Media Summary

Returning Jihadi fighters may never be prosecuted says UK DPP

The BBC reports that Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot has become embroiled in a row with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the status of the country’s Arab minority.”Love your neighbour as yourself,” the Israeli actress said, amid wrangling over the role of Israeli Arab parties in upcoming polls. Netanyahu caused a stir when he said Israel “was not a state of all its citizens”, referring to Arabs who make up 20 per cent of its population. He cited a “nation-state” law. The legislation sparked controversy last year. Arab MPs reacted furiously in July when Israel’s parliament approved the legislation, which says Jews have a unique right to national self-determination in the country and puts Hebrew above Arabic as the official language.

On Monday evening, the Guardian published an editorial, writing: “Netanyahu debases his office – again”. Regarding Netanyahu’s words on Sunday, the editorial argues that: “They would be shameful if he were capable of shame. Mr Netanyahu’s campaign for re-election in the face of a bribery and fraud indictment shows he is not. He has prospered by fostering division”. The piece concludes by saying: “neither the courts nor (Benny) Gantz will reverse the country’s rightwards lurch and the damage it wreaks upon Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Israel itself. That will only happen when the electorate develops the appetite for the change so desperately needed.”

The Guardian and Independent report that Israel’s President has responded to Benjamin Netanyahu after the Prime Minister said in reference to the country’s Arab minority that Israel was “not a state for all its citizens”. The Guardian reports that while not mentioning the Prime Minister – a long-time political foe – by name, Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, criticised what he said were recent “entirely unacceptable remarks about the Arab citizens of Israel”. “There are no first-class citizens, and there are no second-class voters. We are all equal in the voting booth. We are all represented at the Knesset [parliament],” said Rivlin, who holds a largely ceremonial role.

Reuters reports that according to an American source familiar with the meeting, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House senior advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt discussed Middle East peace prospects with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Monday in Washington. The 45-minute meeting took place at the Jordanian Ambassador’s residence in Washington, the source said.

The BBC reports that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has begun his first official visit to Iraq since taking office five years ago. After meeting his Iraqi counterpart, Rouhani said he wanted deeper political and economic ties between their states, which fought a bloody war in the 1980s. He noted that Iran had come to Iraq’s aid in recent years when it was threatened by the Islamic State group. Iranian officials see Iraq as a way to mitigate the US sanctions reinstated by President Donald Trump last year. Rouhani began his three-day visit to Iraq with a visit to the shrine of Shia Muslim Imam Moussa al-Kadhim in northern Baghdad. He was then greeted by his Iraqi counterpart, Barham Saleh, at the presidential palace. At a joint news conference, Rouhani said: “We want to forge very close relations with Iraq. We do not seek to be allied against others, but rather seek to invite other regional states to our alliance as well.”

In the Financial Times, Chloe Cornish writes that: “Mosul’s stark divide highlights Iraqi governance crisis”.

In the Times, Hannah Lucinda Smith argues that Syria’s fate lies in hands of world leaders jockeying for power, and as new alliances and old enemies jostle for power in a nation emerging from war, Putin is set to be the biggest winner.

The Times and Telegraph report that the unveiling of a new statue of Hafez al-Assad in Syria has provoked wave of protests in the country. The Times reports that replacing a toppled statue of the late Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad was supposed to be a clear mark of his son Bashar’s survival and victory. In fact, the statue’s unveiling at the weekend triggered a return of the protests that almost ended the son’s rule. Almost exactly eight years after the uprising began with demonstrations in Deraa in southern Syria, hundreds of people marched through the city’s streets to oppose the ceremony. “Your statue is from the past, it’s not welcome here,” one placard read.

The Guardian reports that tensions over the enforced return of refugees to Syria are set to surface at a conference this week as host countries such as Lebanon call for the international community to do more. With the Syrian war now entering its ninth year, neighbouring countries are facing intense domestic pressure for the refugees to return home. It is estimated that more than 5.6 million Syrians are refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. A further 6.2 million are internally displaced. Lebanon’s President, Michel Aoun, said recently: “International aid should be paid to Syrian refugees after they return home to encourage their return.” He said distributing aid to refugees in Lebanon encouraged them to stay and compete with the Lebanese labour force.

The BBC reports that according to her family, a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer has been sentenced to a total of 38 years in jail and 148 lashes in Tehran. Nasrin Sotoudeh was charged with several national security-related offences, all of which she denies. Rights groups strongly criticised the “shocking” sentence against the award-winning human rights activist. Sotoudeh is known for representing women who have protested having to wear the headscarf. “Nasrin Sotoudeh has dedicated her life to defending women’s rights and speaking out against the death penalty,” Philip Luther from Amnesty International said. “It is utterly outrageous that Iran’s authorities are punishing her for her human rights work”, Luther said.

The Telegraph reports on jailed British Iranian Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe, with an interview with her husband Richard Ratcliffe. On the decision by UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to grant his wife diplomatic protection, Ratcliffe says “I’m really pleased by this… It’s something I’ve been asking for for a very long time. It sends out a very clear signal that Nazanin is innocent of all wrong-doing, but also that she’s a British citizen”. Richard, 44, remains concerned by something Iranian officials told his wife – that her detention is linked to a 40-year-old arms debt of some £450 million that the UK owes Iran – but hopes that, while anticipating that Hunt’s appeal for diplomatic protection will be revoked, this latest move “will prove positive. It brings her closer to being home, but it will be bumpy until the end – and possibly more bumpy now than it might have been before. “I don’t think Nazanin will be out immediately, but beyond that it’s hard to say,” he continues. Crucially, however, last week’s announcement provided “uplifting news, and that’s something she’s in need of.”

The Guardian reports that according to the director of public prosecutions in the UK, an expected surge in the number of prosecutions of jihadist fighters returning home from Syria has failed to materialise and may never happen. Max Hill QC, who was formerly the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said the expectation that there could be hundreds of cases going through UK courts after the collapse of the Islamic State “caliphate” had not been realised. His comments come after Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, stripped Shamima Begum of her British citizenship. The teenager was originally from Bethnal Green in east London. Hill, who has been in charge of the Crown Prosecution Service since last November, said: “Two years ago the language was all about an influx of returnees, with reports that some 850 people had travelled [to join ISIS] but that has not translated into a significant influx. That may change. “We appear to be looking at low numbers but we are ready for whatever comes. Thus far there has not been a large influx and the last two or three years have taken a toll on potential numbers.”

The Financial Times reports that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is confronting his first recession in a decade as he prepares for local elections that will test his party’s grip on the country’s largest cities. Growth contracted by 2.4 per cent in last year’s fourth quarter compared with the previous quarter, when it fell 1.6 per cent, according to official figures released on Monday. The figures were worse than expected. As a result, Turkey’s economy grew at 2.6 per cent for the whole of last year, from 7.4 per cent in 2017. The deteriorating economic environment is likely to make it more difficult for the Turkish leader to retain control of key cities in nationwide municipal elections at the end of March. His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has built 16 years of successive electoral victories on the back of fast growth and rising prosperity. The government had faced repeated warnings that a stimulus programme aimed at boosting growth after a 2016 coup attempt had caused the economy to overheat, leaving it vulnerable to sudden shifts in investors sentiment.

The Times reports that the United States is about to supplant Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest exporter of oil and petroleum products — an economic powerplay that has seismic geopolitical implications. The shift, which overturns 70 years of precedent and appeared unthinkable until very recently, is expected to take place this year, according to the research company Rystad Energy. Saudi Arabia has led the global market since it began selling oil overseas in the 1950s but a technology-driven shale boom in Texas has positioned the US to embark on its own era of worldwide energy dominance.

Reuters reports that big investors in Saudi Arabia are pushing ahead with deals and pouring money back into its stock market as the kingdom tries to move on from the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Deterred by the case, some Western firms in the technology and entertainment sectors have distanced themselves from Saudi Arabia. But several US multinationals told Reuters they are building on their plans in the largest Arab economy. Dow Chemical said it was committed to construction of a $100 million (77 million pounds) polymer plant in Jubail and will complete a feasibility study by the end of 2019 for another complex to produce siloxanes and silicones.

In the Israeli media, Yediot Ahronot and other papers report that Nvidia outbid Intel to buy Israel’s Mellanox Technologies, a leading supplier of end-to-end interconnect solutions for data servers and storage systems, for $6.9 billion (£5.2 billion).  According to the agreement, Nvidia will acquire all of the issued and outstanding common shares of Mellanox for $125 per share in cash. Nvidia also confirmed that it intends to continue investing in Israel, and that customer sales and support for Mellanox will not change after the transaction. Nvidia said, “The acquisition will unite two of the world’s leading companies in high performance computing. Together, Nvidia’s computing platform and Mellanox’s interconnects power over 250 of the world’s top 500 supercomputers and have as customers every major cloud service provider and computer maker.” Mellanox’s solutions include adapters, switches, software and silicon that accelerate application runtime and maximise business results for a wide range of markets including high-performance computing, enterprise data centres, Web 2.0, cloud, storage, and financial services.

Maariv leads with quotes from an anonymous senior political official who says, “Netanyahu is afraid of an escalation in violence in Gaza in the run-up to elections, and Israel is essentially vulnerable to extortion by Hamas, which has been leveraging the situation to its benefit.” The senior political official went on to say: “Netanyahu’s overriding goal is to postpone at any cost a possible escalation in violence in the Gaza Strip until after the elections. The problem is that Hamas understands that perfectly well, and that’s how things are being managed.” The paper notes, “Hamas has now completely stopped all the violent demonstrations along the border fence at night and the use of explosive balloons against Israel in the past three days. The question of how things will develop in the days ahead and whether the situation on the ground will stay calm remains to be seen. Even though the recent developments might seem to indicate that significant progress has been made towards calming the situation, it seems that many top Israeli officials have no illusions, and believe that the efforts currently being undertaken are akin to placing a bandage on a bleeding wound.” Furthermore, the paper says, “While Hamas has lowered the volume of violence, for the time being that appears more to be a calculated effort by Hamas to improve its ability to bargain with Israel, in an attempt to extract political concessions, and less reflective of a desire by Hamas to reach a truce arrangement.”

Israel Hayom reports on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the Golan Heights with US Senator Lindsey Graham and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Senator Graham said: “What’s best for America is for a safe, secure and prosperous Israel. Why? Common values, common enemies, and from a military point of view, the best friend the United States could possibly ever have in a troubled region. I’ve got a simple message. I will go back to the United States Senate. Working with Senator Cruz, I will start an effort to recognise the Golan as part of the State of Israel now and forever. Israel occupied this territory by fighting for its survival. This territory was taken by military force because it was used as a launching point to attack the State of Israel. This territory has a rich Jewish history. Strategically, I am standing on one of the most important pieces of ground in the State of Israel.” Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “You heard very strong words here from Senator Graham that express American policy, President Trump’s policy, of support for Israel. They are taking this to a very concrete step – to keep the Golan as part of Israel. Otherwise our border will be with Iran on the shores of the Kinneret – and we are not prepared to accept that. I was very pleased to hear him make these remarks. I think that this is a very important direction and very, very promising for our national security.”​

Channel 13 News released their latest election opinion poll. The poll was conducted among 1,304 respondents which is significantly larger that most polls but has a 3.2% margin of error. The Blue and White Party are predicted to win 31 seats, the Likud 28 seats. Labour, the Unified Right and Hadash-Arab Renewal 7 seats. United Torah Judaism, Meretz and the New Right 6 seats . Raam-Balad and Shas 5 seats, Kulanu, Yisrael Beteinu and Zehut all receive 4 seats each. In terms of blocs, the current poll gives the right-wing bloc the largest number of seats it has received since the decision to dissolve the Knesset was announced, with 64 seats. The centre-left bloc, which includes the 12 seats in the Arab bloc only 56 seats. The poll found that Blue and White has successfully attracted people who formerly voted for right-wing parties: 8% of people who voted for the Likud in 2015, 13% of people who voted for the Jewish Home in 2015 and 17% of people who voted for Yisrael Beiteinu in 2015 said that they currently intend to vote for Blue and White.  On the question: Who is best-suited to serve as prime minister? Netanyahu: 47%, Gantz: 37% Don’t know: 16%.

All the papers report that the first lady Nechama Rivlin had a lung transplant yesterday. Army radio reported this morning that she was disconnected from the respirator, is awake and talking to the medical team and to her family. Her doctors at Beilinson Hospital stress that the early days following a transplant operation are still considered critical, but they are very satisfied with her progress. They also noted that it is important to remember that there is a long recuperation after a transplant operation.

Maariv reports that the State Attorney’s Office yesterday informed the Lod District Court that it was withdrawing its indictments of Yinon Reuveni, 23, and another defendant, aged 21, who were charged with setting fire to the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, and they will be cleared of the charges. The State Attorney’s Office’s announcement came after the court decided not to accept the confession of another defendant and ruled that the Shin Bet had taken extreme and unlawful measures to extract information from him. The court ruled that as a result of the investigators’ actions, the suspect’s right to due process had been violated. After he was arrested, the police put the suspect in a simulated jail cell, where he was starved and humiliated by the undercover police officers who were disguised as his fellow cellmates. The undercover police threatened the suspect with rape and murder, until he broke and confessed.