Qatar’s Emir invited to GCC meeting
The Times, Reuters, BBC and the Telegraph report on the Yemen peace talks in Sweden. The Times reports that Yemen’s two main warring factions have convened for the first peace talks in more than two years. Representatives of the Houthi rebels, who control about a third of the country, arrived in Stockholm after being escorted by the UN’s special envoy Martin Griffiths on Tuesday. Representatives from the Saudi-backed government of President Mansour Hadi arrived last night. The UN hopes that the two sides can negotiate a ceasefire in the port of Hodeidah, held by the Houthis. Air attacks and a naval blockade have prevented the reopening of Sanaa airport and cut off the main route for importing food and aid supplies. The Telegraph reports that Robert Mardini, the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Permanent Observer to the UN, told the newspaper that; “We hope this leads to a meaningful political process, as this is the only way to reverse – in a sustainable way – the dire humanitarian trend that is playing out in Yemen. Mr Mardini warned the country could not afford for the talks to fail. “What little money families have they have to use for fuel, generators, water and medicine for the children. It is a dilemma” he said, adding; “There needs to be immediate commercial and humanitarian imports of food as well as medicines, or 2019 will be a catastrophic year.” There are few incentives for major compromises, however. One of the thorniest suggestions the UN will propose is for the rebels to hand over Hodeidah – which handles 80 per cent of all food imports and aid – to some type of UN administration. Analysts said that it was unlikely the Houthis would agree to withdraw from territory or lay down their arms in the Red Sea city, a hard-fought prize for the rebels.
The Independent and Financial Times report on the US Senate’s increasingly sour relations with Saudi Arabia. The Financial Times reports that US senators are preparing to take on the Trump administration over its continuing support for a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen after a CIA briefing left lawmakers at odds with the White House. A bill on ending support for the Saudi-led coalition is now expected to be debated next week following broad support in a vote to advance the measure last week. Any debate would be “hugely symbolic”, said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official who is now head of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution. “It will send a message to the [Saudi] royal family that the Crown Prince is damaging the alliance with the Americans.” Bob Corker, the Tennessee senator who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that reaching a consensus on a Yemen resolution “may not be do-able” but that it was being worked on. “The reason it’s difficult is that there are some people who would like to speak only to the killing of the journalist (Jamal Khashoggi) and there are some people that want to speak to the Yemen issue at large, and trying to pull that together in a manner that unifies Congress is difficult,” Mr Corker said. Even if the Senate supports a motion ending US military support in Yemen, however, it would almost certainly not pass the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the GOP until January. The Independent reports that the Senate resolution would hold Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince formally responsible for the murder of Khashoggi and call on the Saudi government to negotiate with representatives of the Houthi movement and agree to a political resolution and end the country’s humanitarian crisis.
David Aaronovitch writes in the Times this morning regarding UK relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Aaronovitch argues that; “As long as the Emiratis and Saudi’s shower us with cash, we seem happy to let them violate human rights with impunity”.
The Guardian reports that rising instances of conflict and poverty have propelled a 20% increase in the number of international migrants over the space of four years, according to a major report from the UN showing the scale of global migration. According to the UN’s International Labour Organization the total number of people who left their home country in search of work, to join family, or to flee conflicts and persecution increased to 277 million last year from 232 million in 2013. Migrant workers were found to overwhelmingly move to wealthier nations, with three-fifths of all migrants concentrated in three regions: North America (23%), south and west Europe (24%) and the Arab states (14%). Arab countries had the largest percentage of migrant workers as a proportion of their overall workforce and had seen big increases in arrivals in recent years as more workers moved to work in major cities like Dubai, Riyadh and Doha, which are experiencing building booms.
The Independent reports on a Hezbollah tunnel on the Israel-Lebanon border which went undiscovered and now serves as part of a museum complex. The tunnel in Mleeta, southern Lebanon, remained undiscovered in the nine years it was used by Hezbollah fighters to launch attacks against occupying Israeli troops. Today, it is part of a sprawling interactive museum complex that glorifies that fight. “Israel didn’t know about this tunnel until we opened it up to the public in 2010,” says Ahmed Mansour, a spokesman for the museum. “It was kept hidden for all that time.” Work began on the tunnel at Mleeta in 1989, seven years into Israel’s 1982-2000 occupation of Lebanon. It took 1,000 men more than three years to dig, and when completed it became an important outpost for Hezbollah, allowing fighters to move undetected by drones and jets.
The Financial Times reports that Qatar’s Emir has received an invitation to attend the Gulf Co-operation Council meeting in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, raising the prospect of a thaw in a damaging spat that has divided the Gulf nations. It is unclear whether Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani will accept the invitation for the annual meeting of the six GCC heads of state. Saudi Arabia led four Arab nations in imposing a trade and travel embargo on Qatar in June 2017, accusing the country of sponsoring terrorism. Doha vigorously denied the allegations. The overture comes a day after Qatar announced that it would leave OPEC, a surprise decision interpreted as a protest against its marginalisation within the oil cartel at the hands of its de facto leader, Saudi Arabia.
Reuters reports that the U.S. government confirmed that Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih met with U.S. special representative for Iran Brian Hook in Vienna on Wednesday, contradicting a Saudi denial that the talks had taken place. Sources familiar with the meeting said earlier that Hook, a senior policy adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, had spoken with Falih a day before OPEC was due to debate oil output cuts. A Saudi Energy Ministry spokesman said of the talks between Falih and Hook: “We categorically deny such a meeting took place.” However, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman later confirmed the meeting occurred. “Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook met briefly with the Saudi Minister of Energy in Vienna on Wednesday,” the State Department spokeswoman said. Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh criticised Hook over the meeting for what he said was his “meddlesome approach”. “If Mr. Hook has come to Vienna to apply for U.S. membership in OPEC, and this is the reason why he meets OPEC members, this request shall be reviewed,” Zanganeh told Iran’s Oil Ministry news website SHANA. “Otherwise, he has adopted an unprofessional, naive and meddlesome approach”, he added.
The Guardian, BBC and Reuters report that Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Huawei has been arrested in Canada on suspicion of violating US sanctions. The Guardian reports that Canada has arrested Huawei’s global chief financial officer in Vancouver, where she is facing extradition to the US. US authorities have been investigating Huawei since at least 2016 for allegedly shipping US-origin products to Iran and other countries in violation of US export and sanctions laws.
The Israeli media continues to report on Operation Northern Shield. Haaretz says the tunnels were Hezbollah’s contingency plan while Tal Lev Ram in Maariv reports that “the IDF believes that Hezbollah had planned to send its troops into Israeli territory through the tunnels to capture an area that overlooks Route 90 near the Lebanese border and by so doing, cut off Metulla and carry out a major terrorist attack against civilians and soldiers, and then to return to Lebanese territory.” Lev-Ram discusses the dilemma within the IDF. “The breakthrough that allowed the IDF to find Hezbollah tunnels was made last year. Some people believed that it would be best to keep the fact that the IDF had discovered the tunnels a secret, and that they should be covertly fitted with bombs that could be used as a surprise tactic in a time of war that would turn the tunnels into death traps for Hezbollah. But that option was dismissed at an early stage. IDF officials believe that Hezbollah will not respond at present to the destruction of the tunnels. The prevailing assessment is that Hezbollah was surprised and embarrassed by the discovery of the tunnels, and that it is now trying to ascertain what the IDF knew about its tunnel project before deciding whether, if at all, to take any countermeasures.”
In Haaretz Amos Harel writes that “The [Hezbollah] plan was to launch a war with a surprise attack, in which commando forces would cross the border and take control of remote communities or military positions for a limited period of time while targeting the reinforcements the army will surely deploy. The plan has since become more sophisticated, incorporating lessons learned by Hamas in Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip as well as the relatively complex offensive operations carried out by Hezbollah militants in the Syrian civil war. The tunnels were supposed to allow companies from Hezbollah’s Radwan special forces unit to enter Israel undetected.”
Writing along similar lines, Yoav Limor in Israel Hayom believes that “similar plans are likely to have been made to conquer other Israeli communities along the border between Metulla and the Mediterranean Sea, and the tunnels could then also be used to spirit hostages into Lebanon.” Limor posits that “The Israeli assessment is that the likelihood of the operation leading to an escalation with Hezbollah was highest on the first day of the operation, and has since diminished. Nevertheless, the IDF Commando Brigade, which has been tasked with providing security for the operation, will remain deployed at the northern border for the duration of the operation.” Also in Israel Hayom, Oded Granot discusses the “so-very-uncharacteristic lack of response by Hezbollah, which just a few weeks ago wasted no time in offering a tour to journalists in Beirut to disprove Israel’s allegations about the existence of missile upgrading factories” adding that this “is the direct result of the state of shock that has gripped the organisation since the tunnel was exposed. That shock has resulted in media silence” Granot writes that “The offensive tunnel project into Israeli territory was one of Nasrallah’s most secret and compartmentalised projects, and only a handful of secret-bearers were aware of its existence.”
In other news, Yediot Ahronot, Haaretz, Maariv and Israel Hayom report that Moshe Edri announced last night that he was withdrawing from the appointment process for police commissioner. Edri’s announcement came after new information came to light about his conduct in the lead-up to the lie detector test he took for the Goldberg Committee. Kan Radio reports that the leading candidates for police commissioner are Jerusalem District Police Commander Cmdr. Yoram Halevy and acting police commissioner Motti Cohen. Halevy is the most experienced of all the police commanders and was marked as a leading candidate for police commissioner three years ago, when Roni Alsheich was appointed. The report adds that before Edri decided to withdraw his candidacy, messages were relayed to him from people close to the attorney general who told him that his appointment would most likely not be approved and that it would be better for him to withdraw. Yediot Ahronot reports that the opposition was quick last night to note that this was the second time that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan had failed to appointed a police commissioner. The previous time, at the start of his term, Erdan had wanted to appoint Brig. Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch as police commissioner, but the appointment was disqualified. Zionist Union Faction Chairman Yoel Hasson, who is also opposition coordinator, called on Erdan to resign because of his string of failures. “The Israel Police and Israel’s citizens deserve a minister who can carry out a task from start to finish,” he said. “Erdan, you can’t pull another rabbit out of the hat. We haven’t yet forgotten your lies in Umm al-Hiran, the wave of arson that was only in your imagination and the murder of women, which still has had no response. One would expect of a public security minister who, twice in a row, failed to appoint a police commissioner, to resign immediately.”
Yediot Ahronot, Maariv and Israel Hayom report on a rift between Binyamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett over the alleged attempt by the prime minister to hurt Bennett by a report about the latter’s wife, Gilat Bennett. Hahadashot reported last night that businessman Shaul Elovitch said that Netanyahu had asked him to have the Walla website report that Gilat Bennett had been a chef in non-kosher restaurants. Bennett commented said: “Mr Netanyahu, you committed a contemptible and cowardly act, shame on you, don’t apologise to me, I don’t care, apologise to my wife.”
Haaretz and the Times of Israel report that International Criminal Court prosecutors intend to complete “as early as possible” a long-running preliminary investigation into allegations of crimes in the Palestinian territories, according to a report issued Wednesday. The annual report by ICC prosecutors on progress in nine so-called preliminary examinations underway at the court said that the Palestinian territories probe “has advanced and significantly progressed” in its analysis of whether legal conditions for opening a case have been met.