Media Summary

Israel to land unmanned spacecraft on Moon in 2019

BBC News online’s Middle East coverage leads with the story that Israel is closing the Kerem Shalom border crossing for commercial goods. The report says that Israel decided to only allow “humanitarian equipment” including food and medicine through the crossing “in retaliation for arson attacks by Palestinians and attempts to infiltrate its territory”. The report quotes the Israeli non-governmental organisation Gisha, which promotes freedom of movement for Palestinians, saying: “The damage being caused to agricultural lands in Israel is grave and deplorable, but collectively punishing nearly two million people in Gaza by closing its only official crossing for the movement of goods is both illegal and morally depraved.”

The Times reports on Israeli president Reuven Rivlin’s condemnation of the Nation-State Law bill that would allow ‘Jewish-only’ towns to be built. President Rivlin said that allowing the section “could harm the Jewish people and Jews around the world”. Rivlin pointed out that there was already an article in Israel’s “Basic Law”, to which this would be an addition, which permitted local communities to reject anyone who could harm their “social and cultural fabric”. However, it banned from doing so on the grounds of “race, religion, gender, nationality, disability, personal status, age, parenthood, sexual orientation, country of origin, or political affiliation”.

BBC News and the Express features a report on plans from Israeli NGO SpaceIL to send the first privately-funded unmanned spacecraft to the Moon later this year. SpaceIL said the probe would be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in December on a Falcon 9 rocket built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and is expected to land on the Moon in February 2019. The spacecraft will plant an Israeli flag on the Moon’s surface and carry out research into its magnetic field.

The Telegraph and the FT report that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s victory is “ushering in the new, executive presidential system he had long campaigned for by putting his son-in-law in charge of the economy and promising greater overhaul of a country he has dominated for 15 years”. The Telegraph equates the change of the country under Erdogan to the transformation under its first President, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: “Just as Ataturk transformed an impoverished nation at the eastern edge of Europe into a secular, Western-facing republic, Erdogan has fought to bring Islamic values back into public life and lift millions of pious Turks – long ostracised by the secular elite – out of poverty.”

The Times also reports on President Erdogan’s increasing grip on power. The paper says that Erdogan used his first decree to appoint a new head of the military, cementing his hold over the military “which had presented the greatest threat to his authority ever since he first became prime minister in 2003”. Previously the armed forces had the power to make their own appointments. Under Turkey’s new executive presidential system, the president has the discretion to decide on its leaders.

The FT features a report about record numbers of foreign workers leaving Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom imposes higher fees on expatriates and companies are grappling with a sluggish economy and making staff redundant. More than 667,000 foreigners have left the country since the beginning of 2017. Foreign workers account for about a third of Saudi Arabia’s 33m population and more than 80 per cent of the private sector workforce. The government introduced a monthly US$26.70 fee on expat dependants a year ago, which is set to rise gradually to US$106 a month by July 2020, in an attempt to persuade companies to hire Saudi workers, but unemployment hit 12.9 per cent — the highest rate on record, according to analysts.

All the Israeli newspapers discuss the controversial Nationality Bill. Maariv quotes President Rivlin saying that the “Nationality Bill is liable to hurt the Jewish people”. While Haaretz notes the “Attorney General warns Netanyahu about international repercussions of Nationality Bill”. In Yediot Ahronot, they lead with numerous voices calling to “remove racist clause from Nationality Bill”. The paper quotes various MKs on both sides of the debate. Tzipi Livni from the Zionist Union defended the President’s statement, saying: “When faced with a dramatic act that changes Israel’s identity and buries the Declaration of Independence, a dramatic response is imperative.”  While MK Motti Yogev from the Jewish Home said that he was astonished by the President’s position: “I have great regard for the President, but I don’t understand his opposition to building Jewish communities in the Land of Israel.” Analysing the bill, Israel Hayom suggests that the bill is part of the Likud’s election campaign, and is essentially an emulation of the strategy that Prime Minister Netanyahu used in the run-up to the 2015 elections. “The campaign, which is designed to siphon off votes from the Jewish Home, has already begun… Netanyahu’s alacrity to advance the bill stemmed first and foremost from his anticipation of the opposition’s cries of dismay. Many of his right wing base’s principles are defined by their opposition to the other side’s positions. The Prime Minister knew that the sudden advancement of the nationality bill would prompt Tzipi Livni and Tamar Zandberg to lash out at him, but from his perspective they are props in the service of his real objective, which is to prevent Bennett from outflanking him from the right at any cost.”

Both Maariv and Haaretz highlight a report in the New Yorker over a possible deal framed as “Ukraine for Syria”.  According to the report, Israeli, Saudi Arabian and UAE officials tried to persuade associates of President Trump to lift the sanctions on Russia and in return the US would act to remove Iranian forces from Syria.  According to the report, the idea developed a few days before the November 2016 elections when UAE Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Ziyad, suggested the deal to a contact in the Trump administration.

Maariv reports that Egypt is working on economic projects in northern Sinai as part of an American-Egyptian understanding to solve the humanitarian and economic crisis in the Gaza Strip. According to the report, the Egyptian army has recently begun fencing off an area around ​​the airport and the old industrial zone in El Arish where the projects are to be built. The army also evacuated the residents of the area, destroyed buildings and agricultural areas.  According to various reports over the past six months, the US peace initiative includes a basis for a three-fold exchange of territory, that is, compensation of Palestinians for land annexed by Israel in the West Bank by transferring territory in northern Sinai to the Palestinians as a continuation of the Gaza Strip.

Maariv quotes Defence Minister Lieberman in a story about the closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing: “What crosses through Kerem Shalom is food and medicine. That’s it. The other things won’t cross through. The decision was made yesterday. Only as of today are we beginning to implement it and I hope that this is a message that has been received by the Hamas leaders and that we’ll see an immediate end to all the arson, the balloons and the other provocations that we’ve seen in the past three months.” Kan radio news covers remarks from Mahmoud a-Zahar, a senior Hamas official. He said that Hamas did not want a military conflagration at the current time with Israel but were such a conflagration forced on it, Hamas would cause Israel pain. He condemned Israel’s decision to close the Kerem Shalom crossing and said that such steps had been tried in the past and had failed.

Yediot Ahronot reports the latest police questioning of Prime Minister Netanyahu.  It lasted close to five hours and was the tenth time the Prime Minister has been questioned. On this occasion it focused on the Bezeq-Walla affair, Case 4,000.  The detectives presented the Prime Minister with some of the statements that were made by Nir Hefetz, a state’s witness in the case who Netanyahu’s right-hand man and had close ties with his family. Hefetz’s statements to the police directly implicated Netanyahu in a relationship of bribery with the former owner of Bezeq and the owner of Walla News, Shaul Elovitch.