UK says US-Iran tensions endangering Yemen peace efforts
The Independent reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed an urgent call from former security and intelligence officials to halt the unilateral annexation of the West Bank, saying the occupied Palestinian territory is the “heritage of our forefathers”. Over 200 Israeli former army, security, police and intelligence officials, who are part of non-partisan movement Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), sent a letter to the premier warning that such an action would “endanger” Israel and damage its “economic, regional and international standing”. Netanyahu hit back, saying the West Bank was “not just a guarantee for Israel’s security, it is also the inheritance of our forefathers” – signalling he would push through with his election promise to apply sovereignty to all settlements in the West Bank.
The Guardian reports that on Thursday, according to US officials, the Pentagon will present plans to the White House to send up to 10,000 more troops to the Middle East, in a move to beef up defences against potential Iranian threats. The officials said no final decision had been made yet, and it was not clear if the White House would approve sending all or just some of the requested forces. Officials said the move was not in response to any new threat from Iran but was aimed at reinforcing security in the region. They said the troops would be defensive in nature, and the discussions include additional Patriot missile batteries, more ships and increased efforts to monitor Iran.
The Financial Times reports that Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid to win immunity from looming prosecution and curb the Supreme Court’s powers have threatened to delay the formation of a coalition government. Netanyahu, whose Likud party leads the right-wing bloc in Israel’s Knesset, is in the midst of coalition negotiations that have dragged on for six weeks to cobble together a majority. He is already in the second week of a two-week extension granted by Israel’s president. Those negotiations have been complicated by the four-time Prime Minister’s demands that the coalition immediately pass two bills: one that would grant him, and other members of the Knesset, automatic immunity from prosecution while in office, and another that would allow the Knesset to overrule the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, Netanyahu increased the number of ministerial portfolios to 24 to accommodate the demands of potential coalition partners.
The BBC reports that Israeli researchers have unveiled a “breakthrough” beer made from ancient yeast up to 5,000 years old. Researchers from the Antiquities Authority and three Israeli universities extracted six strains of the yeast from old pottery discovered in the Holy Land. It is believed to be similar to beverages enjoyed by the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The team said it hoped to make the drink available in shops one day.
The Independent reports that a Trump aide has mistakenly used a video shot near the Ukraine border to attack Ilhan Omar over her Gaza stance. Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, tagged prominent Democrats, including Omar, in a Twitter thread questioning whether or not Omar would condemn the violence along the Gaza border. Pierson included a video showing rockets firing into the sky as part of the thread. And almost immediately Twitter users and Omar responded, noting the video Pierson had shared wasn’t from Gaza at all. The same video was widely circulated on the internet, incorrectly representing conflict zones in several different countries, including Iraq, Ukraine and Russia. Pierson told The Fact Checker in an email that the “tweet does not claim that it is actual footage”. She added: “I’m not a reporter; it’s not my job to tweet hard news.”
In the Financial Times, Roula Khalaf writes: “The next Middle East conflict may be one of accident, not design”. She argues that Donald Trump is not looking for war with Iran but hawks in the US, and among its allies could provoke one.
The BBC reports that, according to media reports, a female singer in Iran has been summoned to appear in court after performing solo in public. Negar Moazzam was singing for a group of tourists in the historic village of Abyaneh last week, wearing the traditional costume of that part of Isfahan Province, until local Cultural Heritage Organisation staff cut short her performance, Fars news agency reports. Moazzam uploaded a video on social media, where it was quickly noticed by fans and the authorities alike – her Instagram account alone has more than 180,000 followers. The video has disappeared from her platforms since prosecutors in the county town of Natanz announced the court summons, but it has been widely reposted elsewhere. The chief prosecutor of Isfahan Province, Ali Esfahani, confirmed to Tasnim news agency that his office had opened an investigation into reports of “a woman singing solo”.
The Independent reports that the UK government has warned rising US-Iran tensions risk endangering Yemen peace efforts. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt stressed that he would raise his concerns over the issue with Donald Trump during the president’s state visit in June. Hunt has already discussed the issue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Speaking on National Yemen Day in the House of Commons, Hunt said: “My concern is to ensure that Yemen does not get caught up in the tensions between the US and Iran. I will raise this with President Trump when he comes; I have discussed this with Secretary Pompeo. We all need to ensure that the ceasefire is maintained and built upon, it is all our jobs to do this.”
Reuters reports that according to Turkey’s Defence Minister, the country is preparing for potential US sanctions over its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems, even while he said there was some improvement in talks with the US over buying F-35 fighter jets.
In the Guardian, Middle East correspondent Bethan McKernan writes: ‘”Idlib is a bargaining chip: civilians brace as Assad air assault escalates.” Renewed regime attacks have killed hundreds in the Syrian opposition’s last stronghold.
The Independent reports that the US and Britain have raised the prospect of carrying out more airstrikes against Syria following reports of a new chemical weapons attack by the Syrian army. The alleged incident was reported by local activists and doctors on Sunday near the town of Kabana, close to the frontline of a Syrian regime offensive in the country’s northwest that has been raging for nearly a month. Theresa May told parliament on Wednesday that she had been in close contact with the US about the alleged attack and that the UK would respond “appropriately” if it was confirmed.
The Times reports that dozens of schoolchildren have been arrested across Egypt after the failure of an online examination system led to a rare challenge to the government of President Sisi. The education ministry had insisted that high school exams this year be conducted on tablets, hundreds of thousands of which were distributed. However, the system crashed repeatedly as exam season got under way. Students, fearing they would fail and have to retake next year, took to the streets. Social media showed teenage girls, some wearing hijabs, being bundled roughly into police vans with their male fellows. “For just expressing her opinion politely and respectfully, [my daughter] was insulted and beaten,” Howida Hegazy posted online. “Whenever I think of how she was kicked in her stomach and grappled with, I die.”
The Independent reports that three moderate scholars will be executed in Saudi Arabia after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The three men – Sheikh Salman al-Ouda, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omari – are being held on multiple charges of terrorism. They will be convicted and executed next month, the Middle East Eye reports, citing two government sources and one of the men’s relatives.
Israel’s Kan Radio reports that progress was made on the issue of religion and state during coalition negotiations between representatives of Shas, UTJ and the United Right and Yariv Levin of Likud. The Prime Minister met last night with Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman for several hours. No official statement was issued by either side, but it is believed that significant progress was made on several issues. Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party is waiting to examine the financial implications of the agreements that have reportedly been reached.
Maariv reports that the Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties have reached an agreement on religion and state issues that is identical to the coalition agreement reached in 2015, which does not include any movement on Western Wall issues and conflicts directly with the demands of Yisrael Beiteinu.
Yediot Ahronoth reports that following a lengthy meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lieberman, both agreed that Yisrael Beiteinu would join the coalition and Lieberman would serve as defence minister, just as he did in the last government before resigning from the post in December 2018. Not all of the differences of opinion between Lieberman and Netanyahu have been resolved. Channel Thirteen News reported last night that Lieberman met with the IDF chief of staff, with Netanyahu’s approval, and also held talks with other top security officials, including the Shin Bet director. Those developments indicate that Lieberman’s return to the Defence Ministry is all but certain.
Yediot Ahronoth reports that the Attorney General has postponed Netanyahu’s corruption case hearing by three months. The prevailing assessment in the justice system is that Netanyahu is playing for time so that he can pass an immunity law and limit the judicial review powers of the Supreme Court. At that point he will be able to forgo the hearing procedure entirely. Haaretz also publishes this story, adding that in the Holyland corruption case, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked to delay his hearing several times until he finally gave up his right to a hearing. Nine months passed between the prosecution’s announcement that it planned to charge Olmert and the indictment.
Haaretz reports on assessments by the IDF that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is unlikely to retract his opposition to the incoming US plan for Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Kan Radio reports that Israel has announced it is reducing the fishing zone around the Gaza Strip to ten miles until further notice in wake of the recent incendiary balloon attacks. Two days ago the coordinator of government activities in the territories announced that the fishing zone would be expanded to 15 miles. Eleven fires broke out yesterday in the Gaza perimeter caused by incendiary balloons. In related news, Maariv reports that an Israeli man is suspected of buying hundreds of thousands of balloons to smuggle into Gaza.
Maariv reports that the Blue and White party expects tens of thousands of demonstrators to turn out to protest “in support of democracy and the rule of law – a defensive shield for the State of Israel and Israeli democracy”. The demonstration will be held in the Tel Aviv Museum courtyard on Saturday night. The organisers of the demonstration said: “This is the opening move of a parliamentary, legal and media campaign that we will mount along with the citizens of Israel for Israel’s image and values.” In addition to Blue and White, the demonstration will also be attended by representatives of the Labour Party, Meretz and 12 civil organisations, including the Movement for Quality Government and Free Israel.