Trump puts pressure on Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi
The Daily Mail reports that the US will not give any reconstruction aid to Syria if Iran keeps in military forces in the country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to a pro-Israel group, vowed an aggressive push to counter Iran across the Middle East and said that Syria was a decisive battleground. “The onus for expelling Iran from the country falls on the Syrian government, which bears responsibility for its presence there,” Pompeo acknowledged that Syrian President Bashar Assad was stronger thanks to Iranian and Russian help and that, with ISIS “beaten into a shadow of its former self,” new priorities had emerged.
Reuters and the Daily Mail report that a demilitarised zone in Syria’s Idlib has been formed. Reuters reports that Turkey’s defence ministry said heavy weapons have been withdrawn, as required under the agreement by Russian and Turkish leaders in Sochi last month. The agreement said the zone will be monitored by coordinated Turkish and Russian patrols. The Daily Mail reports that Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), confirmed the reports but added that he was unable to say whether any pullout from a part of the planned zone that falls inside Latakia province occurred. The Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) rebel alliance said it had pulled out all heavy arms and SOHR said jihadists quietly followed suit. Despite the relatively speedy implementation of the accord’s first deadline, observers say a thornier task lies ahead. Under the deal, the zone must be free by 15 October of all jihadists, including those of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the region’s dominant force led by former al-Qaeda fighters. Despite progress in implementing the accord, Assad insisted on Sunday it was a “temporary measure” and that Idlib would eventually return to state control. Heras said Damascus and Moscow could use the grace period to focus on reconstructing Syria’s war-ravaged infrastructure. “The Russians want to freeze the war in western Syria and get on with the business of rebuilding Assad’s zone of control,” he said. “Assad might want to reconquer Idlib, but for now he does not have a better option than this deal,” he said.
The BBC, Guardian, Reuters, The Independent and the FT report that the Trump administration is under pressure to respond to the disappearance of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The BBC reports that Trump has vowed to “get to the bottom” of the case. The White House said Secretary of State Pompeo and senior officials had spoken to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on Tuesday and asked for more details about the situation. Earlier on Wednesday, Turkish media outlets published CCTV footage which shows evidence of a plot linked to Khashoggi’s disappearance. It shows purported Saudi intelligence officers entering and leaving Turkey via Istanbul airport. The Guardian report that Saudi special forces officers, intelligence officials, national guards and a forensics expert were allegedly among a 15-person team tied to the disappearance of Khashoggi. The details of the alleged hit squad were listed on flight manifests leaked to Turkish media. Social media profiles of some of the alleged suspects link them to elite sections of the Saudi security apparatus. Meanwhile, investigators are turning their focus towards the underground garage of the Saudi consul general’s home, where the cars were thought to have brought Khashoggi’s body immediately after they left the nearby consulate. Reuters say that Saudi Arabia’s denials in the disappearance have fallen on deaf ears in Congress, with nearly a quarter of the Senate triggering a US investigation into the case. US President Trump, who forged close ties with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince bin Salman upon taking office, has also increasingly expressed frustration with the case. The Independent reports that the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, told The Independent in a statement that the US was requesting additional information from the Saudi government into the disappearance. The FT reports that Ernest Moniz, the former US energy secretary, has suspended his role on the advisory board of a $500bn megacity project in Saudi Arabia until the facts are known about Khashoggi.
The Spectator and The Times report on the disappearance of the Saudi Journalist. The Spectator’s John R. Bradley reports that “someone who spent three decades working closely with intelligence services in the Arab world and the West, the Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Khashoggi, knew he was taking a huge risk in entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week to try to obtain a document certifying he had divorced his ex-wife.” The Times’s David Aaronovitch writes: “If we want a world in which dissidents are not ‘disappeared’ or killed for their views, we have to take action that deters such crimes. Calling for an inquiry doesn’t do it. Sanctioning some expendable Saudi small fry and making it hard for them to buy a flat in Hyde Park doesn’t do it. The Saudis need to come clean about what happened to Khashoggi while he was inside their consulate, and why he has not been seen since. If they fail to come up with a convincing innocent explanation — and it’s very hard to see how they could — we must hold them responsible. Our two countries should suspend defence sales and cooperation with Riyadh, and impose financial sanctions on senior Saudi figures.”
The Daily Mail reports that Qatar has announced $150m aid to Gaza, a day after fuel purchased by the Gulf state arrived at the only power station in the Hamas-run enclave.
The Independent reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley for combatting what he called the “hypocrisy” of the UN, while the Palestinian leadership called her pro-Israel position “horrible” for the peace process. Haley, the former South Carolina governor, announced her unexpected resignation on Tuesday after less than two years in the UN post.
The Daily Mail reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s top ministers are squabbling as a deadline looms for contentious legislation that may bring down his government and a corruption indictment could be just around the corner. Against this backdrop, there are growing signs he may soon call for elections – possibly as early as next week, when parliament reconvenes from its summer break. And though Netanyahu hasn’t committed yet, conditions appear ripe for him to schedule the vote, nearly a year ahead of schedule. Polls, for now at least, predict a solid Netanyahu victory, one that would assure his place in history as Israel’s longest-serving leader and allow him to solidify his close alliance with President Donald Trump. Another term would also allow Netanyahu to push forward with his nationalistic agenda and worldwide campaign to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Reuters reports that Israeli and Arab diplomats agreed resolutions on Jerusalem and Palestinian education at the UN cultural agency on Wednesday, a rare show of consensus as UNESCO seeks to convince Israel to change its mind about quitting.
In the Israeli media Maariv leads with a Hamas official saying that the letting in of diesel fuel into Gaza is the first step in the efforts to reach a truce. Channel 2 news quotes an unnamed cabinet minister who quipped that this is the first instance of fuel poured on the fire that will reduce the flames. Yediot Ahronot continues to report four more fires were started yesterday on the Gaza border as a result of explosive balloons. The paper quotes a security official: “There’s no disputing that we’re facing an upward trend in events. There are more incendiary balloons and more explosive balloons. We reiterate our instructions to the residents not to touch the explosive balloon, which sometimes are disguised as toys.” Channel 2 news also reveals security officials are increasingly concerned by the spread of incendiary balloons from Gaza to the West Bank. Yesterday, an incendiary balloon was discovered in a kindergarten that is under construction on Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem. This is the third to have been found in the capital, two other incendiary balloons were discovered in the Modiin area this week.
Yediot Ahronot reveals that Ari Fuld, who was stabbed to death in a terror attack last month in Gush Etzion will be awarded a posthumous medal for bravery. After he was stabbed in the back he managed to chase his attacker and shoot him, thereby preventing anyone else from being attacked.
Israel Hayom says Russia continues to speak in two voices about Israel. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke out against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position about the future of the Golan Heights. However, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Maxim Akimov is quoted saying: “In the very complicated and bipolar world in which we live today, it happens that countries that maintain relations between them develop different views about global problems. Regrettably, sometimes incidents occur as well … we feel the good spirit and the powerful desire by our leaders to continue with cooperation in the economic and social fields and to continue the political dialogue regarding the complicated and difficult problems of the Middle East.” The paper further notes, despite the political and security tensions between Israel and Russia, the inauguration of the Israel-Russia Chamber of Commerce was held yesterday in a positive atmosphere.
With the municipal elections less than three weeks away, Maariv prominently covers the race for Tel Aviv mayor. The paper reports only a 6 per cent gap between veteran mayor Ron Huldai who has been in position for 20 years and one of his deputies, Asaf Zamir. Zamir became Israel’s youngest deputy mayor in the country’s history when he took the post in 2008, at the age of 28. Israel Hayom covers the close race in Jerusalem. The paper suggests no candidate will reach the required 40 per cent and there will therefore be a run off between Ofer Berkovitch the head of the secular Hitorerut party and Minister Zeev Elkin from the Likud.
Six months after the Israeli government cancelled an agreement it reached with the UN that would remove some African asylum-seekers from Israel while allowing others to remain, Maariv and Channel 10 news both report about new government activity on the issue. Maariv quotes a government official who said that most of the African nationals would probably be allowed to stay in Israel. Channel 10 news reports that Israeli and Eritrean officials are holding talks to evaluate whether the changing conditions in Eritrea might allow for the repatriation of the estimated 20,000 Eritrean nationals currently in Israel.
Maariv and Yediot Ahronot prominently cover the latest celebrity wedding. Lucy Aharish, a prominent Muslim Israeli news presenter and media personality, yesterday married Tzahi Halevi, a Jewish Israeli actor who is best known for his role in the television series Fauda. Maariv notes Aharish and Halevy have been a couple for four years, decided to keep their wedding a secret “due to fears that fanatics on both sides might hold demonstrations and create disturbances”. The paper quotes a range of response on social media including MK Oren Hazan who wrote on Twitter: “I don’t blame Lucy Aharish, who seduced a Jew with the goal of undermining our country and preventing more Jewish offspring from continuing the Jewish dynasty, just the opposite, she is invited to convert. I do blame Tzahi, who took Fauda one step too far … Lucy, it’s nothing personal, but Tsahi is my brother and the Jewish people are my people, stop the assimilation!” The paper notes mixed responses, including a Likud supporter who said: “Oren, as a supporter of the party to which you belong, your views are embarrassing, racist and benighted. It’s sad that a man like you with so many followers spreads this wretched agenda. It’s a shame that these are the values that you want to spread. It’s a shame that this is the hate and division that you cause. The Likud should renounce public figures like you, who mortally hurt our image.”