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Media Summary

Russia rejects Trump call to end attacks on Idlib

The Telegraph reports that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo privately raised doubts about whether the White House’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan can succeed. Speaking to a closed-door gathering of US Jewish leaders, Pompeo stated that the peace initiative may be “unexecutable” and that he understood why it was widely seen as biased in Israel’s favour. Pompeo’s private comments appear to reflect a growing frustration within the Trump administration at how the peace initiative has been handled by Jared Kushner, including that it has taken more than two years to formulate: “this has taken us longer to roll out our plan than I had originally thought it might – to put it lightly”

BBC News reports that Semion Rosenfeld – the last known survivor of the uprising at the Nazi extermination camp at Sobibor – has died in Israel aged 96. He was captured by the Germans while serving in the Soviet Army in 1941 and sent to the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. In October 1943, he managed to escape together with some 300 prisoners. A third of the escapees were caught almost immediately. Of the 200 who got out, only 47 survived the Second World War. More than 250,000 Jews are believed to have been killed at Sobibor in 1942-43. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid tribute to Rosenfeld, writing in a statement posted on Facebook: “he joined the Red Army, was captured by the Nazis but managed to escape from the death camp and continued to fight the Nazis. May his memory be a blessing.”

The Times reports that Jared Kushner has cast doubt on the Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves and hinted that the Middle East peace plan will fall short of granting them their own state. Kushner said it would be “a high bar” to grant the Palestinians freedom from Israeli interference. “The hope is that over time they can become capable of governing themselves,” he said. He refused to answer directly whether his plan endorsed a Palestinian state alongside the existing Israeli one, although he has previously hinted that it does not. The political peace plan is complete but Kushner has yet to set a date for it to be unveiled. It is expected to contain a proposal for the economic development of the Palestinian territories. It is understood that the presentation of the final peace plan will largely depend on the reception of the economic proposals. The Palestinian leadership has dismissed the plan already, accusing the Trump administration of bias towards Israel in its actions to date, including recognising Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, closing the Palestinians’ de facto embassy in Washington and cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.

Reuters reports that the Israeli army has shown the inside of a sophisticated tunnel passing deep underground from Lebanon into northern Israel on Monday, saying it was intended for use by Lebanese Hezbollah militants. The tunnel was rigged with electrical wiring, fuse boxes and communications equipment. An army spokesman said it began almost a kilometre (mile) away inside Lebanon and reached depths of some 80 meters (265 feet) – about the height of a 22-storey building – as it crossed into Israel, near the town of Zarit. It came to light earlier this year during an army operation whereby a number of attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah were discovered and sealed off, the military said.

Reuters reports that Russia has rebuffed criticism from US President Donald Trump regarding Russian and Syrian government military action in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, saying that it was needed to shut down rebel attacks being launched from there. Trump urged Russian and Syrian government forces to stop bombing Idlib on Sunday, following a Friday Kremlin statement that signalled Moscow would continue to back a month-long Syrian government offensive. The assault has raised fears of a humanitarian crisis as Syrians displaced by the fighting seek shelter at the Turkish border. The United Nations estimates that 200,000 people have fled since strikes began in April.

In the Financial Times, Chloe Cornish, Asser Khattab and Najmeh Bozorgmeh argue that claims by US officials that Hezbollah’s financial difficulties are a result of the US “maximum pressure” campaign to constrain Iran’s oil exports, banks and metals sector hide a more complex reality and that sanctions are not the only factor constraining the Lebanese militant group.

Reuters reports that Iran has branded US sanctions ‘economic war’ and stated that there could be no talks with the US until the sanctions are lifted, a day after Washington suggested it could hold talks without pre-conditions if Iran changed its behaviour.

Reuters reports that Qatar has expressed “reservations” regarding the hawkish approach that Gulf States including Saudi Arabia have adopted toward Iran, underlining divisions in the region over how to deal with the Islamic republic. Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said on Sunday that a series of Saudi-convened summits over the weekend had “adopted Washington’s policy towards Iran”, without “taking the neighbourhood into consideration”. The comments sparked condemnation from the Gulf States who are seeking to up the pressure on Iran.

The Guardian, Reuters and the Financial Times report that energy and chemical firm Ineos will invest $2bn (£1.6bn) in Saudi Arabia for the construction of three chemical plants. The three plants to be constructed by Ineos will form part of a $5bn petrochemical complex being built in Saudi Arabia by the state-owned company Saudi Aramco and France’s Total. The complex will supply more than $4bn of derivatives and speciality chemicals, Ineos said on Monday.

Reuters reports that oil prices have fallen today as an economic slowdown starts to dent energy demand, but markets won some support after Saudi Arabia said a consensus was emerging with other producers about extending supply cuts. Brent crude futures were at $60.90 at 0614 GMT. That was 38 cents, or 0.6 per cent, below last session’s close. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $52.98 per barrel, down 27 cents, or 0.5 per cent, from their last settlement. Oil futures are around 20 per cent below 2019 peaks reached in late April, with May posting the sharpest monthly declines since November. Other energy prices, like coal and gas, are also being hit hard by the downturn.

In The Guardian, Simon Tisdall argues argues that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are acting in concert to thwart the aspirations of Sudan’s reform movement: ‘it is probably no coincidence that the sudden, violent crackdown on protesters in central Khartoum followed a series of meetings between the leaders of Sudan’s military junta and autocratic Arab regimes that are actively attempting to shape the country’s future’.

The Israeli media reports comments by MK Bezalel Smotrich, number two in the Unified Right party, who has repeatedly demanded the justice portfolio, that the State of Israel will be run according to the Torah. He said: “That’s the way it should be. This is a Jewish state. The state of the Jewish people will go back to being run as it was in the days of King David and King Solomon — according to Torah law.” Yediot Ahronot reports that sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Smotrich can forget about the Justice Ministry. Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman said: “Whoever thinks that a Halachic government is a good slogan, listen to what Smotrich said. That’s not some delusional hilltop boy. That’s a serious candidate to receive the justice ministry. I was astounded when he said that he wanted the justice portfolio so that he could run the State of Israel according to the law of Torah. That is the actual embodiment of a halachic state … we want to prevent that, we won’t let that happen. People can dream that we’ll allow them to return to the days of King David and King Solomon. The law of Israel cannot be the law of the Torah.” Labour MK Shelly Yachimovich said: “Smotrich’s shocking words are a warning sign against the wave of conservatism that is washing over us from some parts of the right-wing. According to the vision of the candidate for justice or education minister, a state will be established here in which a man could divorce his wife if she isn’t modest enough, slavery and stoning will return, homosexuality will be outlawed, and only men will be able to own property. The fact that Smotrich and his friends are not some fringe visionaries, but rather are in highly influential positions, is a tremendous danger to human liberty and to the age of enlightenment.” Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to provide a legal opinion on Smotrich’s fitness to serve in the future as justice minister.

Yediot Ahronot says: “An absolute majority of the people who observe the Jewish commandments in Israel do not want a state of Halacha, including people who opt to turn to religious courts in their personal lives. They are no less religious and no less faithful; fundamentally, they know that there’s no such thing as a Halachic state. There never was a Jewish Halachic state, and there’s no reason for one to be established now. Simply put, the Jewish people never had a mechanism that was tasked with coercing observance of the religious commandments, and the justice system always contained appeals courts that served to complement the king’s law, community rules and so on. Set aside for a moment the fact that the Jews then spent 2,000 years in exile and the debate about how to adapt Halacha to life in a sovereign state is still in its very early stages. Moreover, from a Halachic standpoint, religious law doesn’t apply to anyone who doesn’t believe in that set of laws. Given all of the above, it’s clear that Smotrich’s statements were merely designed to make noise and to win him some headlines, and possibly also to inspire fear. The appeal to a “return to the days of David and Solomon” was made in the context of that same demagoguery, since it’s easier to ignore the unfolding reality and it pays to draw upon the biblical reality that reminds all of us of the Game of Thrones and makes us all squirm.”

According to Channel 12 News former Prime Minister Ehud Barak is considering a return to politics. According to the report, Barak suggested he take over as leader of the Labour Party for one year. However, since the chances of his proposal being accepted are low, he is also looking into the possibility of running on an independent list in the upcoming September election. Maariv reports that the Labour Party’s leadership will meet today to discuss Avi Gabbay’s idea to hold a primary next month. The party will also set a timetable and agenda for a meeting of the party convention, which is scheduled for next week. Labour Party number two MK Tal Rousso, announced that he was giving up his place on the list for the next Knesset, and would considering running for party leader. In response, Gabbay said: “I’ve met many people in politics, and Tal is one of the most impressive. He is an ethical and honest man who is only interested in the good of the country.”

All the newspapers report the Knesset vote yesterday to appoint Matanyahu Englman as the next state comptroller. Haaretz calls this as a victory for Prime Minister Netanyahu. The 67-45 secret ballot vote indicated that all of the parties that had recommended that Netanyahu form the next government after the April elections supported his candidate, along with two other MKs. Unlike past ombudsmen, Englman is not a judge and has no legal qualification. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics and accounting and a Masters in business administration. In 2014-2018 he served as director general of the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. Last year, Naftali Bennett appointed him director general of Israel’s Council for Higher Education. He will replace Yosef Shapira next month.

Yediot Ahronot reports, that in the past several weeks Russian troops that are deployed in Syria have evicted pro-Iranian militias that begun to set up positions in the area of the port in Tartus. The Russians used Syrian troops that are loyal to the Assad regime and which operate under Russian command to remove the pro-Iranian forces that had seized control of one of the civilian piers in the port. The Iranians have tried to act on the understandings that were reached with the Syrian regime and deployed Shiite militiamen in the port to operate a pier that would serve to supply Iranian Navy in the Mediterranean Sea. The Iranians previously tried to persuade the Russians to operate jointly in the Latakia port in Syria, which is operated by the Russian Navy. The Russians rejected that proposal outright.