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Media Summary

Saudi Arabia to relax male guardianship laws

Writing in the Telegraph, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that the latest confrontation with Iran in the Gulf showed that the navy needs more funding and more warships and he has promised to reverse cuts to the size of the Royal Navy if elected Prime Minister. It comes after the Ministry of Defence said Iranian boats attempted to impede a British oil tanker in the Gulf. BBC News reports that the Conservative leadership candidate has already pledged to boost defence spending by £15bn over the next five years, having said that the Royal Navy had been “run down” over recent decades. Boris Johnson has also committed to increasing the UK’s defence budget, but his plans appear more modest. BBC News, the Guardian and Telegraph report that the UK has raised the threat to British shipping in Iranian waters in the Gulf to the highest level – where the risk of attack is “critical”. Reuters reports that Iran has demanded that the UK immediately release an oil tanker that British Royal Marines seized last week on suspicion of breaking European sanctions by taking oil to Syria.

Reuters reports that the Palestinian Authority has denied US allegations that it had increased payments to families of militants in Israeli jails, and has stated that the main obstacle to peace is Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. US officials have criticised the PA’s prisoner stipends as fanning Palestinian violence, and President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt said the PA had increased those payments by 11 percent in the first months of 2019.“PA increased pay to murderers by over 11 per cent at the same time as they slash pay to their government workers and police,” Greenblatt tweeted on Wednesday. The Palestinian Finance Ministry rejected the accusation as “absolutely false and hypocritical” and said Washington was lending financial support to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Reuters reports that Israeli soldiers have mistakenly shot a Hamas operative attempting to prevent Palestinians from approaching the Israel-Gaza border, the Israeli military has confirmed. “An initial inquiry suggests that a Hamas restraint operative arrived in the area of the security fence because of two Palestinians who were wandering in the area,” the Israeli military said in a statement. “In retrospect, it appears that the IDF troops who arrived at the location misidentified the Hamas restraint operative to be an armed terrorist and fired as a result of this misunderstanding. The incident will be reviewed”.

Reuters reports that the US has decided not to impose sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “for the time being”, in a sign that the Trump administration may be holding a door open for diplomacy. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in June that Zarif would be blacklisted that week, an unusual public stance because the US typically does not preview such decisions to keep its targets from moving assets out of US jurisdiction. Blacklisting Iran’s chief negotiator would also be unusual because it could impede US efforts to use diplomacy to resolve its disagreements with Tehran over Iran’s nuclear programme, regional activities and missile testing.

The GuardianTelegraph and Times report that Saudi Arabia is planning to relax its strict male guardianship laws to allow women to leave the country without needing permission from a male relative. Travel restrictions for women over the age of 18 are due to be lifted this year and the planned changes would also lift restrictions on international travel for men under the age of 21 without the consent of designated male family members.

The Independent reports that the UAE has denied that it is withdrawing from the Yemen conflict but confirmed it is drawing down troops and redeploying others to focus on counterterrorism in the southeast of the country. The decision could strain ties with Saudi Arabia, with the UAE having been a key partner in the Saudi-led coalition. Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia has moved to secure two strategic Red Sea ports and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait in Yemen after the UAE substantially reduced its presence there.

The Financial Times reports that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has agreed initial terms for a $10bn loan from a group composed of the world’s largest banks. Bank of America Merrill Lynch, BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Citigroup are among the 10 banks that have committed to provide the short-term loan expected to be paid back towards the end of the year when Saudi Aramco makes the first payment to the fund of the $69bn it is paying the PIF for its majority stake in local petrochemicals group Sabic.

Reuters reports that an investigation is under way after a European Vega rocket failed after take-off, destroying a military observation satellite as it was about to be placed in orbit for the UAE, European space authorities have said. The Italian-built launcher blasted off from a space port in French Guiana, carrying the FalconEye1 earth observation satellite with a reported value of several hundred million dollars. Some two minutes into the flight, controllers began reporting signs that something had gone wrong shortly after ignition of the second stage.

In the Telegraph, Roland Oliphant argues that the UK’s Iran policy represents a “mass of contradictions”: “Until there is a new prime minister, diplomats will not have a clear steer on that fundamental strategic question: should post-Brexit Britain stick with its European allies, or swing decisively behind the United States on Iran and other issues”.

In the Guardian, Patrick Wintour examines whether the US is increasingly exposing the UK diplomatically and militarily in the Gulf: “The risk is that, after failing to prise the UK away from its political support for the Iran nuclear deal, the US will gently prod its closest ally towards a naval bust-up in the Gulf that ends with the UK facing no option but to quit the deal and ally with the US”.

In the Independent, Kim Sengupta argues that the UK risks being dragged into a wider confrontation with Iran: “What happened with the British tanker […] was not an obvious attempt to attack the ship, but raising the scale of harassment and brinkmanship”.

In the Telegraph, Adrian Blomfield examines the strategic significance of the Strait of Hormuz: “Deprived of its main income generator, Iran’s regime may conclude that self-preservation can only be achieved through the most drastic response left in its armoury”.

In the Independent, Fathom Editor Alan Johnson critically examines the Labour Party’s reaction to the BBC Panorama documentary on allegations of antisemitism within the party’s ranks: “When a person says ‘the Zionists’ control the media, or control America, or did 9/11, or created ISIS. When they use the term ‘Zio’, ‘Zio-Nazis’ or they say Israel is the ‘new Third Reich’ and so should be ‘smashed’. When they demand all UK Jews take responsibility for Israeli policy in the West Bank (or else), this is not ‘criticism of Israel’ – it is antisemitism. The party needs a new leadership that understands this and eradicates it once and for all”.

In the Israeli media, Yediot Ahronot reports that next Saturday, July 20, Benjamin Netanyahu will have been Prime Minister for a total of 13 years and 128 days, one day longer than David Ben-Gurion.

All the Israeli media prominently report the business links between Ehud Barak and Jeffrey Epstein, who on Monday was charged with sex trafficking of underage girls. According to the reports, Barak received over $2 million in grants from the Wexner Foundation when Epstein sat on the group’s board. Netanyahu accuses the media of remaining “silent” about the matter. In a radio interview Barak said he met Epstein several times, but said he “didn’t support me or pay me.” He said he has met many people over the years, including some involved in “problematic things,” such as Harvey Weinstein. “I also met Netanyahu,” he quipped. In addition, Haaretz reveal the pair were also business partners, with Epstein investing in Barak’s startup. The paper explains, “In 2015 Barak set up a limited partnership, in which he is the sole shareholder. That company invested in Reporty Homeland Security, established in 2014, becoming a major shareholder. Last year Reporty changed its name to Carbyne. The company develops call-handling and identification capabilities for emergency response services.” Ynet notes that Epstein’s friends have included President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew.

Maariv believes that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is focusing on two rivals in the election campaign—neither of whom is Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. After releasing films questioning Ehud Barak’s connections to American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, Netanyahu attacked Avigdor Lieberman. Netanyahu toured Ashkelon yesterday and inaugurated… a project with hundreds of housing units for new immigrants and Holocaust survivors. Netanyahu used the opportunity to attack Lieberman and said: “For years, when it came to new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, there was a policy of a lot of talk and zero action. We have changed that.” Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman responded sharply: “Netanyahu is hysterical; he realises that the only thing stopping him from forming an Halachic (Jewish Law) government is Yisrael Beiteinu. Everyone realises that he only started to care about the Russian vote two months before the elections. Everyone has long since learned that Netanyahu doesn’t keep his promises.”

All the papers report the mistaken Israeli army shooting of a Hamas operative on the Gaza border. Yediot Ahronot notes: “In August 2018 180 rockets were fired at the southern communities after a tank force mistakenly opened fire and killed two Hamas operatives who were training and not aiming their weapons at Israel. Then too, Israel did everything to end the round quickly, but at the time it refrained from announcing that an operational error had been made. Now, officials in the IDF HQ and in Jerusalem understood that this mistake might give rise to another round, and so they tried to prevent it, even if the national dignity was slightly damaged. The decision was highly legitimate and it was the correct thing to do under the circumstances. The question that needs to be asked is how we reached this situation of trying to reach a truce arrangement without deterrence. How the precious time from the summer of 2014 until the spring of 2018, in which Israel possessed all of the conditions that were conducive to reaching a long-term agreement with Hamas, was wasted, and now we are being dragged along and extorted. Beyond the criticism of the political echelon, the military echelon’s conduct should also be discussed. Yesterday’s incident was an error by the 13th Battalion of the Golani Brigade, which recently arrived at the border. It becomes clear periodically that every time there is a change of infantry brigades in the Gaza Division, there are operational mishaps by the new incoming force in the sector. The attempts to learn the lessons notwithstanding, it is not quite successful and tactical incidents do have a strategic impact. On the systemic level, army officials know that the rounds of warfare in the past year have ended with poor results. It is likely that a stronger blow against the Hamas military wing in the first rounds would have restored the deterrence and brought Israel to the negotiating table—the existence of which everyone denies—under better conditions. The new chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, is trying to change the situation by exacting a heavier price from Hamas and reinstating the targeted killings, but with the current situation on the Gaza border, this has still not been sufficient.”

Kan news reports on the results of the Meretz primary. Former leader Tamar Zandberg came second on the list for the Knesset, after the new leader, Nitzan Horowitz. Ilan Gilon was ranked third; Issawi Frej fourth; and Mossi Raz fifth. Raz is followed on the list by MK Michal Rozin, Gaby Lasky and Ali Salalha. Eighty-five percent of the members of the Meretz Conference took part in the vote.