to an area of desert held by the group on the western bank of the Euphrates, abutting the border with Iraq.

Reuters reports that, on Wednesday, Senior Iranian figures said that Syria was a top foreign policy priority and American troops should withdraw, as planned by US President Donald Trump. “Whether they want to or not, the Americans must leave Syria,” Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was reported as saying. “Now 90 per cent of Syrian soil is under the control of the government and the rest will soon be freed by the Syrian army,” Velayati added during a meeting with Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Tehran, according to the Tasnim news agency. President Hassan Rouhani told Moualem that peace in Syria was a priority. “One of the important regional and foreign policy goals of the Islamic Republic is the stability and complete security of Syria,” Tasnim quoted him as saying.

ITV News’s Senior International Correspondent John Irvine reported yesterday from Israel’s northern border. The report includes interviews with IDF personnel, including spokesperson, Lt Col Jonathan Conricus and covers the threats facing Israel from Iranian entrenchment in Syria and from Hezbollah in Lebanon. The report also looks at Hezbollah’s tunnels on the Israel-Lebanon border and Israeli measures to combat them.

In the Independent, Bel Trew writes that: “The sea of Galilee is shrinking but expertise in desalination could be the answer to Israel’s water woes. And if the technology is shared, it might hold the key to regional peace.”

Reuters reports that diplomats have said the US blocked a draft UN Security Council statement on Wednesday that would have expressed regret at Israel’s decision to eject a foreign observer force from the flashpoint Palestinian city of Hebron. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week he would not renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), accusing the observers of unspecified anti-Israel activity. Norway, which has headed the multi-country observer mission for the past 22 years, said: “The one-sided Israeli decision can mean that the implementation of an important part of the Oslo accords is discontinued.”

The Independent reports that the main challenger to Prime Minister Netanyahu in the country’s upcoming elections has suggested Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank may be removed should he come to power. Benny Gantz, a former general and head of the newly founded Resilience Party, is seen as the biggest threat to Netanyahu’s 10-year reign in elections scheduled for April. Gantz had previously said some West Bank settlements would “remain forever”. In his first interview since announcing his run for prime minister, he cited the dismantling of settlements in Gaza in 2005 as an example that could be replicated in the West Bank. “All sides had a lot at stake and the state managed to do it without tearing the country apart. It was done legally, carried out by the State of Israel and the IDF, and even though it was very painful for the settlers, it was handled well,” he said. “We must take the lessons of the disengagement and implement them in other arenas.”

The BBC reports that the US military has announced plans to buy and test out Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system. The system, which uses radar and interceptor missiles to combat incoming threats, has been in use since 2011. The US Department of Defence has said the system will be used on a test basis, while it assesses options for the military’s long-term needs. Prime Minister Netanyahu has labelled the sale a “great achievement for the country”. “This is another manifestation of the deepening of our steadfast alliance with the United States, and an expression of Israel’s rising status in the world,” his statement went on. Iron Dome works by tracking incoming short-range projectiles by radar, then analyses data about the likely impact zone before assessing whether to provide co-ordinates to a missile firing unit to intercept.

In the Guardian, Peter Beaumont writes that Labour MP Graham Jones’s “grotesque take on Yemen war casualties serves only to show the sordid and politicised nature of body counts”.

In the Israeli media, all the papers prominently cover the results of the Likud primaries.  Haaretz reports on Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein taking first place, while Gidon Saar finishes fourth.  They all note Gidon Saar’s successful return to front line politics, despite the calls of the Prime Minister.  Maariv quotes a source close to Prime Minister Netanyahu saying, “Saar should not expect to be a senior minister in the next cabinet.”   Furthermore they speculate that Netanyahu reportedly fears the alliance that Minister Haim Katz made with Gideon Saar, in which five district candidates won places on the list.   In the commentary, Yediot Ahronoth, notes, “The registered Likud members displayed maturity. They did not turn into the obedient foot soldiers of Netanyahu, who failed again and again. He got beaten in the odd, bizarre campaign that he tried to wage against Gideon Saar, and he failed to promote his candidate for the Tel Aviv district, David Sharan, whom Netanyahu endorsed even though he is a suspected criminal. What does it say about the Likud’s registered members when the main suspect will be the leader of their party? That will be interesting.”  There is also praise for the party in Maariv, “The Likud primary, the fact that it was held, the way it was held, and of course the results are a badge of honour for this party and its members, in contrast to all the disparagement in the past. It proved that they are not only more democratic than most of the other parties, that they are not only wiser and more responsible in choosing their list, but that they also can think and act independently. It also illustrated that while the party members love the prime minister very much and even back him, they basically gave him a yellow card.”

Kan News commissioned a poll after the Likud party primary that found that the Likud had gained and would win 32 seats in the Knesset. Israel Resilience Party chaired by Benny Gantz maintained its strength and won 22 seats. Yesh Atid gained strength and won 11 seats.  The New Right under Bennett and Shaked dropped to seven seats; Ahmed Tibi’s Arab Movement for Renewal also won seven seats; Avi Gabbay’s Labour Party continued to fall to six seats, as did United Torah Judaism and the Joint List. The Jewish Home and the National Union won five seats together, as did Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu. Kulanu and Meretz scraped by the electoral threshold and won four seats.

Kan news reports that a mortar that was fired from the Gaza Strip exploded in an uninhabited area of the Eshkol region in the Gaza periphery communities. No one was injured and no damage was caused. An IDF tank fired on a Hamas post in retaliation in the southern Gaza Strip.

Maariv reports that Alona Barkat, an Israeli businesswoman, and owner of the football team Hapoel Beer Sheva is about to join the New Right party.  She will hold a press conference this afternoon where she is expected to declare her entrance into politics.

Haaretz reports that the US military plans to buy a limited number of Iron Dome missile defence systems from Israel to fill a short-term need for interim indirect fire protection capability.   “The Iron Dome will be assessed and experimented as a system that is currently available to protect deployed U.S. military service members against a wide variety of indirect fire threats and aerial threats,” the US army said in a statement.  According to a statement from Israel’s Defence Ministry, the American military told Israel it had decided to purchase the systems “for immediate needs of the U.S. army.”  Prime Minister Netanyahu, who also serves as defence minister, called this a “great achievement for Israel” and “further proof of our solid bond with the U.S., as well of Israel’s rising status in the world.”  “Israel has an Iron Dome and an iron fist. Our systems can face any threat,” Netanyahu added.

Israel Hayom notes “the great heart gave out”, reporting on the sudden death of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of a heart attack aged 67.  Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and president Rivlin released messages expressing sorrow.  Haaretz notes Yechiel Eckstein was “a charismatic rabbi who built a philanthropic empire.” Eckstein was the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, an organisation that raises funds almost exclusively from Christian evangelicals to support social causes in Israel and the Jewish world. The largest private charity operating in Israel, IFCJ (known in Hebrew as “Keren Yedidut”), raises about $140million a year, helping feed and clothe the poor in Israel.