Japanese Prime Minister seeks to ease tensions between Iran and US
Reuters reports that Egypt, Jordan and Morocco will attend a US-led conference in Bahrain this month discussing proposals for boosting the Palestinian economy as part of the US peace plan. Egypt and Jordan’s participation is considered particularly important since they have been key players in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and represent the only Arab states to have reached peace agreements with Israel. However, the decision by the Palestinian leadership to boycott the June 25-26 conference and shun broader diplomatic efforts related to the peace plan, which the Palestinians see as likely to be heavily tilted in favour of Israel, has raised doubts about its chances for success.
BBC News reports that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting Iran to ease tensions between Washington and Tehran regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Abe is expected to hold talks with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. However, observers have expressed doubt over what can actually be achieved.
In The Financial Times, David Gardner argues that the US peace plan represents a smokescreen to mask the burial of the two-state paradigm – an independent Palestinian state on the occupied West Bank, and Gaza with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital living in peace alongside Israel – and green light for the Israeli annexation of most of the West Bank.
Reuters reports that Russia has confirmed that it plans to deliver its S-400 missile defence systems to Turkey in July. The US and Turkey have sparred publicly for months over Ankara’s order for the S-400s, which are not compatible with NATO’s defence systems. Washington has threatened to remove Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet programme unless it drops the deal, and has set its own deadline of July 31. If Ankara accepts delivery of the S-400s, that would trigger US sanctions that could prolong Turkey’s economic recession and prompt a re-evaluation of its 67-year membership of NATO.
Reuters reports that Iran has been racing to step up exports of petrochemicals and tap new markets to compensate for sliding oil sales, according to Iranian government and international industry sources. Tehran has been selling increased volumes of petrochemical products at below market rates in countries including Brazil, China and India since the US re-imposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports in November. The scramble to bolster petrochemical sales could be interpreted as an indication of how successful the US has been in choking off Iran’s oil revenues, which have fallen further than under previous sanctions in 2012.
Reuters reports that BP has raised estimates for Saudi Arabia’s crude oil reserves by 12 per cent, marking the first major change to the country’s estimated reserves since 1989. In its benchmark 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy, BP recalibrated some Saudi gas reserves as oil, allowing Riyadh to close in on Venezuela’s top spot as the world’s largest reserves holder. BP said Saudi Arabia’s proved oil reserves were revised to 297.7 billion barrels at the end of 2018 from 266.2 billion a year earlier, only slightly behind 303 billion in Venezuela.
The Guardian reports that the front runner for the Conservative leadership, Boris Johnson, recommended that the UK allow Saudi Arabia to purchase UK arms expected to be deployed in Yemen, days after an airstrike on a potato factory in the country had killed 14 people in 2016. Campaigners accused the then foreign secretary of showing “total disregard” for Yemeni civilians by allowing the sales. UK arms controls mean that the foreign secretary has to be consulted on whether the Department for International Trade should licence “precision guided weapons systems and munitions that are likely to be used by the Saudi Royal Air Force in Yemen”.
Reuters reports that UAE Energy Minister Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui has confirmed that members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries are close to reaching an agreement on extending production cuts. Speaking at the International Economic Forum of the Americas, al-Mazroui said that given existing oil inventories the output curbs should remain in place or be extended “at least until the end of the year.” The “right decision will be a rollover,” said al-Mazroui, noting he favours continuing the curbs. OPEC and producer allies including Russia last year agreed to cut their output beginning on 1 January to avoid a supply glut. The agreement was to reduce supply by 1.2 million barrels per day for six months using October production as a baseline.
In the Israeli media Ynet reports that the official Syrian news agency, SANA, said that Israeli missiles were fired at targets in Tell al-Hara in the Daraa Governorate, some 15 km east of the border and caused damage. The statement said that Israel had engaged in electronic warfare in an attempt to disrupt the Syrian defensive systems, but they managed to intercept several of the missiles.
Writing in Yediot Ahronot Ronen Bergman follows up on the Daily Telegraph Hezbollah story and reveals: “Over the course of three and a half years, the Israeli Mossad provided the information that led to the discovery of Hezbollah’s stockpiles of weapons across Europe. The largest stockpile, three tons of raw materials for manufacturing bombs, was discovered in north west London. Additional stockpiles were discovered in Thailand, Cyprus and other countries. An Israeli intelligence official said: “Hezbollah is preparing itself for a situation in which it is going to want to go on a revenge spree, be that because of events between Israel and Lebanon or because of an attack on nuclear sites in Iran, and it has established an enormous network of advanced explosive materials.” He explains, “after the Mossad had obtained information that Hezbollah was creating a series of stockpiles across Europe and the Far East that would serve it in the long-term, in the event that its foreign terror attacks unit, Unit 910, wanted to carry out large-scale terror attacks. On the basis of information that was provided by the Mossad, members of the group were captured in Thailand. A short time afterwards, in April 2015, a young Hezbollah operative named Hussein Abdullah, who has Lebanese and Canadian citizenship, was captured in Cyprus, and a ton of ammonium nitrate was found in his cellar. Abdullah confessed under questioning to being a member of Hezbollah. The Daily Telegraph reported that the information about that arrest was not provided by the Cypriot authorities to the British authorities, but that a third party had intervened. That third party was the Mossad, which informed the British authorities that members of Hezbollah’s foreign operations unit were in the process of establishing similar stockpiles in the UK. The Mossad also provided information as to the location of those stockpiles. That information led to an undercover operation by MI5 and the Metropolitan Police, an operation that culminated in the raids.”He concludes, It seems that all of the intelligence services that were involved in this affair—the intelligence agencies of at least five different Western countries—had a vested interest in not making the information public, at least not until now, for a variety of intelligence and operational reasons. The fact that such a serious incident was successfully kept under wraps in a relatively open country such as the UK over the course of nearly four years raises two important questions. The first: did political circumstances play any role in the decision to keep the matter a secret? After all, had the information been made known publicly, that would certainly have influenced public opinion about Iran and Hezbollah. Only Hezbollah’s military wing is defined as being a terror organization in the UK. The second: who leaked the story now, and what interests lurk behind that decision? One informed source said: “We’re talking about long-term planning to perpetrate massive, reality-changing terror attacks. Fortunately for all of us, there was someone in the right place and at the right time to warn, to provide the information and to avert the creation of that infrastructure.”
All the newspapers report Egypt and Jordan’s decision to attend the economic conference in Bahrain. Israel Hayom suggests yesterday’s statement by the White House has further isolated the Palestinian Authority, which has been boycotting President Trump’s initiatives ever since he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017. Furthermore, moderate Arab states have heavily pressured the Palestinians to participate in the economic conference in Bahrain after PA Chairman Abu Mazen officially said that the Palestinians would boycott the conference due to what they called the Trump administration’s “bias” toward Israel. In addition, a senior Jordanian official told Israel Hayom that Abu Mazen had rejected a proposal for a plan to resolve the financial crisis in the PA and had even forbidden senior Palestinian officials from meeting with Israeli officials in an attempt to resolve the crisis, which is likely to precipitate the PA’s collapse. Maariv quotes PLO Executive Committee Secretary General Saeb Erekat: “All of the Palestinians have rejected the economic workshop in Manama, Bahrain outright.” He said that it was incumbent upon anyone who wanted to defend the interests of the Palestinian people to support the consensus that Abu Mazen, the PLO Executive Committee and all the Palestinian organisations and the private sector represented, whereby “we reject the American initiative.”
Maariv reflects on the “complication in Nablus” yesterday morning whereby mistaken identity led to an exchange of fire between the IDF and Palestinian Authority troops. In the papers view: “Bottom line is that the outcome of the serious incident in Nablus on Monday night will allow relations between the IDF and the Palestinian security forces to return to normal relatively quickly…..none of our soldiers were injured in the exchanges of fire between Nahal Brigade troops and Palestinian Preventative Security forces, and only one Palestinian sustained light injuries from shrapnel. Both sides can move on, since both sides stand to lose a great deal if relations sour and the security coordination in the area is undermined, particularly in view of the total disconnect in the political echelons.” It concludes: “the IDF and the Palestinian security forces have managed to keep this significant tension to a minimum. The fact that incidents of the kind that took place on Monday are very rare attests to that more than anything. For that reason, it is definitely not a coincidence when, after the first stage of accusations from the Palestinian side, both sides rushed to keep a low profile in the media in everything related to the incident.”
Israel Hayom reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu and the leaders of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich met last night to discuss the division of ministerial jobs, including education and transport. The two sides are expected to meet again today. Channel 12 News reports that former justice minister Ayelet Shaked told members of the Jewish Home party that she should lead any right-wing merger and she would deliver the most votes. Figures in the Jewish Home said that they resented Shaked’s demand and that someone who had split from and had threatened to destroy the party could not serve as its leader.
Yediot Ahronot reports the police recommendation to charge Mickey Ganor with bribery. Ganor represented the German shipyard, ThyssenKrupp, in Israel, was arrested when the investigation into the case first began three years ago for having allegedly bribed senior Israeli officials. Three months ago he backed out of the state witness agreement he signed. The Economic Crime Unit recently turned the case over to the State Attorney’s Office with the recommendation to indict Ganor on six separate offences of bribery, acquisition through fraudulent means and money laundering.