Saudi oil tankers sabotaged in UAE port
The BBC, Guardian, Times and Financial Times report that, according to Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Saudi oil tankers were the targets of a “sabotage attack” off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday. The BBC reports that the incident near Fujairah port caused “significant damage” to the vessels, Khalid al-Falih said in a statement. The UAE said four ships of various nationalities had been hit. There were no injuries or deaths. The Iranian foreign ministry said the incidents were “worrisome and dreadful” and called for a full investigation.
The Financial Times reports that Benjamin Netanyahu will ask for more time to form a ruling coalition in Israel, as horse-trading between his allies for top cabinet seats drags on almost five weeks after the country’s election. Jostling over the high-profile finance, justice and defence ministries has hampered Netanyahu’s efforts as he tries to wrangle right-wing rivals into a limited number of cabinet positions. Netanyahu blamed clashes with Hamas militants in Gaza, and public holidays for the delay in forming a government. A two-week extension is usually the norm.
In the Telegraph, Raf Sanchez writes: “Sequins and rockets – how Eurovision became a flashpoint between Israel and Hamas”.
The BBC, Independent and Financial Times report that a Houthi rebel withdrawal from key ports in Yemen is proceeding according to plan, the UN says. The BBC reports that Yemen’s government had described the move – a major step since a ceasefire deal last December – as a rebel “ploy”. Both the Houthis and government forces agreed to withdraw from Hudaydah to allow in vital humanitarian aid. At least 6,800 civilians have died in Yemen’s four-year civil war. Some 10,700 more have been injured in the fighting, according to the UN. Many thousands more have died from preventable causes such as malnutrition, disease and poor health. The redeployment of troops from the ports of Hudaydah, Salif and Ras Issa is scheduled to take four days and began on Saturday.
The BBC and Guardian report that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has said the country is facing “unprecedented” pressure from international sanctions. The BBC reports that Rouhani said renewed US sanctions had led to worse economic conditions than during the country’s 1980-88 war with neighbouring Iraq. His comments came amid rising tensions with the US, which last week deployed warships and warplanes to the Gulf. Rouhani, who has come under domestic political pressure, called for political unity to face down sanctions. “During the war we did not have a problem with our banks, oil sales or imports and exports, and there were only sanctions on arms purchases,” Rouhani told political activists in the capital, Tehran. “The pressures by enemies is a war unprecedented in the history of our Islamic revolution … but I do not despair and have great hope for the future and believe that we can move past these difficult conditions provided that we are united,” he said.
The BBC, Telegraph and Guardian report that the US is sending a Patriot missile-defence system to the Middle East amid escalating tensions with Iran. The BBC reports that a warship, USS Arlington, with amphibious vehicles and aircraft on board, will also join the USS Abraham Lincoln strike group in the Gulf. And US B-52 bombers have arrived at a base in Qatar, the Pentagon said. The US said the moves were a response to a possible threat to US forces in the region by Iran, without specifying. Iran dismissed the claim as nonsense. Tehran has described the deployments as “psychological warfare” aimed at intimidating the country.
In the Times, Richard Spencer writes: “How old enemies might stumble into [an] armed clash”. He argues that how America plans to go to war with Iran and how Iran plans to go to war with America, are two very different things. The security apparatus on both sides understands this very well but in both cases the security apparatus and the politicians are not on the same page, and that is where the danger lies.
The Telegraph reports that men in Iran have been ordered not to look at women during Ramadan as part of a round of draconian restrictions imposed by the increasingly isolated regime. In a sign of frustration with growing civil discontent and economic pain caused by US sanctions, hardliners in Iran’s government are forcing through unusually strict social diktats to bring people into line. The country’s judiciary has announced that those eating in public during the fasting period are also in breach of laws and will be prosecuted. “My personal advice to women is to respect the hijab even more than before and gentlemen must avoid looking directly at female passersby,” Gholam- Hossein Esmaili, a judiciary spokesperson said.
In the Financial Times, Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Adrienne Klasa write: “Economic pressures push Tehran’s hand in US stand-off”, arguing that the deterioration of Iran’s economy helps explain the decision to break parts of the nuclear deal.
The BBC reports that more than 40 US states have filed a lawsuit accusing pharmaceutical firms, including the Israeli company, Teva, of conspiring to artificially inflate the cost of common medicinal drugs. The lawsuit alleges that as many as 20 companies have been involved in fixing prices for over 100 drugs, including treatments for diabetes and cancer. One of the firms accused is Teva Pharmaceuticals, an Israeli company and the world’s largest producer of generic medicine. Teva, which has denied any wrongdoing, says it will defend its actions. A representative of Teva in the US said that the Israeli company “has not engaged in any conduct that would lead to civil or criminal liability.”
The Financial Times reports that Saudi Arabian security forces have killed eight people in an operation targeting a “terrorist cell” in the predominantly Shia region of Qatif in the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province. The forces launched a raid to arrest members of the cell who were planning attacks against vital installations and security sites, a spokesman for State Security said in a statement late on Saturday. The spokesman said security forces surrounded the site on the island of Tarout in the Gulf coast and called on gunmen to surrender but they opened fire, prompting security forces to fire back. The investigation is continuing but no civilians or soldiers were hurt in the operation, he added.
In the Observer, Simon Tisdall writes: “We lost faith in joint efforts to halt wars. Result? Ask Syria…”. Tisdall argues that once the great powers worked together, but now nationalist strongmen dominate the agenda.
The BBC reports that according to Israeli officials, eight vultures on the Golan Heights – about half the birds’ population there – have been poisoned to death. The bodies of the griffon vultures were found on Friday morning, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) said. It is not known what poison killed the birds or who was behind the attack. An investigation is under way.
Yediot Ahronoth, Maariv and Haaretz report that the Prime Minister and Attorney General are fighting over the evidence related to the Prime Minister’s corruption investigations, with Netanyahu’s lawyers refusing to take delivery of the evidence. There are conflicting versions of what happened when the material was delivered by courier and Netanyahu’s lawyers refused to sign for it. The attorney general then issued an ultimatum to the prime minister, demanding clarifications within ten days as to whether he intended to show up for a hearing.
Kan Radio reports that officials from the law enforcement agencies have criticised the Prime Minister’s conduct regarding his hearing and that a line had been crossed. Channel 11 reported last night that Justice Ministry officials expect to wait for approximately a week for additional steps by the prime minister regarding the hearing, before they decide what action to take. The Dispensations Committee has reportedly stood by its demand that Netanyahu present it with data about his financial situation before it will allow his representatives to argue why he should be allowed to have relatives fund his legal defence.
Tova Tzimuki in Yediot Ahronoth writes that: “Netanyahu wants to buy time – to build a coalition that will make a hearing redundant or to postpone the hearing for many more months until such time when State Attorney Shai Nitzan will have completed his term and the state will appoint a state attorney more amenable to it.”
Haaretz and Israel Hayom report details on far-reaching reforms being planned to overhaul the justice system. Chaim Levinson in Haaretz reports that Netanyahu intends to introduce a law to allow the Knesset and government ministers to ignore Supreme Court rulings – such as a potential revocation of his immunity. He writes that: “Such legislation would essentially neutralise the Supreme Court in its capacity as the High Court of Justice – something Netanyahu has never publicly supported – by turning its decisions into suggestions instead of legally binding rulings. Netanyahu plans to include in the coalition agreements and government guidelines a “legal appendix” that will include his plan to reform the judicial system. Only a few people have viewed the contents of this legal appendix, but it is being coordinated with the Union of Right-wing Parties, whose MK Bezalel Smotrich has been actively involved in the discussions and wording.” He adds that Likud has gathered a number of expert opinions regarding the legal systems of Canada and England, countries where the parliament can pass laws that cannot be challenged by the Supreme Court.
Matti Tuchfeld in Israel Hayom writes that coalition negotiating teams are discussing a far-reaching proposal that if accepted “will utterly change the existing order.” Among the sections being discussed in the last few days is one that relates to the override clause, which will make it possible for the Knesset to re-legislate laws that the High Court of Justice disqualified on the grounds that they conflicted with the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty; a section relating to changing the system for appointing judges in which prospective judges will be given a hearing and the government will be the body that appoints them; a change in the composition of the Supreme Court so that the current number is increased by four, and limiting judges’ terms to 12 years; curtailing the right to petition the High Court of Justice, which will put an end to public petitions, so that only the specific people harmed can seek redress from the Supreme Court; forbidding the High Court of Justice from disqualifying laws and decisions of elected officials, including MKs, the government and mayors, on the grounds of being unreasonable; amending the law so that the attorney general can no longer restrict the government in any way, but only give it legal advice.
Ben Caspit in Maariv is heavily critical of the moves, writing that barring a dramatic occurrence, Avichai Mandelblit “will go down in history as the man on whose watch Israel’s prosecutors were divested of their assets, the State Attorney’s Office was turned into a laughing stock and a joke, the law enforcement agencies’ power of deterrence was ground to dust, and the rule of law was trampled underfoot. In less euphemistic language, it can be stated that the State Attorney’s Office has been given an ignominious burial on Mandelblit’s watch and its final resting place is unknown.”
In coalition news, Kan Radio reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu will ask the president today for a two-week extension to form a government. The negotiators for the Likud and the Union of Right-Wing Parties are scheduled to meet again this morning in order to promote their coalition agreement.
Maariv reports that former Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot reportedly warned the White House of the potential for West Bank escalation. Eisenkott reportedly told Jason Greenblatt that the situation in the West Bank is “sensitive and explosive” and that it could “erupt before, during or after you present your peace plan, and you should add this to your calculations. Once this genie is out of the bottle, it will take five years to put it back in.” Eisenkott also argued that the U.S. should promote steps on the ground that will de-escalate the situation so that it will be “a win-win for both sides.”
Kan Radio reports that Poland has cancelled a visit by an Israeli governmental delegation due to start today and was supposed to deal with issues of restitution for Jewish property that was stolen during the Holocaust. The Polish Foreign Ministry said that Israel had made last-minute changes to the composition of the delegation and said that the visit would focus on the issue of restitution. Over the weekend, thousands of people marched to the US embassy in Warsaw to protest Washington’s pressure on Poland to pay compensation to Jews who lost their property during the Holocaust. The demonstrators from far-right nationalist organisations said that the United States should not interfere with domestic Polish matters and that it preferred the Jews’ interests over Poland’s.