Media Summary

Netanyahu launches light hearted Instagram campaign to contest bribery charges

The Financial Times, BBC, Reuters, the Guardian and the Telegraph report US National Security Advisor, John Bolton’s talks in Turkey yesterday as the Turkish President strongly rejected US calls for his country to protect Kurdish fighters in Syria. The Financial Times reports that Bolton had hoped to meet Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his two-day visit to Ankara as part of a rearguard effort to reassure US allies and secure the safety of Kurdish forces in Syria following last month’s abrupt announcement on the departure of US troops. Instead, he found himself on the receiving end of a blistering attack by Mr Erdogan, who accused him of making a “serious mistake” in asking Turkey not to attack Kurdish militants, in comments to reporters in Jerusalem before his arrival. “We cannot swallow…the message that Bolton gave in Israel,” the Turkish president said, adding that he “probably doesn’t know” the difference between ethnic Kurds and armed Kurdish groups. Mr Bolton and his delegation did meet Ibrahim Kalin, Mr Erdogan’s spokesman and one of his most trusted aides, on Tuesday. “They had a productive discussion of the president’s decision to withdraw at a proper pace from north-east Syria,” Garrett Marquis, US National Security Council spokesman, said in a statement. Mr Bolton also had conversations with the deputy defence minister and the deputy foreign minister. According to an official at the meetings, Mr Bolton told the Turkish delegation that Mr Erdogan’s op-ed in the New York Times was “wrong and offensive”. The Guardian reports that in a speech delivered to parliament while Bolton was still in the Turkish capital, Erdogan said that Turkey would never agree to a compromise that protected the Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, whose members helped a US-led coalition push Isis out of most of Syria’s east. The Turkish leader said Turkey’s armed forces had finished preparations to enter Syria and that Washington was stalling on a commitment to leave the town of Manbij as a first step. The Telegraph reports that President Erdogan added: “the (YPG’s) fight with the Islamic State is a huge lie” and Turkey would “not make concessions”.

The Financial Times and the Telegraph report that the EU has frozen assets of an alleged Iranian intelligence organisation and two of its agents, in a shift towards a tougher line against Tehran that could complicate efforts to save its international nuclear deal. The Financial Times reports that ministers agreed the sanctions on Tuesday in response to growing anger over Iran’s alleged role in orchestrating assassination plots in Europe, adding to concerns over its ballistic missile programme and role in Middle East conflicts in Syria and Yemen. The new sanctions set to come into force on Wednesday, mirror measures already imposed by Paris. They target Tehran’s alleged involvement in plots to kill Iranian political opposition figures in France and Denmark. The sanctions are against Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, deputy minister and director general of intelligence, and Assadollah Asadi, an Iranian diplomat based in Vienna, according to the Danish foreign ministry. Mr Asadi is in detention in Belgium on suspicion of involvement in a plot to bomb an exiled Iranian opposition group rally in Paris in June. EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss Iran policy at a meeting in Brussels this month. The Telegraph reports that as part of the coordinated EU action, the Netherlands also revealed for the first time that it believed Iran was behind the assassinations of two Dutch citizens of Iranian origin who were both gunned down by criminal hitmen who fled in stolen BMWs. Ahmad Mola Nissi, 52, was murdered in the Hague in November 2017 by a man who emerged from a BMW and shot him at his front door. Mr Nissi was a leader in the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz, a separatist group which hopes to form a breakaway Arab state in western Iran. The group is considered a terrorist organisation by Iran.

Reuters reports that storms in Lebanon have flooded Syrian refugee camps, ruining tents, mattresses and food and compounding the misery of people enduring powerful winter winds and biting cold. More than a million Syrians fled to neighbouring Lebanon since war broke out at home in 2011, and UN agencies say most live of them live in poverty. The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that the storm had completely flooded or collapsed 15 informal settlements out of at least 66 that were “heavily impacted”.

The Guardian reports that, according to allegations in a report released by Human Rights Watch, Kurdish security forces in Erbil are continuing to torture children to confess their involvement with Islamic State. According to the organisation, which first raised the alarm about the mistreatment of child detainees by Kurdish security forces nearly two years ago, it has collected claims of the continued regular use of beatings and electric shocks to extract confessions, often prior to trials lasting minutes. The boys interviewed by the group allege the abuse took place in a detention centre in the Iraqi Kurdistan city in 2017 and 2018, where they were being held without access to a lawyer and without being permitted to read the confessions they say security officers wrote and forced them to sign.

Reuters reports that legislation reaffirming U.S. support for allies in the Middle East, including a measure to punish Americans who boycott Israel, fell victim on Tuesday to a domestic political dispute that has resulted in a partial federal government shutdown. The US Senate voted 56 to 44, falling short of the 60 votes needed to advance the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act.” The legislation included provisions supported by both Republicans and Democrats to impose new sanctions on Syria and guarantee security assistance to Israel and Jordan. Those are seen as efforts to reassure U.S. allies worried about shifts in US policy since Trump abruptly announced plans last month for a quick withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria. The act also includes a provision that would let state and local governments punish Americans for boycotting Israel, which opponents, including many Democrats, see as an impingement of free speech. Some Republicans accused Democrats of supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians, which they see as anti-Semitic. Democrats in turn accused Republicans of trying to use the BDS measure to divide moderate and liberal Democrats.

The Independent reports that the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has compared corruption allegations against him to eggless omelettes and relationships within the TV series Friends, in a stream of social media posts. Mr Netanyahu, who is contesting an April election under the shadow of possible indictment, urged his supporters to help him make jokes about bribery shortly after declaring his innocence in a televised address. Taking to Instagram, the embattled premier posted “bribery without money is like…” and called on people to fill in the blanks, sparking disbelief and fury among many. In the posts, which were dotted with emojis, he wrote “bribery without money is like an omelette with no egg”, “bribery without money is like Rachel with no Ross” in reference to US TV series Friends, before going on to say “bribery without money is like Tuesday with no couscous”. He neared the end of the thread with “bribery without money is like Kim with no Kanye” West, the famed American rapper. It came just hours after he made a special televised announcement, originally billed by his office as due to contain a “dramatic statement”.

Reuters reports that the US case against the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies, who was arrested in Canada last month, centres on the company’s suspected ties to two obscure companies. One is a telecom equipment seller that operated in Tehran; the other is the firm’s owner, a holding company registered in Mauritius. US authorities allege that CFO Meng Wanzhou deceived international banks into clearing transactions with Iran by claiming the two companies were independent of Huawei, when in fact Huawei controlled them. Huawei has maintained the two are independent: equipment seller Skycom Tech Co Ltd and shell company Canicula Holdings Ltd. But corporate filings and other documents found by Reuters in Iran and Syria show that Huawei, the world’s largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment, is more closely linked to both firms than previously known.

All the Israeli newspapers report comments by Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, who warned that a foreign country would try to meddle in the upcoming elections. The Shin Bet later issued a statement saying it had the capability to ensure that free and democratic elections would be held in Israel. The issue was made more dramatic as the military censor prevented the foreign country being named. Maariv reports: “Initially, the Military Censor’s Office banned any report of his warning, however, last night it was released to the public.” According to Channel 2 news, Argaman said that a foreign country intends to tamper with the elections in Israel, and he believes that it will in fact do so. Argaman said: “I don’t know for what side they will be taking action. At this point I can’t identify their political interest —but it will interfere, and I know what I’m talking about.” Argaman added that that same country “will attempt to do so by means of cyber technology—hackers, etc.”

Army radio reports this morning that, a 14 year old girl was stabbed earlier this morning in Jerusalem and she described her attacker as an Arab man. The girl called an ambulance and was taken to hospital. Her condition is described as lightly wounded with multiple stab wounds. Security forces are investigating the incident.

Yediot Ahronot reports the meeting of Likud’s Constitution Committee yesterday that approved election regulations and the system in which the list will be divided between, the national list (in which MKs and incumbent ministers are running) and the districts and sectors. Yesterday, hundreds of members of the Likud Central Committee gathered for a stormy meeting at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds to discuss the issue. On the national list, all the MKs and incumbent ministers are running, along with other prominent candidates such as Gideon Sa’ar, Yoav Galant and Nir Barkat. The paper explains the significance, that according to the method set by the Constitution Committee at least nine current MKs will not return next term. The paper also notes that MK Benny Begin, is expected to resign and not to run in the next primaries.

Maariv reports on the launch of Yesh Atid’s election campaign. Party leader Yair Lapid said: “The time has come for Yesh Atid to win the elections and become the ruling party. We are ready. We are skilled. We have the right values. This is our time. I am running for prime minister.” In his speech, Lapid harshly criticised Prime Minister Netanyahu and said: “Yesterday we received final proof of why a person who is suspected of serious criminal offences cannot be prime minister. This was not a dramatic announcement, it was a hysterical one. Netanyahu is collapsing from the pressure. A country with complex challenges cannot allow itself to have a prime minister with weak nerves. He lashed out at the rule of law in a live broadcast, like a common criminal. We will not allow him to pull the country down with him.” According to Lapid, Yesh Atid will win the elections: “Because most of Israel’s citizens don’t want a prime minister whose only concern is his own indictments. They are honest people. They understand that it is dangerous for him to attempt to dismantle the rule of law. It is dangerous that he has been attacking the very Attorney General that he himself appointed, the very State Attorney he himself appointed, the very police commissioner he himself appointed, the state’s witnesses who were the people closest to him, the police, the courts, and even army officers. He attacked me as well. I am proud to be part of this list. Proud!” Lapid also said: “All around us political parties are falling apart, while we receive more members. Only we have the power of a real party that can challenge the Likud.”

Yediot Ahronot reports that MK Ahmed Tibi, the chairman of the Arab Movement for Renewal, filed a request to the Knesset House Committee to break away from the Joint List. For some time, Tibi has been trying to get the Joint List to hold a joint primary for all four of the major parties that comprise the Joint List—Hadash, Balad, the United Arab List and the Arab Movement for Renewal. Tibi argued that his party had inadequate representation on the Joint List, representation that failed to reflect the party’s real strength. Tibi was recently asked to conduct in-depth polling among voters for the Joint List, polls that he argued would prove that his party had been given inadequate representation in the Joint List. The other three parties in the Joint List repeatedly refused, which ultimately prompted Tibi to file the request to break away. Sources in the Joint List said last night that they believe that Tibi is making an idle threat, which he won’t go through with at the moment of truth. Sources in the party said that Tibi is keenly aware of the fact that his party is going to have a very hard time crossing the electoral threshold if it chooses to run independently and that, as such, Tibi’s current decision was part of a power struggle that would ultimately be resolved in a manner that would leave Tibi part of the Joint List. The paper also continues to follow speculation surrounding Benny Gantz, the former IDF chief of staff, who has still refrained so far from formally announcing a decision to enter politics. Informed sources said that one of the main reasons for the delay in Gantz’s public announcement is connected to the fate of another former IDF chief of staff—Gabi Ashkenazi. Sources close to Gantz said that he had intended to formally announce his decision to run for Knesset tomorrow, but he has chosen to postpone the announcement, apparently until next week.

Haaretz and Yediot Ahronot include details of the capture of the terrorist who shot and killed two soldiers near Givat Assaf. The papers also cover IDF Chief of Staff Eizenkot meeting with residents of the Gaza border communities. He told them that the likelihood of a military conflict with Hamas in the near future was low to medium. He also said that Israel prevented 20,000 missiles being smuggled into Gaza as well as veiled criticism of former Defence Minister Lieberman, that Hamas was ecstatic by the effect it has on political events in Israel.

Israel Hayom reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu will meet President Trump two weeks before the elections, as part of the prime minister’s trip to the AIPAC conference in Washington. There is also a chance that they will meet this month in Davos. Sources close to the prime minister said that the matter was not closed, but that “the prime minister is giving a regular speech at the annual AIPAC conference and is planning to travel to Washington this year, despite the proximity to the elections.” It is still unclear whether Netanyahu and Trump will meet at the economic conference in Davos at the end of the month, due to the US shutdown, which could lead to the cancellation of Trump’s visit.