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Media Summary

Qatar says US and Iran need to compromise

The Times reports that Israel and Lebanon – with Hezbollah’s blessing – have accepted US-brokered and UN-mediated talks at a UN base in southern Lebanon aimed at striking a deal over the delineation of their sea border enabling access to the Mediterranean gas fields. For Israel, talks with Lebanon are yet another small symbol of “normalisation” in the region – Lebanon is historically one of the hardest-line of Arab countries in not recognising the Jewish state. For Hezbollah and its working-class Shia base, meanwhile, clustered in southern Lebanon opposite the disputed gasfield, drilling offers the hope of jobs and cash to replace falling subsidies from Iran, their backers, which is suffering under the weight of sanctions.

Reuters reports that Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki claimed on Monday that comments by the US ambassador to Israel were intended to help Israel annex parts of the occupied West Bank. The New York Times on Saturday quoted Ambassador David Friedman as saying that under certain circumstances, Israel had the right to retain some of the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in April he intended to annex Jewish settlements built on land the Palestinians hope will form part of an eventual independent state. “It seems that Friedman with his statement is trying to help Netanyahu to have the courage to take such a decision,” Riyad al-Maliki said during a visit to Warsaw. “This is really something that the international community has to stand up, has to respond,” he said.

BBC News and Reuters report that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano has confirmed that Iran is increasing its production of enriched uranium, though it is not clear when they will reach a limit set under the Iran Nuclear Deal. Iran announced last month that it would suspend some commitments in retaliation for sanctions reinstated by the US. Amano also said he was worried about the current tensions over the Iranian nuclear issue and called for dialogue. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif later said reducing tensions was only possible by stopping what he called the “economic war by America”. “Those who wage such wars cannot expect to remain safe,” he told a news conference during a visit to Tehran by his German counterpart, Heiko Maas.

Reuters reports that Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani claimed on Sunday that there was a disconnect between the Palestinians and US over a US blueprint aimed at ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, warning that a solution could not be imposed on Palestinians. “As far as we see, right now there is a disconnect between the Palestinians and the US. Our position remains very firm: We are going to support any plan that the Palestinians are willing to accept.” Al-Thani told reporters in London.

Reuters reports that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani on a visit to Tehran this week, in a bid to ease tension between Washington and Iran. “Amid rising tensions in the Middle East, we plan to encourage Iran, a regional power, to move towards easing tensions at the top leaders’ meetings,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who formally announced the trip on Tuesday.

The Financial Times reports that Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has ruled out holding talks with the US on its ballistic missiles and regional activity until it receives assurances that the US is ready to offer concessions. Zarif claimed that the US could not expect to “stay safe” while it imposed “economic war”. His comments underscored Tehran’s defiant stance despite US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying this month that Washington would be willing to hold negotiations with Iran with “no preconditions”.

The Telegraph reports that Iran unveiled a new “domestically produced” air defence system on Sunday, hours after urging European countries to uphold commitments made under the nuclear deal. The new system, the Khordad 15, can trace six targets at the same time – including fighter jets, bombers and drones – and destroy them with missiles. “Iran will increase its military capabilities to protect its national security and interests, and it will not ask permission from anyone on this matter,” said Defence Minister Amir Hatami at the unveiling.

The Financial Times and Reuters report that Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, has stated that both the US and Iran need to compromise to avoid a “miscalculation” triggering a conflict. Doha – which has ties to both Iran and the US – has held discussions with Washington and Tehran in a bid to de-escalate the situation in the region following weeks of high tensions that raised fears of a new conflict erupting in the Middle East.

Reuters reports that German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has confirmed that Instex, a European payment system for barter-based trade with Iran designed to circumvent US sanctions, is expected to be ready soon. “This is an instrument of a new kind, so it’s not straightforward to operationalize it,” Maas told reporters, pointing to the complexity of trying to install a totally new payments system.

The Telegraph reports that Hezbollah-linked terrorists were caught stockpiling thousands of disposable ice packs containing three metric tonnes of ammonium nitrate – a common ingredient in homemade bombs – on the outskirts of London in a secret British bomb factory. The plot was uncovered by MI5 and the Metropolitan Police in the autumn of 2015, just months after the UK signed up to the Iran nuclear deal.

In the Israeli media, Channel 12 news reports an exchange of fire last night in Nablus between Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and Palestinian security forces. The incident appears to be the result of mistaken identity by the IDF troops. According to Palestinian reports, IDF troops surrounded the Palestinian Preventive Security Service headquarters in Nablus last night and engaged in exchanges of fire with Preventive Security Service officers. The IDF Spokesperson’s Office issued a statement noting that the incident occurred in the course of routine activity to arrest terrorism suspects in the territories, and that the troops opened fire on figures they identified as being suspicious. In retrospect it became evident that the figures who had come under fire were members of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service. The Palestinian governor of Nablus, who arrived on the scene, said that the IDF had not informed the Palestinian Authority in advance of the troops entering the city. According to Kan news two Preventive Security Service officials sustained light injuries from the gunfire. While the Palestinian news agency, Ma’an, reported that IDF special forces pulled up in a vehicle outside the Preventive Security Service headquarters and opened fire once they were approached by Preventive Security Service officials. According to that report, the exchanges of fire between the sides lasted an hour. Video footage from the scene showed the building pockmarked with bullet holes and with several shattered windows.

Maariv reports the head of the IAEA saying: “I am worried about increasing tensions over the Iranian nuclear issue. As I have constantly emphasised, the nuclear-related commitments entered into by Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) represent a significant gain for nuclear verification. I therefore hope that ways can be found to reduce current tensions through dialogue. It is essential that Iran fully implements its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.” The paper also notes the comments by the Iranian Foreign Minister who threatened both Israel and the US. The paper also links the threat to the report from the weekend that revealed Hezbollah was planning an attack in London.

All the papers continue to focus on domestic politics, Yediot Ahronot suggests the Likud aren’t waiting to win the elections and have begun to divide up the ministerial loot while they’re still in the midst of the campaign and a transition government is still in power. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the person overseeing this process. He currently is handing out ministerial portfolios and partial ministerial portfolios generously to Rafi Peretz, Bezalel Smotrich and the members of the Likud faction in the Knesset: Amir Ohana, David Bitan, Tzippi Hotovely, Nir Barkat, Yoav Kisch, David Amsalem, Avi Dichter and others. That process has created unrest, tension and infighting within the parties, but that serves Netanyahu’s political goal of keeping things quiet and creating a sense of commitment among the newly-appointed ministers towards the person who gave them their jobs.

Haaretz reports that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is encouraging Jewish-Arab political cooperation in Israel, either by setting up a new party or by bolstering the Meretz party. Since April’s Israeli election, senior PA officials have held talks with Israeli Arab mayors and political activists to explore the possibility of such cooperation. But Mahmoud Abbas has had no contact in recent months with the heads of the Israeli Arab political parties, due to Ramallah’s unhappiness with their decision to dismantle the joint list they ran on in 2015. The party leaders are therefore seeking clarifications from Abbas on what exactly is being considered.

Kan news reports that Natan Eshel, a close confidant of Prime Minister Netanyahu, told MK Bezalel Smotrich two weeks ago that there was no chance that he would be appointed justice minister since the next justice minister would hold the key to the legal fate of the Prime Minister and his family. “Forget about that”, Eshel said to Smotrich. The meeting was held in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem a few hours before the Knesset was dissolved. Several people were witnesses to that conversation. When asked to comment on the report, Natan Eshel said that the justice ministry was never a subject of discussion and that it had been made clear that it would not be given to any party other than the Likud. Smotrich refused to comment.

Maariv reports that an urgent petition was submitted to the Likud this weekend urging Likud Chairman Prime Minister Netanyahu and the party’s elections mechanism to hold elections for the Likud chairman and for the Knesset list. The petition was submitted by Uri Peretz, a Likud member and organiser of the Facebook page “The Positive Likud.” The petition says that in accordance with the Likud constitution, a primary to elect the party chairperson and the list of candidates for the Knesset had to be held as soon as the Knesset was dissolved so that new elections could be held.  Peretz claims that Netanyahu had thus far refrained from complying with the party law, “ignoring the clear will of the public—both among members of the Likud and other movements—that would enable other key figures to run for his position.”

Yediot Ahronot analyses Prime Minister Netanyahu’s legal proceedings and notes he announced last night that he will attend the hearing that has been scheduled for early October. That announcement will produce at least a temporary “cease-fire” between Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. However, figures close to both Netanyahu and Mandelblit said they did not believe that the final word has yet been said on the matter of the hearing, and anticipate that Netanyahu will petition the High Court of Justice and ask for a delay.