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Media Summary

Saudi oil giant plans overseas expansion

The BBC and the Guardian report on the Warsaw Summit. The BBC’s Diplomatic Correspondent Jonathan Marcus asks why Iran is the elephant in the room at the summit held this week. The genesis of this gathering was a proposal by the Americans to have an international meeting to increase the pressure on Tehran. But this idea was quickly revised since there was little enthusiasm among some of Washington’s Western European allies. Indeed it became clear that putting the spotlight solely on Iran might simply highlight the divisions in the Western camp in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the JPCOA nuclear agreement with Tehran. So instead the agenda has been broadened with the meeting now billed as a ministerial aimed at “Promoting a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East”. Iran is not named on the agenda, which includes broad thematic issues like humanitarian and refugee challenges, missile proliferation and 21st century threats like cyber and terrorism. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be on the agenda – the Palestinians are not attending since they are boycotting the Trump administration. In the Guardian, Patrick Wintour reports that key European powers will offer only limited participation in a high-profile Trump administration summit on the Middle East starting on Wednesday, reflecting their growing anger over unilateral US policymaking on Iran and Syria. The UK Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, will leave the Warsaw summit early, pleading Brexit Commons business, while France is sending a civil servant and Germany its junior foreign minister. Federica Mogherini, the EU external affairs chief, will boycott the event, originally conceived by the US as a way to press EU countries to adopt a more aggressive stance towards Iran.

The Financial Times reports that Israel’s Left is drifting into obscurity as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks re-election, with the once pre-eminent Labor Party failing to exploit Netanyahu’s legal troubles ahead of the April election. Asked to describe the plight of Israel’s once-grand Labor Party, its leader Avi Gabbay said this month it was “continuing on the road” of David Ben-Gurion, the father of the Israeli state and patriarch of the Left. “We were here before everybody else, and we believe that after all the noise has subsided, Labour is the aircraft carrier of our camp, and we will lead the way,” he said. The polls, however, suggest it is more like a sinking ship. Israeli Labor, once the party of towering international figures such as Yitzhak Rabin and Golda Meir, may win fewer than seven parliamentary seats in national elections this April, according to pollsters. One survey this month indicated that they could win none of the 120 seats.

In the Independent, Rafi Letzer writes that: “If Trump and his friends seriously cared about antisemitism, Ilhan Omar wouldn’t be their priority”. He argues that Democrats and Republicans alike have seemed much more eager to make an issue of a progressive’s jokes about a well-funded right-wing lobby than any Republican or mainstream Democrat’s links to overt prejudice.”

In the Guardian, Barnaby Raine writes that: “Ilhan Omar should be more radical about Israel, not less”, arguing that: “By focusing on lobbyists, Omar suggests that America’s interests are corrupted by a small clique. The truth is far worse”.

The Telegraph, Independent and Guardian report on the fight for ISIS’s last territories in Syria. The Telegraph reports that Western-backed fighters have entered the final hours of a fierce battle to retake the last scraps of ISIS territory in Syria. It was from the pulpit of the Great Nouri mosque in Mosul, one of Iraq’s holiest sites, that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced ISIS’s caliphate in 2014. His words shook the world, and in the months that followed, tens of thousands of followers flocked to join the nightmarish project and ISIS became a byword for global terror. But today – in an inconsequential village in the Syrian desert around 300 miles away – the prophesied Muslim state they dreamed of building faces a far less auspicious end. The past week has seen some of the fiercest fighting in the four-and-a-half year battle against the jihadists, as they fight to the bloody last in less than one square mile of territory. “The enemy is fully entrenched and ISIS fighters continue to conduct counter attacks,” Colonel Sean Ryan, spokesman of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition said on Tuesday, adding it was “too early for a timetable” on when the operation might end. Local commanders, however, suggested privately it could be as early as Wednesday.

The Financial Times reports that Saudi Arabia plans to develop an international energy exploration and production business for the first time, doubling down on oil and gas despite the Kingdom’s ambitions to curb its reliance on hydrocarbons. Khalid al Falih, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister and chairman of state oil company Saudi Aramco, told the Financial Times that overseas expansion would be a critical part of the company’s future. “We are no longer going to be inward-looking and focused only on monetising the kingdom’s resources,” Falih said. “Going forward the world is going to be Saudi Aramco’s playground.” While Saudi Aramco is the world’s largest oil producing company, it has never meaningfully ventured overseas to extract resources, relying instead on its vast domestic reserves. Falih said it was “correct” to say the company now has ambitions to become an international energy player like Royal Dutch Shell or ExxonMobil, pumping oil as well as gas overseas. Despite ambitious reforms driven by Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, to wean the kingdom off what he has called its “dangerous addiction to oil”, Falih mapped out Saudi Arabia’s plans to invest more in the sector that has underpinned its traditional economy.

The Times reports that according to the Elysee Palace, France’s yellow vest insurrection is feeding a hatred of Jews that has surged over the past year. “Antisemitism is spreading like poison,” Christophe Castaner, the interior minister, said. “It’s rotting minds, it’s killing.” He was speaking at a memorial last night to Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man who was tortured to death by Muslim men in 2006. Trees forming part of his memorial were hacked down last week. Castaner and other ministers voiced alarm over the resurgence of French antisemitism, with a 74 per cent rise in incidents recorded across France last year. He said it was prevalent on social media and visible in slogans and acts of vandalism near the gilets jaunes protests in French cities. The antisemitic protesters believe that President Emmanuel Macron is a puppet of Jewish interests, who are the real rulers of France. A recent 30-minute programme, which claims to be a documentary, argues that the Rothschild banking family, Macron’s previous employer, is the “master” of France. It has been watched more than 1.5 million times on YouTube in the past two months. During protests in Paris on Saturday, the word “Juden” was daubed on the front of a bagel shop in the heart of the city. Public images of Simone Veil, the late stateswoman and Holocaust survivor, were defaced with swastikas. Antisemitic insults were painted on the facade of the Le Monde newspaper’s headquarters.

The Independent reports that Qatar has admitted to unwittingly helping bail out Jared Kushner’s skyscraper. Brookfield, a global property investor in which the Qatari government has placed investments, struck a deal last year that rescued the Kushner Companies’ 666 Fifth Avenue tower in Manhattan from financial straits. The bailout, in which Doha played no part and first learned about in the media, has prompted a rethink of how the gas-rich kingdom invests money abroad via its giant sovereign wealth fund. The country has decided that the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) will aim to avoid putting money in funds or other investment vehicles it does not have full control over, according to the sources familiar with QIA’s strategy. Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management Inc. bailed out 666 Fifth Avenue via its real estate unit Brookfield Property Partners, in which the QIA acquired a 9 per cent stake five years ago. Both parent and unit declined to comment.

The Times reports that a senior official under investigation for the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi is still advising Saudi Arabia’s controversial crown prince despite appeals by the Trump administration to drop him. Saud al-Qahtani was senior media adviser to Mohammed bin Salman until the killing but, more importantly, oversaw efforts to “persuade” dissidents and critics in exile to return to the Kingdom — among them Khashoggi. He is believed to have been in charge of the hit squad that killed the journalist. His movements were supposedly limited after the Saudi authorities admitted responsibility for Khashoggi’s death in their consulate in Istanbul in October. American officials, however, have confirmed widespread rumours in the Gulf that the crown prince continues to seek his advice and that he is in regular touch with the team that he set up to monitor online communications and cybersecurity.

The Times reports that Turkey has ordered 1,112 arrests in one of its largest crackdowns on supporters of the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of orchestrating the failed coup in 2016. Prosecutors said that 130 were deputy police chiefs accused of cheating in examinations. Suleyman Soylu, the interior minister, warned on Sunday that a “big operation” would be held against Gulen supporters. “Devils would not perpetrate deceptions like they have,” he said. “We will finish them off.” Gulen, aged 77, fled to the US in 1999. Turkey claims that his network tried to create a “parallel state” by infiltrating institutions.

In the Israel media, Maariv reports speculation that the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit may postpone his announcement about whether or not he will start proceedings to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the paper, the Justice Ministry had planned to announce the indictment, pending a hearing, by February 20, one day before the final day for submitting the Knesset lists. But now Justice Ministry officials believe that this is unrealistic and that there will be no alternative but to make a decision later. They blame the delay on “foot-dragging manoeuvers of the prime minister’s lawyers”. The paper also notes that yesterday Netanyahu attacked Mandelblit’s instructions forbidding him from being photographed with soldiers. Netanyahu posted a clip of himself on his Facebook page on his way to an Israeli Navy base in Haifa in which he says: “I about to fly from Jerusalem to an Israeli Navy base in Haifa, and I would very much like to take you with me inside the base, but there is some odd order—I can’t be photographed with soldiers.” The Labor Party said: “Netanyahu has become accustomed to mixing political interests with security interests and thinks that he can use IDF soldiers as extras in his campaign. Netanyahu cannot be changed. Netanyahu must be replaced.”

Yediot Ahronot and Haaretz report on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments last night as he left to attend the international conference in Warsaw. The Prime Minister confirmed that Israel bombed Hezbollah targets in Syria on Monday. He said: “We operate every day, including yesterday, against Iran and its attempts to entrench itself in the region.” According to Haaretz: “The confirmation runs contrary to the position of the Israeli defence establishment, as senior defence officials refrained from addressing the incident on the Syrian Golan Heights … senior defence officials say the decision not to respond to the reports on the strike stemmed from the desire to renew the policy of ambiguity of recent years. The fact that the targets were Hezbollah positions on the Golan is what prompted the officials to demand the defence establishment remain mum on the reports coming in from Syria.”

Kan News reports on Hezbollah’s efforts at psychological warfare after they formed a WhatsApp group that contains dozens of Israeli figures, most of whom serve in various positions in the political and security establishments. The heading for the WhatsApp group reads: ‘Revenge is inevitable,’ a quote by Imad Mughniyah. Today marks the anniversary of Mughniyah’s assassination, attributed to Israel.

Israel Hayom suggests that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has begun a “battle of containment” to prevent the presentation of the regional peace plan being developed by US President Donald Trump’s team. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas left on a shuttle mission to Arab countries to reaffirm the promises made by leaders of the moderate Arab states to support the Palestinian demands on the core issues: an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state. As part of his battle of containment, Abbas met yesterday with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman at his palace in Riyadh. At the end of the meeting, Saudi Arabian officials stated that: “It was made clear to the Palestinian Authority chairman that Saudi Arabia continues to support its Palestinian brethren in building their independent state, whose capital is East Jerusalem.” Senior officials in Egypt, Jordan and the PA have confirmed to Israel Hayom that Abbas was recently informed by senior officials in Washington that President Trump’s team is in the final stages of concluding the peace plan. The paper suggests that the US plan is expected to include mainly economic incentives, which will be incorporated with the main points of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would lead to a process of normalisation between Israel and the moderate Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf Emirates. According to a senior Palestinian official: “The PA Chairman is expected to call an emergency meeting of the Arab League states, in order to block the efforts of the US president and his advisors Kushner and Greenblatt to win the moderate Arab states’ support for the peace plan.”

Yediot Ahronot reports on the expected announcement of a merger between the Jewish Home and the National Union parties. The likely merger between the Jewish Home, headed by Rabbi Rafi Peretz, and the National Union, headed by Bezalel Smotrich, was made possible because they espouse almost identical ideologies — in contrast to the ideological gap between them and the more extreme right-wing party, the Jewish Power Party. The paper notes that latest polls reveal neither party would cross the electoral threshold on its own, leading the two sides to realise that a merger is vital.