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Media Summary

Jihadists convicted for 2015 Tunis beach attack

In the Times Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, writes on the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution: “I can’t celebrate 40 years of brutal and repressive Iran.” Condemning the regime in Tehran, Regev says: “The Islamic Republic augments its oppression at home with aggression abroad — from enabling Assad’s murderous dictatorship in Syria, which has caused millions to flee for Europe, to supporting Hezbollah and Hamas terrorism. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards continue to fund their nefarious activities around the world by siphoning off vast sums of cash that could be better spent on the country’s own suffering people.” Regev ends the piece by saying: “One day, I hope to see El Al flight LY131 take off again for Tehran, but for that to happen, Iran’s leaders must begin to serve their proud nation rather than continue to disgrace it.”

In the Telegraph, Henry Newman asks how some people in Britain can still support the Iranian regime, 40 years after its 1979 revolution.

The Times reports that the last Shah of Iran’s heir, Reza Pahlavi, is ready for Iran’s next revolution. Reza Pahlavi, who was in Texas as an 18-year-old air cadet when his family lost its grip on power, says the mood of the country is as unhappy now as it was in the months leading to the Islamic Revolution. Iran’s former crown prince, who lives comfortably in exile with his wife and three daughters in suburban Maryland, has revealed that he is helping to create a “coalition of the willing” among opposition groups that will soon present a plan to manage the transition if — he believes when — the mullahs lose power. As he held private meetings with US representatives on Capitol Hill last week, Pahlavi claimed that publishing a step-by-step plan for replacing the regime would also encourage ordinary Iranians to hasten its demise. “To fill the vacuum left by the regime disappearing and in order to avoid anarchy there has to be a clear, concrete alternative,” said Pahlavi, who was speaking to the Times in the office of a congressman. “That manifests itself in the form of a coalition of the willing to work together on a common platform to produce two elements: an interim government that will be in charge during the transition and the election of a constituent assembly that will have to figure out a constitution and ultimately put it to a referendum.”

The BBC and Financial Times report that Algeria’s 81-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will seek a fifth term in April’s elections. The Financial Times reports that the country’s official news agency reported on Sunday that Bouteflika, who is 82 in March, would be a candidate for the election to be held in April. Bouteflika has not been heard speaking for several years, and many Algerians are concerned that his frailty means real power is wielded by an opaque circle of officials and relatives around him. Bouteflika came to power in 1999 and many Algerians credit him with restoring peace in the country after a decade of violence which pitted radical Islamists against the military and led to the killing of some 200,000 people. As the regime’s candidate, Bouteflika is likely to win in a country with tightly controlled politics, weak opposition parties and limited press freedoms. Analysts argue that the decision by Algeria’s power brokers in the army and within the ruling establishment to back Bouteflika, despite his poor health, reflects the inability of competing factions to agree on another person.

In the Guardian, Amr Darrag argues that: “If [Egyptian President] Sisi’s brutality in Egypt continues, the results could be dire for Europe.” Darrag writes that Egypt’s autocratic Government is worse than any before it and must be dealt with before the country explodes into violence. With regards to Europe, Darrag warns: “If Europe does not address the autocracy of Sisi’s government and Egypt fails, the consequences will be almost unimaginable. The twin disasters of the Syrian civil war and the failure of Libya – whose population is less than a tenth of the size of Egypt’s – sent desperate refugees across the Mediterranean in almost unprecedented numbers. If Egypt explodes into violence, the refugee crisis alone would shake the continent to its foundations, and any export of terrorism would animate and inflame rising European nationalism and xenophobia.”

The BBC reports that seven jihadists have been sentenced to life in prison in Tunisia over attacks at a museum and a beach resort in 2015. Sixty people, mostly tourists, died in the two attacks and many more were wounded. Some of the defendants received lesser sentences and 27 were acquitted. Prosecutors plan to appeal. The first attack, at the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March 2015 killed 22. Three months later, 38 tourists, most of them British, were shot dead at Port El Kantaoui, near Sousse. The ISIS terror group said it had carried out the attacks. The man believed to have planned both, Chamseddine al-Sandi, remains at large. Unconfirmed reports suggested he may have died in a US air strike in February 2016 in Libya.

The BBC and the Times report on ISIS’s last enclave in Syria. The BBC reports that US-backed fighters in Syria say they are meeting fierce resistance in the last remaining enclave in Syria’s eastern province of Deir al-Zour, near the Iraqi border. A battle has been going on for hours, with US-led coalition air strikes and artillery fire pounding ISIS positions. Up to 600 jihadists are thought to be defending their last stronghold. On Saturday, after a pause of more than a week to allow some 20,000 civilians to leave the area, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman Mustafa Bali said the group was launching the “final battle to crush ISIS”. Some civilians are believed to be still in the area. An SDF field commander told AFP news agency on Sunday morning: “There are heavy clashes at the moment. We have launched an assault and the fighters are advancing.” Monitors the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the SDF were advancing across farmland, and there were heavy clashes and landmines going off.

The Observer reports via Sunday’s editorial that whilst ISIS has lost its Syrian base, its threat remains. The editorial argues that: “ISIS is a pernicious, bigoted idea as well as a vicious fighting force and this idea, rooted in extreme religious fundamentalism – of all-out, violent opposition to ‘apostate regimes’ in the Muslim world and to the Western powers – is far from vanquished.”

Reuters reports that the UN special envoy to Yemen on Monday said the urgency of accessing grain stores trapped in a frontline position in the port city of Hodeidah was increasing as the food was “at risk of rotting”. The World Food Programme grain stores at the Red Sea Mills are enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month and have been inaccessible for more than five months, Martin Griffiths said.

The Financial Times reports that Israel has attacked French energy company Total after its chief executive told the Financial Times that it was too “complex” a country to invest in. Israel’s Minister of Energy, Yuval Steinitz, who was visiting London to drum up interest in the country’s next gas licensing round and discuss energy co-operation, said companies such as Total that refuse to invest in Israel were living in “past decades” and were in hock to the “tyranny and dictatorship” of Tehran. “I reject it with two hands, I think this is a miserable view,” Steinitz told the Financial Times. “We will consider our reaction to this as it is totally unacceptable, to boycott [Israel].” Patrick Pouyanné, Total chief executive, told the FT in an interview that it was too “complex” to invest in Israel despite the country’s growing role as a gas producer, indicating his company’s relationships with other states in the Middle East was a sticking point. “We like complex situations . . . up to a certain point. Let’s be clear,” said Pouyanné, adding that the stakes in Israel were not big enough to accept the risks involved, in part due to the competition already in the region. Total was set to be the biggest international investor in Iran — with plans to develop part of the super giant South Pars gasfield — before the reimposition of US sanctions last year made it pull out. The French company is, however, investing in the eastern Mediterranean basin, a booming gas prospect of which Israel is part.

All the Israeli media report that the Shin Bet said Ori Ansbacher’s murder has been classed as a terrorist attack. The suspect in the murder, Arafat Irfayia, a 29-year-old from Hebron, reenacted the crime for the police and internal security detectives and will continue to be questioned. The details of the investigation are subject to reporting restrictions. Kan Radio News reports that last night Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife paid a condolence visit to the Ansbacher family in Tekoa and updated them about the developments in the investigation.

Maariv, Yediot Ahronoth, Haaretz and Israel Hayom report on the Labor Party primary which is taking place today amid consistently low support in opinion polls. Voting will begin at 10:00 this morning and will end at 21:00 with approximately 60,000 registered Labor Party members able to elect their candidates for the Knesset list. In Yediot Ahronoth, political affairs commentator Yuval Karni argues that: “Labor Party officials anticipate that voter turnout will be low, reflecting the grim mood within the party as a result of the polls’ predictions that it will win only a single-digit number of seats in the next Knesset. The practical impact of a low voter turnout will be that the political deals made in the last few days will have a greater impact. Different groups within the party, such as the Histadrut and those run by prominent activists in the kibbutzim, have disseminated lists of recommended candidates. Most of those lists are comprised of candidates who are already MKs. Given that state of affairs, the prevailing assessment is that Itzik Shmuli, Shelly Yachimovich, Amir Peretz, Stav Shaffir and Omer Bar-Lev can all expect to win a large proportion of the vote, as can Merav Michaeli and Revital Sweid to a great extent.” Maariv discusses “talk” in the Labor Party about the possibility that party leader Avi Gabbay might offer the second slot on the list – which is reserved for an individual of his choice – to the former prime minister and party chairman, Ehud Barak, in an attempt to reinvigorate the party’s voter base. MK Eitan Cabel said that Barak “nearly destroyed the Labor Party, and I won’t go to a doctor who nearly killed me twice. He can be part of one bloc or another, but I’m troubled by the public’s short memory. There is no one who gave Benjamin Netanyahu more vitality than Ehud Barak”.

Yediot Ahronoth reports that the Likud Comptroller Shai Galili demanded on Sunday evening that the party’s elections committee recount the votes in the primaries, citing concerns of irregularities and “a complete contradiction between the results of the elections and the documentation done by the observers at the different polling stations”.  In a letter he sent the party’s elections committee, Galili detailed complaints that the results that were entered into the central computer to calculate the votes did not match the counting done at polling stations. According to the report, in the community of Mitzpe Jericho, although there were only 153 registered Likud voters, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis received 229 votes in the primaries, helping him to finish in 14th place overall. In the city of Bnei Brak, there were 334 registered voters but Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev received 436 votes.

Maariv reports that Likud candidates who fared poorly in the primaries have ‘begun to fight back’. Today an extended panel of the Likud court is to hear the petitions of several MKs and candidates – former coalition chairperson, David Bitan, and MKs Miki Zohar, Yoav Kish and Sharren Haskel, and Michal Shir – who who are demanding that the three slots approved for Prime Minister Netanyahu be cancelled. Netanyahu was given permission to reserve slots number 21, 28 and 26, meaning that people elected to spots lower than 21 were bumped to a lower slot.

In Yediot Ahronoth Alex Fishman writes that: ‘Israel’s farcical policy towards the Gaza Strip has to end. The security establishment, the IDF and the GSS, have holed up in a comfort zone of an imaginary status quo and are paralyzing the politicians, which in any event is convinced that it is giving the Gaza perimeter residents full security. This situation, in which Israel dances to the tune of Hamas’s moods and agrees to be extorted by it time and time again, has to stop immediately.’ He adds that: ‘The security establishment has to stop scaring the public with doomsday prophecies as if Somali-like chaos will prevail in the Gaza Strip if Hamas’s regime in Gaza were to fall from power. Stop coddling Hamas. Maybe this chaos is actually necessary to get the Arab world to take its cousins in Gaza in hand. As long as Israel permits a wretched existence in the Gaza Strip to prevail and lets Hamas remain in power, it will allow the world to ignore the humanitarian crisis and it will play the role of the recipient of all the ricochets and the criticism.’

Haaretz reports that the state informed the Jerusalem District Court that it will retroactively legalise structures built in part on private Palestinian land in the West Bank settlement of Alei Zahav. In doing so, the state will for the first time invoke a legal mechanism the attorney general approved in December, senior sources say. Alei Zahav is a secular settlement located close to Route 5, which links Ariel and the Greater Tel Aviv area. According to the legal mechanism approved in December, it is permissible to retroactively authorise illegal construction on private Palestinian land if the land was allotted “in good faith,” meaning if the state erroneously believed that it was state lands when it allotted it. The land on which construction took place in Alei Zahav was considered state land, according to the old maps. The Civil Administration team discovered in 2016 that land on which some buildings were built was actually private Palestinian land.