Media Summary

Saudi Arabia bans Israeli Muslims from the Haj

The Times and the Daily Mail report that Israel unveiled a plan to build a railway to forge new alliances in the region. The Times reports that  “a century ago railways united the Middle East — at least until Lawrence of Arabia started blowing them up. As part of its attempts to forge an unexpected alliance with Sunni Arab states, Israel is proposing to rebuild at least part of the historic route from the Mediterranean to the Gulf. Lawrence blew up sections of the Hejaz railway as part of his guerrilla operations against the Ottoman empire in the First World War. Subsequent conflicts have also taken their toll, and at present no lines operate in Lebanon and none cross Israel’s borders.” The Daily Mail reports that Israel’s transport minister on Wednesday pitched plans to link the Mediterranean to the Gulf via the Jewish state, as his country pushes unprecedented public rapprochement with the Arab region. “It makes sense and is beyond political and ideological disagreements,” said Yisrael Katz, whose country has diplomatic ties with only two Arab states. The “Tracks of Peace” rail link, which Katz said was supported by the administration of US President Donald Trump, was “based on two central ideas — Israel as a land bridge and Jordan as a regional transportation hub”. Katz, who was speaking at an international transport conference in Oman, said the proposed railway was favourable to Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Gulf states, as well as the Palestinian economy. “It will create an additional trade route in the region, which is shorter, faster and cheaper, and will contribute to the economies of Jordan, the Palestinians, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and in the future Iraq as well,” Katz said.

The Express reports that Saudi Arabia has slapped a ban on one million Palestinian Muslims with Israeli citizenship from travelling to Mecca. The Gulf Kingdom issued the veto on Palestinians with Israeli citizenship entering the country, meaning they cannot make the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site made by millions of Muslims each year. Since 1978 Palestinian Muslims have been able to use temporary Jordanian passports to enter and leave Saudi Arabia. But Riyadh has now closed this loophole. Israeli citizens are not accepted in 16 Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia.

The BBC and the Daily Mail Online report on the continued aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in Istanbul. The BBC reports the Duke of York has said his initiative to support entrepreneurs should continue ‘engaging’ with Saudi Arabia, despite the killing last month of Khashoggi. The Duke said the journalist’s death was an ‘awful state of affairs’. He told the BBC that young Saudis should not ‘take the blame for something that they had nothing to do with’. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail Online reports that Saudi journalist Turki Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Jasser has been killed after being tortured in custody of the Saudi regime. He was accused of exposing violations committed by the royal family.

The Daily Mail reports that Qatar has announced it will provide temporary support to 50,000 impoverished Gazan families as mediators attempt to broker a truce between Hamas and Israel. The Gulf state will provide $100 each to 50,000 poor families in the “next few days,” a statement from Qatar’s Gaza Reconstruction Committee said late Tuesday. The beneficiaries are being selected in coordination with the Hamas-led authorities. Separately on Tuesday, cash-strapped Hamas announced that civil servants would receive the majority of their salaries for the first time in months.

Reuters and the Daily Mail report that Palestinian officials say a fisherman has been shot dead by Egyptian naval forces off the coast of the Gaza Strip. Nizzar Ayyash of the fishermen’s union says that 32-year-old Mustafa Abu Ouda had been fishing alone in his boat off the coast of the southern border town of Rafah on Wednesday. Ayyash says at least three fishermen have been killed by Egyptian fire in recent years. Reuters reports that an Egyptian military source in Cairo has denied the report.

Reuters and the Express report that the US hopes Russia will continue to let Israel hit Iran in Syria. Reuters reports that the US said on Wednesday it hoped Russia would continue to allow Israel to strike Iranian targets in Syria despite Moscow’s supply of the S-300 air defence system to the Syrian government. “Russia has been permissive, in consultation with the Israelis, about Israeli strikes against Iranian targets inside Syria. We certainly hope that that permissive approach will continue,” Ambassador James Jeffrey, Washington’s Syria envoy, said in a conference call with reporters. The Express reports that new missiles protecting Iran in Syria may deter Israel from attacking its arch-enemy, despite previously allowing strikes to take place. US envoy to Syria James Jeffrey said yesterday the US were betting on Russia and Israel’s relationship to remain despite the incident. He said: “We are concerned very much about the S-300 system being deployed to Syria. “The issue is at the detail level. Who will control it? What role will it play? “In the past, Russia has been permissive in consultation with the Israelis about Israeli strikes against Iranian targets inside Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue strikes, as has Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Reuters reports that the US is determined to push Iranian oil exports to zero through a “calibrated” approach using maximum economic pressure without lifting oil prices, US Special Representative Brian Hook said on Wednesday. “We have been very careful about applying maximum economic pressure (on Iran) without lifting the price of oil and we have done that successfully,” Hook told reporters. “We are going to be continuing our path to zero. We do want to achieve maximum pressure without harming friends or allies and we don’t want to lift the price of oil. … We have calibrated this very well.”

The Daily Mail via AP reports that the US is warning other countries not to allow Iranian oil tankers into their territorial waters or ports, saying such access may run foul of US sanctions and not only incur penalties, but also result in catastrophic economic and environmental damage should an accident occur. The State Department reminded the global shipping and insurance industries Wednesday that as part of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” to get Iran to change its behaviour, insuring Iranian tankers will now incur penalties under US sanctions reinstated this week. “From the Suez Canal to the Strait of Malacca and all choke points in between, Iranian tankers are now a floating liability,” Hook told reporters. “Countries, ports and canal operators and private firms should know they will be likely responsible for the costs of an accident involving a self-insured Iranian tanker.” The US “sincerely hopes” accidents do not occur, he said, but he noted that an Iranian tanker was involved in an accident in the East China Sea in January that resulted in the loss of the ship and a massive oil spill. He said the US has evidence that Iranian vessels are trying to evade US sanctions by disabling location transponders used to prevent collisions. “This tactic is a maritime security threat,” Hook said. “These transponders are designed to maximise visibility at sea and turning them off only increases risk of accidents and injuries. Self-insured Iranian tankers engaging in unsafe behavior, with many tons of crude oil on board, is courting environmental and financial disaster.”

Borzou Daragahi from the Independent reports that Iran is worried about the health of US democracy. Iranian state television zeroed in on the voting irregularities reported throughout America during midterm elections, watched closely in the Islamic republic as well as around the world as a verdict on the first 22 months of the presidency of Donald Trump. “US rights groups report problems with machines in a dozen states,” said a recurring caption on state-owned English-language Press TV. “Some in Iran pray that the Trump presidential term ends as soon as possible,” said Mahdi Khalili, a reformist-leaning political scientist. “Some are happy and supported by Trump and his policies in trying to change the regime. The majority of society is now dissatisfied, whether on the issue of compulsory hijab, or in terms of salaries, income, and welfare.”

In the Israeli media all the newspapers discuss the US midterm elections. Maariv considers the results a “light blow for President Trump,” while Israel Hayom suggests a divided Congress is an opportunity for Trump. Israel Hayom also quotes Florida’s Governor elect Ron DeSantis saying, “My first trip will be to Israel.” In Haaretz, Chemi Shalev writes: “The expectation that Israel’s position on Capitol Hill is now weaker or that the House of Representatives will transform into a bedrock of anti-Israel agitation is both paranoid and far-fetched. On the contrary, Israel could provide one of the rare issues on which Democrats and Republicans can easily find common ground.  Thus, the new reality that will prevail in Washington from January could give Netanyahu an opportunity to mend fences with Democrats and American Jews at the same time.”

Kan radio news reports security forces are continuing to search for the terrorists who shot and injured two civilians last night in a terrorist attack on a bus near Beit El in the West Bank. The civilians, the driver and one of the passengers sustained light wounds from shrapnel and were taken to the hospital for treatment.

All the newspapers report comments by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit who yesterday told Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked that she did not have the authority to relieve Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber of her duties in the Knesset and the cabinet, after Zilber criticised the loyalty clause in the ‘culture bill’ and other recent government-sponsored legislation on Tuesday. Mandelblit said that he would review the issue at hand “patiently and judiciously,” and noted that he would not allow Zilber to be subjected to a “drumhead court-martial.” Shaked and her party leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, yesterday doubled down on the demand to relieve Zilber of her duties in public comments and interviews to the media. Yediot Ahronot says: “If we are to judge based on past experience with the way Mandelblit handles issues before him, the word ‘patiently’ means slowly. The attorney general intends to take his time reviewing the Zilber affair. Until he completes his review, Zilber won’t report for duty in cabinet and Knesset meetings.” Meawhile Israel Hayom gives other examples of where Zilber “has crossed the line,” noting: “She disqualified the ministerial decision to stop allowing national service to be performed at B’Tselem, she ran an all-out war against the World Zionist Organisation’s Settlement Division, she led the way towards a temporary freeze of the budget allocation for the Gaza periphery communities, and she accused former Givati Brigade Commander Ofer Winter on the basis of a false report of making a decision stemming from calculations involving religion and discrimination against women, and more.”

Yediot Ahronot notes that the security forces have been searching for Ashraf Naalwe, the terrorist who committed the shooting attack in the Barkan industrial zone, for a month, but have failed thus far to locate him. Every passing day in which he succeeds in eluding the IDF and Israeli’s internal security agency only serves to elevate his status as a national hero on the West Bank. The paper quotes statements made on social media:  “All of Gaza is with you, champ”; “take care of yourself,”; and “Ashraf has worn out the Zionists with their manhunt”. A special Facebook page has been set up in honour of Naalwe, and is filled with posts about the manhunt. At a special rally of support that was organised in honour of the terrorist at his family home, speakers mocked Israel and said: “The Zionist enemy teaches the world about technology but hasn’t been able to reach Ashraf.”  Meanwhile, Maariv reports that hundreds of people carrying torches attended a protest march that was held last night in the Barkan industrial zone. The demonstrators demanded that the pace of the security establishment’s manhunt for the terrorist be accelerated, so as to bring him to justice.