Rocket strikes Iraqi oil and gas hub
The Financial Times and Reuters report that a rocket hit the Burjesia area of Basra that houses several global oil companies (Shell, Eni and Exxon Mobil) on Wednesday morning, amid rising tensions between the US and Iran. The rocket had targeted the headquarters of the Iraqi Drilling Company. Basra sits atop some of the world’s largest oil reserves and is the country’s main port. “We regret to hear about a missile attack on an oil facility in Basra. We can confirm that we have not been subject to the attack,” said a spokesperson for Shell, adding that all its staff were accounted for.
Reuters reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised the US-led conference on the Palestinian economy in Bahrain and that a former Israeli military general would be among the participants. Netanyahu, echoing remarks on Sunday by his foreign minister, said Israelis would take part in the 25-26 June workshop. The Trump administration decided against including the Israeli government after the Palestinians boycotted the event, making do instead with inviting a small Israeli business delegation.
Reuters reports that a rocket landed near an Iraqi military base hosting US forces in the northern city of Mosul, the second such incident in two days. An Iraqi military statement said it was a short-range Katyusha missile. Mosul’s military commander said that the rocket landed in an open space causing no casualties or damage. He said it was fired from west Mosul, across the Tigris river and was “locally made”.
Reuters reports that Lebanon Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri called for parliament to approve the country’s 2019 budget and urged his coalition government to avoid internal disputes. The cabinet this month agreed a budget plan that shrinks the projected fiscal deficit by 4 per cent from last year to 7.6 per cent by cutting spending and raising taxes.
The Guardian and Reuters report that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on states to help safeguard tanker traffic in the Persian Gulf following the Gulf of Oman incident. On a visit to US Central Command headquarters, Pompeo said shipping security in the Gulf was not exclusively a US problem. “You have China that depends enormously on energy transiting the Strait of Hormuz. You have South Korea, Indonesia, Japan, all of whom have an enormous interest in ensuring there’s freedom of navigation throughout this waterway,” the Secretary of State said. Pompeo added that: “President Trump does not want war, and we will continue to communicate that message, while doing the things that are necessary to protect American interests in the region.” BBC News presents an overview of the Gulf of Oman incident.
The Telegraph and Reuters report that US President Donald Trump undercut his hawkish security advisers by downplaying the Gulf of Oman incident as “very minor”. While members of the Trump administration have warned the US was considering a military retaliation, Trump raised doubts about the US willingness to use force. “So far, it’s been very minor,” Trump said. Reuters reports that Trump told Time magazine he would “certainly” use force to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon but would keep “a question mark” over his response to the incidents in the Gulf.
Reuters reports that King Abdullah of Jordan rejected suggestions that Jordan would accept a US deal to end the Arab-Israeli conflict that would make it a homeland for Palestinians. Speaking to the armed forces in March, he rejected the idea of Jordan as an alternative state for Palestinians, saying: “Don’t we have a voice in the end?”
The Independent reports that Iran has claimed it has dismantled a “big spy network” tied to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The country’s intelligence ministry said it had identified the spies after discovering an online communication system used by the CIA to operate the network.
In the Guardian, Simon Tisdall argues that the US-Iran dispute was created by the Trump administration and US actions could trigger a war in the Middle East: “Unnecessarily aggressive, ill-considered – and deceptively presented – US policies have once again brought the Middle East to the brink of an accidental war […] America’s European friends, including Britain, have an urgent responsibility to talk it down – and drag it back from the abyss”.
In the Financial Times, Michael Peel argues that European powers are facing a test of their readiness to side with Iran as the fallout from the Gulf of Oman incident puts them under mounting US pressure to turn against Tehran.
In Reuters, John Irish, Robin Emmott and Arsha Mohammed argue that European powers plan a new push to keep Iran in the JCPOA nuclear deal, but “may be nearing the end of the diplomatic road they embarked on more than 15 years ago”.
Reuters reports that acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar are in contact about Ankara’s plans to buy a Russian air defence system, and may meet during NATO meetings in Brussels next week. Washington says it will cancel Turkey’s purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters if it proceeds with plans to buy the S-400 defence system.
In the Guardian, Dan Sabbagh argues that the US navy’s release of colour images fails to prove responsibility for the Gulf of Oman incident.
Reuters reports that UN chief Antonio Guterres appealed to Russia and Turkey on Tuesday to stabilise northwest Syria and that some hospitals were not sharing their locations with the warring parties because that “paints a target on their back”. Russia and Turkey co-sponsored a de-escalation pact for the area that has been in place since last year. But the deal has faltered in recent months, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee.
The Guardian reports that the UK government has agreed an out-of-court deal to settle a £1.3bn damages claim from Iran’s Bank Mellat over a UK trading ban. The undisclosed settlement raises questions about how big the UK taxpayer’s bill will be, as well as how the UK will transfer the payment to circumvent the comprehensive sanctions regime imposed by the US, which affects the bank. In 2009, the UK Treasury alleged that the Tehran-based bank was involved in financing firms involved in Iran’s nuclear programme – allegations that the bank denies – and imposed sanctions on Bank Mellat.
The Guardian and Reuters report that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blocked the inclusion of Saudi Arabia on a list of countries that recruit child soldiers, dismissing his experts’ findings that the Saudi-led coalition has been using underage fighters in Yemen’s civil war. The decision could prompt new accusations that the Trump administration is prioritising security and economic interests in relations with Saudi Arabia.
In the Times, Hanna Lucinda Smith examines the increasing influence of Fahrettin Altun: “Turkey’s second most powerful man.” Smith writes that Altun has “come a long way in a short time as he works to make President Erdogan look good in the eyes of the world”.
In the Israeli media Amos Harel writes in Haaretz that, according to Israeli and Western intelligence sources, Iran may soon escalate its conflict with the United States, possibly choosing the Israeli border as the target. The sources say that Tehran is disappointed with its failure to force the Americans to reconsider the strong sanctions they’ve imposed on Iran and on companies doing business with the Islamic Republic, which has stoked a serious economic crisis. Iran has reportedly not ruled out a provocation along the Israeli border, with the aim of worsening the atmosphere of regional crisis and urgently forcing the Trump administration to reexamine its policy.
Also in Haaretz Chemi Shalev writes that if the US attacks Iran, Hezbollah could impose a harsh military campaign on Israel. In a worst-case but nonetheless plausible scenario, Hezbollah could fire thousands of guided and unguided missiles at Israeli strategic targets and civilian population centres. Many of these missiles carry a 500-kilogram or 750-pound explosive device, capable of flattening a city street and killing anyone within a 100-meter range. The thought of the destruction and loss that could be wrought by one such rocket – never mind hundreds – makes Hamas rocket missiles in the south seem like child’s play.
Israel Hayom reports that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) is scheduled to conclude a large-scale training exercise today. One unnamed IAF official told Israel Hayom that “the entire Air Force” will be airbourne during the exercise, which is reportedly designed to simulate war in multiple theatres of operations. Combat planes, helicopter gunships, transport helicopters, remote-controlled aircraft and air-defence systems are all taking part in the exercise. This is the first time that the IAF’s F-35s are also taking part in an exercise, which is designed to simulate war during day and night. The senior IAF official said that the F-35s have significantly improved the IAF’s capabilities and have shortened its timetables. In the course of the exercise, which began on Sunday and is scheduled to end today, the IAF simulated a scenario in which Israel was hit by thousands of missiles; the exercise also was designed to train the IAF to remain fully functional while under attack.
Kan Radio reports that the police have decided to revisit the investigation into the alleged rape of a seven-year-old girl in a Haredi settlement in the West Bank. The man accused of the rape, Mahmoud Kattousa, has denied any connection to the alleged incident, while several inconsistencies have come to light. The alleged rape drew fiery reactions from politicians across the political spectrum—and mainly so from the right—due to the identity of the alleged assailant and victim.
Maariv reports that the Prisons Service decided to deactivate jamming devices last weekend after security prisoners threatened to resume a hunger strike. The issue of the jamming devices began as part of the fight against large-scale cell phone smuggling into high security prisons. The security prisoners have since found out that the jamming system has been disrupting various electronic devices (particularly wireless Bluetooth headphones), which do not function properly in the security prisoners’ ward. Security officials criticised the decision as well as the conduct of senior Prisons Service officials regarding the prisoners. “Time and again, the Prisons Service has chosen to solve a local problem out of fear of dealing with violence and disturbances in the prisons. Every time [the security prisoners] use force and pressure, they win concessions and get what they want, and what happens in prison also projects onto other sectors”. Tal Lev Ram writes in Maariv that: “In a certain sense, the Prisons Service’s conduct in dealing with the Hamas prisoners’ leadership in Israeli prisons is a carbon copy, albeit on a smaller scale, of the State of Israel’s conduct in dealing with the Gaza Strip. As in [Israel’s] military conflagrations with the enemy [Hamas], the greatest damage is caused by the disparity between words and action, and the very same confusion, hesitancy and failure to make decisions have all now spread to the prisons as well.”
Yediot Ahronoth reports that the Western Negev Regional Planning Committee has approved a new sewage pipeline that will transport sewage from Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip to the treatment plant that serves Sderot and the communities of the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council. The sewage treatment plant in Gaza fell into disrepair two years ago and, ever since, the Palestinians have been funnelling their sewage directly into Israel via the Hanoun ravine, which runs near the Erez crossing. An underground sewage pipeline will be laid to transport the sewage from the northern part of the Gaza Strip to the Israeli treatment plant. The pipeline will be 15 kilometres long and will cost more than NIS 15 million to build. The money to pay for that pipeline is probably going to be taken from the money that Israel deducts from the tax funds that Israel levies on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Work on the new pipeline is scheduled to begin shortly.