Media Summary

Sweden to host Yemen peace talks

The Guardian, Telegraph, Reuters, BBC and the Independent report on an Israeli military operation to expose tunnels between Lebanon and northern Israel. The Guardian reports that Israel’s military says it has begun an operation to “expose and thwart” cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon dug by the Lebanese militia Hezbollah. Military spokesman, Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, said it had detected tunnels crossing from Lebanon into northern Israel. He said the Israeli operation to counter the tunnels would be carried out inside Israel and would not cross the border. Israel released video footage of digging and pile-driving equipment at work in unidentified locations with trees and bushes in the background, carrying out what it said were “tactical preparations to expose Hezbollah’s offensive cross-border tunnel project”. On Monday, Netanyahu met the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in Brussels. An Israeli government source said the purpose of the meeting was to update Pompeo about the tunnel operation. The focus of operations was near the Israeli border town of Metulla, Conricus said, adding that some areas near the border fence had been closed off. An Israeli military source said the operation might take weeks to complete. The military said the tunnels were not yet operational but posed “an imminent threat” to Israeli civilians, and constituted “a flagrant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty”.

The BBC, Times , Guardian and Sky News report on diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and world leaders. The BBC and the Times report that the head of the CIA, Gina Haspel will today brief US Senate leaders on the murder of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. The BBC  reports that Haspel was absent from last week’s briefing by the secretaries of state and defence, angering some in Congress.

The Guardian reports that former US President George H W Bush’s ‘sordid’ ties with Saudi Arabia set the template for Donald Trump, but he was ‘just more subtle’. Sky News reports that WhatsApp texts show Khashoggi feared the Saudi crown prince would target him. Messages to Omar Abdulaziz, who was granted political asylum in Canada in 2014, show the extent of Mr Khashoggi’s fear of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, not just for himself but for all Saudis. The texts, which Mr Abdulaziz believes were seen by the Saudi government when it hacked their phones in August, show the private angst and worry Mr Khashoggi, who was also living in exile, kept relatively under wraps in his public criticism of the kingdom and its ruler.

The Independent and the Times report on the conflict in Yemen. The Independent reports that a delegation of Yemen’s Houthi rebels is set to travel to Sweden for UN-hosted peace talks on Tuesday as medics in the city of Hodeidah warn civilians are dying at home after fierce fighting engulfed the main hospitals. UN special envoy Martin Griffiths arrived in the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on Monday to escort the rebels, Houthi officials told the newspaper. On Monday afternoon at least 50 wounded rebels were at the airport waiting for transfer by UN aircraft to Oman for treatment, which is one of the conditions of the group’s attendance at the talks. Yemen’s official government, which is backed by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition, meanwhile said it would follow the Houthis to the meeting, which is due to start on Wednesday. If the negotiations go ahead they would be the first since 2016. The Times have published a Christmas appeal regarding the Yemeni people, writing that thousands are trapped without aid by airstrikes and landmines.

The Financial Times reports that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, intends to fight back against allegations that he took bribes and committed fraud, as he gave a defiant performance late Sunday night in front of his staunchest supporters. “The witch-hunt against us continues,” Mr Netanyahu told his cheering supporters, after lighting candles at a Hanukkah ceremony in Tel Aviv. “A year ago, before even opening the investigations . . . they decided what the outcome would be and leaked their conclusions.” As the crowd cheered, Mr Netanyahu assailed the outgoing police chief, Roni Alsheikh, describing the years-long investigations, which concluded on Mr Alsheikh’s last day at work, as undemocratic. He vowed that the next police commissioner would have to “restore” the public’s trust in the police.

Reuters reports that in Iraq, a growing rivalry between two powerful Shi’ite Muslim factions has paralysed efforts to form a government six months after an election aimed at steering the country towards recovery from years of war. The two largest parliamentary groupings to emerge after the vote in May – one led by populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the other by Iranian-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri – formed a tacit alliance in October when they picked a president and approved 14 out of 22 cabinet ministers. But since then there has been stalemate, mainly over the empty interior ministry post dominated for years by allies of Amiri, who are backing the former head of a paramilitary force supported by Tehran. Sadr meanwhile says no one with a political affiliation should get the post. A vote in parliament to fill the vacant ministries in Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s cabinet has been repeatedly put back.

The Financial Times reports that Qatar’s announced exit from OPEC has stoked suspicion that Qatari leaders are seeking to irritate their regional rival Saudi Arabia, and curry favour with US President Donald Trump. Saad al-Kaabi, Qatar’s minister of state for energy affairs, said the decision would enable “focused efforts” on gas production. But it created shock-waves, making Qatar the first Middle Eastern country to abandon the producer group. Several hours later, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s former PM, piled into the debate, criticising OPEC and by extension the Saudi rulers who have dominated the cartel for decades as the world’s swing producer. “This organisation has become useless and adds nothing to us,” he tweeted. “It is only being used for purposes aimed at harming our national interest.”

The Times reports that Israel has retaliated against the Irish Government’s proposed ban on importation of goods and services from occupied territories, calling it the “most extreme anti-Israel legislation” ever from a western country. The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 is supported by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin and would make it an offence for a person to import or sell goods or services originating in illegal settlements. The legislation is expected to be approved by both houses of the Oireachtas with the support of all parties excluding Fine Gael. If it is passed Ireland will become the first country in the European Union to ban settlement goods. The Irish government has said that the bill is not implementable but the Israeli embassy in Dublin is staunchly opposed to the legislation. It has been authored by Frances Black, an independent senator, and is due to go to report stage in the Seanad tomorrow.

The Daily Mail reports that rare gold coins and a golden earring have been discovered in the ancient Mediterranean port of Caesarea in northern Israel – possibly left and never recovered as Crusaders conquered the city 900 years ago. The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the find on Monday of a small bronze pot holding 24 gold coins and the earring. According to the authority, it was found between two stones in the side of a well in a house in a neighbourhood that dates back some 900 years, during the Abbasid and Fatimid periods.

The BBC reports that the leader of the UK’s MI6 intelligence service has said he is “perplexed” over why the United Arab Emirates jailed British academic Matthew Hedges. Alex Younger said he “genuinely can’t understand how our Emirati partners came to the conclusions they came to”.

The Independent reports that Campaigners in Israel are launching a nationwide strike against violence towards women. Dozens of municipalities, regional authorities, unions, and private companies have announced that they will let their female staff join Tuesday’s protest. The women are calling on the government to do more to tackle the problem.The strike follows last week’s murders of two girls – Silvana Tsegai, 12, in south Tel Aviv and Yara Ayoub, 16, in Jish. These were the 23rd and 24th murders of women and girls in Israel this year, marking a sharp rise compared to last year. The strike has been approved by all the major Jewish cities, as well as many minor ones and at least nine Arab local authorities.

All the Israeli media report that the IDF began an operation last night on the Lebanese border to neutralise tunnels dug by Hezbollah into Israeli territory. IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis told Channel Ten News, that Israel views the Lebanese government as being responsible for the tunnels that were dug by Hezbollah which he said had been made possible by “Iranian money and knowledge.” Mako reports that the operation is being led by the Northern Command, with the cooperation of the IDF Intelligence Branch, the Engineering Corps and the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure. The IDF Spokesperson said that a designated team had been formed in 2014 to gather intelligence on Hezbollah’s assault tunnels.

Maariv reports that PM Netanyahu had an “Urgent Meeting” with Mike Pompeo to “Restrain Hezbollah” while Amos Harel in Haaretz writes that Netanyahu sent a message to Lebanon via the US prior to military action. Discussing the Netanyahu-Pompeo meeting yesterday, Oded Granot in Israel Hayom, said: “The public assessment in Israel is that an Israeli request was presented for American support if and when Israel is forced to attack in Lebanon.” Ron Ben-Yishai in Yediot Ahronot points out that the meeting “is reminiscent of the meetings former prime minister Ehud Olmert held with US administration officials in Washington before bombing the nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007” and speculates it could be “Israel’s way of signalling to Lebanon and Iran that it is planning to act, maybe in an effort to avoid the need for such action.” Ben-Yishai adds that “the timing of the meeting is problematic from an Israeli standpoint. If the prime minister orders action in Lebanon, Syria or both after the police announced Sunday morning that there is sufficient evidence to indict him in Case 4000, he would be accused of doing so in an effort to divert the public’s attention from his legal woes and postpone the attorney general’s decision on whether to indict him. Netanyahu would be accused of sacrificing IDF soldiers on the altar of his political survival.”

Kan Radio reports comments by UN Secretary General Antonia Guterres who warned that the tension on the border between Israel and Lebanon was liable to increase. A recent UN report indicated that the lack of agreement between Israel and Lebanon on building a barrier on the northern border, was liable to increase tensions in light of ongoing IDF activity south of the border.

Eyal Zisser in Israel Hayom, critiques recent declarations of support for Israel by US President Trump on the backdrop of the winds of political division that are now blowing through Washington, and argues that “By announcing U.S. troops would remain in the Middle East for Israel’s benefit, President Trump inadvertently set the stage for Israel to be blamed for every American soldier killed across the Middle East.”

Yediot Ahronoth and Maariv report on the ‘women’s strike’. Kan Radio News reports that the organisers are demanding among other things, that a budget of NIS 250 million be approved for the government program to battle domestic violence – a program that was approved a year-and-a-half ago. Protests will be held in major cities and intersections and will culminate in a demonstration tonight in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.  Close to 300 local authorities, companies, public offices, organisations and corporations have endorsed the strike, and will not dock the pay of employees who stay away from work to join the protests. President Reuven Rivlin met yesterday with representatives from Wizo, Naamat and Emunah, all of which are women’s organizations, and said to them: “Violence against women hurts us all and therefore the fight is all of ours. This has to be a fight that crosses genders, camps and tribes. The implementation of the national program to deal with domestic violence must not be delayed.”

Maariv reports comments by Hamas that it will execute six ‘collaborators’ with Israel. Hamas’s military tribunal issued a statement: “We ruled against 13 collaborators with the Israeli occupation. Six of them will be executed and seven others will be sentenced to life.” Yesterday the  Independent reported more details about the incident in the Gaza Strip in which Lt. Col. M was killed. It cited Hamas sources in the Gaza Strip who said that the special forces had pretended to be workers in a medical aid organisation and had used forged ID cards of real Gaza Strip citizens.

The Times of Israel reports that Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh has reached out to a number of Arab and foreign leaders to stymie a US-drafted UN General Assembly resolution that, if adopted, would condemn Hamas for firing rockets into Israel and demand an end to its violent activities. The UN General Assembly is slated to vote on the draft resolution on Thursday, according to the US Mission to the world body. A Hamas statement said: “Haniyeh contacted a number of leaders and foreign ministers in the region and beyond to abort the American efforts to pass a resolution condemning the Palestinian resistance and Hamas.”