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Media Summary

UK government challenges ruling on Saudi Arabia arms sales

BBC News, the Guardian, Times, Independent, Financial Times and Reuters report that Iran has announced it will break a limit set on uranium enrichment in breach of the JCPOA. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Iran still wanted to salvage the deal but blamed the E3 for failing to abide by their commitments. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded by saying the announcement would only lead to “further isolation and sanctions”. Iran has increased enrichment from the 3.7% to 5%, still below the 20% threshold required to develop a nuclear weapon. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Tehran had taken a “very, very dangerous step”, and called on the E3 to follow the US in reinstating sanctions against Iran. Reuters reports that Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh has said that he was hopeful of an improvement in the country’s crude exports, in spite of tightened US sanctions.

Reuters reports that Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi has stated that the Iranian tanker captured by British Royal Marines in Gibraltar was not headed to Syria. Royal Marines seized the tanker on Thursday for attempting to take oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions. Reuters reports that Iran’s Defence Minister Amir Hatami has said that the incident was a ‘threatening act’ that will not be tolerated, with Iran having threatened to seize a British ship in retaliation.

The Guardian reports that the UK government has asked the courts to set aside a landmark ruling that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are unlawful, a legal manoeuvre that prompted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to accuse the Conservatives of prioritising ‘military exports over civilian lives’. The government has applied for a stay of last month’s judgment pending an appeal, according to Campaign Against Arms Trade. That appears to contradict assurances given to MPs by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox that Saudi arms sales would be halted after the ruling, pending a review.

The Telegraph reports that Conservative leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt has promised to tackle the persecution of Christians abroad and will give Foreign Office staff mandatory training in “religious literacy”. Hunt railed against the “misguided political correctness” that has blighted UK foreign policy and confirmed that he will adopt the recommendations set out in the Truro report which reviewed how the UK can better aid Christians suffering violence and discrimination.

The Times reports that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dismissed the head of Turkey’s central bank, Murat Cetinkaya. Cetinkaya had resisted demands to cut interest rates. The move removes demonstrates that Erdogan has brought the central bank under his total control. Speaking to party members, Erdogan said that Cetinkaya “didn’t do what was needed. We were not on the same track.”

The Times reports that Africa has established the world’s largest free trade area. The agreement, signed by 54 states and creating a bloc encompassing economies worth $2.5 trillion, took almost 20 years to negotiate. It is hoped that the African Continental Free Trade Area will give its members the benefits of economies of scale and cheaper imports. Critics are concerned that the bloc’s secretariat will struggle with corruption and nepotism. However, Moussa Faki, chairman of the African Union Commission, said that the “historic” pact marked “an old dream coming true”.

The Independent reports that a family of US duty free tycoons that own airport stores across the US invested over a million dollars in an Israeli winery ‘whose vineyards are built on seized private Palestinian land.’ In 2007, the Falic family of Florida, who own Duty Free America, purchased 32,000 shares in Psagot winery in the West Bank, becoming majority shareholders and directors. The 4.1-million-shekel (£915,000) injection of cash allowed the winery, located in a settlement – which are considered illegal under international law – to expand from a comparatively small family business to an award-winning international producer, monitors have said.

In BBC News, Jonathan Marcus examines whether the JCPOA can be salvaged: “the Europeans are struggling to keep the JCPOA alive. Iran may well have misjudged their capacity to compensate for American pressure”.

In the Guardian, Hossein Mousavian argues that Iran’s decision to increase its uranium enrichment was an inevitable response to the US maximum pressure campaign, and that a resolution is possible if the Trump administration alters its approach.

In the Financial Times, Nick Butler argues that the agreement between Opec and Russia to maintain quotas established in December 2018 for another six to nine months confirms the shift in power within the market away from the producers.

All the Israeli media report the IDF inquiry released last night into the Israeli commando operation in Khan Yunis in November 2018. The inquiry revealed that the officer who was killed, Lt. Col. M., was shot by another IDF officer, Lt. Col. A. while he was firing at Hamas operatives, after the force was exposed, but accidentally hit M. as well as another officer, who sustained moderate injuries. The Hamas fighters did not have a chance to shoot at the IDF soldiers. Kan news notes that IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi accepted the conclusions of the investigative team and said that an analysis of the sequence of events indicated that several errors and mishaps were made, which led to the force’s exposure and to the failure of the mission. However, the chief of staff praised the performance of the combatants on the ground, and particularly Lt. Col. A., who acted with composure and courage, and enabled the force to escape.  IDF sources said that lessons from the incident have been learned, and that no disciplinary measures would be taken against either the combatants or the commanders. The report reveals that the force was questioned in the field by Hamas members for 40 minutes, who unravelled their cover story bit by bit, but did not understand at that stage that this was an Israeli force. Lt. Col. M. distracted the Hamas operatives, and Lt. Col. A. opened lethal fire, which also caused the death of Lt. Col. M. and injured another officer. Maariv notes: “There is no contradiction between the IDF force’s extraordinary performance, courage, professionalism and prudent decision-making after the combatants were suspected by Hamas operatives and stopped for questioning, and the errors and failures that led to the force’s exposure and other problems that were revealed in the working method and planning of the IDF’s special operations branch… The lack of a strong and organised headquarters has caused the ability to plan and monitor operations to suffer, and that was manifested in this case in the fact that the cover story was blown. Israel does not have the luxury to refrain from carrying out special operations of this kind, but it cannot be ignored that in the current technological era, and facing an enemy that knows Gaza well, in-depth adjustments and changes are required that will enable the continuation of such operations.

The Israeli papers discuss the implications of Iran’s decision to violate two clauses of the nuclear agreement. Yediot Ahronot says: “The world now faces a dilemma: what do we do with those ‘marginal’ violations, when the truly large violation was committed by the Americans, who were first to violate the agreement, withdrawing from it and renewing sanctions. There isn’t any dilemma from Israel’s perspective. The nuclear agreement fixed the Iranian timetable for breaking out to a bomb at one year. Any change, even the smallest, means a shorter breakout time to a bomb. Have the Iranian violations shortened that timetable by a week? By a month? Regardless of the answer, from Israel’s perspective this is the beginning of a dangerous process. There is no doubt in Israel that Iran has defined acquiring nuclear weapons as a strategic goal that is to be achieved at any price.” While Maariv suggests: “In practice, the ball is now in Trump’s court, and he needs to decide how to respond to Iran’s repeated violations, which are expected to continue. Trump has all but exhausted his arsenal of economic sanctions, leaving him with few means to hurt Iran except military action, an avenue he doesn’t want to pursue. The likely scenario is that the American president will continue to try to bring the recalcitrant Iran back to the negotiating table. For the time being, however, no resolution to the crisis is visible on the horizon—though war appears to be an unlikely development as well.”

Maariv reports the latest political clash between Prime Minister Netanyahu and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.  Netanyahu yesterday held a live Facebook broadcast from Café Duvshanit in Jerusalem, where his son, Avner, worked as a waiter, and answered some of the questions that were put to him by people watching the broadcast.  In the course of the broadcast, Netanyahu was asked what he thought about Barak’s return to the political arena. “Ehud who? That is one of democracy’s jokes,” he replied.  “That man is a petty tyrant who established a non-democratic party,” Netanyahu said. “He shouldn’t preach to us about democracy.” Netanyahu went on to accuse Barak of spreading “bluffs”. “He talks about changing the immunity law—what immunity law?” said Netanyahu. “We didn’t include any change to the immunity laws in our talks with the parties that we signed coalition agreements with. There’s no need for that. It’s unnecessary. First of all because there wasn’t anything and that’s why there won’t be anything, but beyond anything else—there’s an existing law and there’s no need for new laws. Those are all bluffs by Barak, who’s blabbering about ‘the end of democracy.’ That’s nonsense and hot air. There isn’t going to be any change to the immunity laws.”   Barak quickly responded to Netanyahu’s statements, and wrote on Twitter: “There won’t be anything because there wasn’t anything? Bibi, I know you well, by the pace of the lies that are being spewed out, your stress meter is nearing 100. Bibi, drink some water. We’ve only just begun.”  Barak subsequently posted a video on social media with the following text: “The State of Netanyahu or the State of Israel? Democratic Israel headed by Ehud Barak. We’ve been given a second chance. A moment before the suspect from Balfour Street completely takes Israeli democracy apart. A moment before he crushes the rule of law and destroys the court. A moment before he continues to divide, to corrupt, to incite. A moment before another failure, another display of weakness, another affair. A moment before Smotrich and a moment before a Halachic state. A moment before the country is ruined, we’ve been given a second chance, a final chance, to save the country. Now is the time to unite and to change.”

All the Israeli media prominently cover demonstrations yesterday of several tens of thousands across the country who were protesting the lack of state supervision over pre school daycare centres. The protests were sparked by recent instances of child by people who were meant to be caring for the children.  Kan news reports demonstrators briefly blocked traffic at Azrieli junction in Tel Aviv, near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem and in the Carmel Centre in Haifa.