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Media Summary

US secretly transferred nuclear tech to Saudi Arabia

The Guardian reports that US President Donald Trump told British officials that he is not seeking a military confrontation with Iran and is instead aiming for direct talks regarding his plan to negotiate and broaden the Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action. British officials remain nervous that Trump may have only 30 days before Iran takes irreversible steps to forgo the agreement. The assurance that Trump is not seeking war with Iran was made by US officials to British counterparts in talks surrounding the president’s three-day state visit to the UK. They also claimed the US policy of sending extra troops and an aircraft carrier to the region had acted as a deterrent.

The Financial Times and Reuters reports that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Iran from June 12-14 to meet Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei as he seeks to ease rising tensions between Tehran and Washington. Abe becomes the first sitting Japanese Prime Minister to visit Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Japan is a close US ally and has an amicable relationship with Iran, raising the possibility that Abe could seek to mediate between the two countries, or at least open a channel of communication.

The Guardian reports that twenty-three gay couples have held an unofficial mass wedding in Tel Aviv to highlight the country’s discrimination against same-sex unions. Though Israel champions itself as an LGBT-friendly country and will host its famous annual gay pride week later this month, gay marriage remains illegal.

The Times reports that the US secretly approved the transfer of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi without informing Congress. One transfer was signed off 16 days after the journalist was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and a second came in February.

Reuters reports that Republican and Democratic US Senators said on Wednesday that they would introduce legislation to block President Donald Trump’s plan for $8 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates without congressional review. The announcement followed furious rejection in Congress late last month of the administration’s declaration that a growing threat from Iran was an emergency that forced it to sidestep lawmakers’ review of major arms deals and approve precision-guided munitions, aircraft engines, mortars and other equipment for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan.

The Guardian reports that Saudi Arabian political influence across the Middle East is being scrutinised after it was revealed that the undersecretary for political affairs, David Hale, of the US state department had phoned the Saudi deputy defence minister, Khaled bin Salman, to ask him to use the country’s influence to end the brutal repression against peaceful protesters by the Sudanese Transitional Military Council (TMC) in Sudan. Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia confirmed on Wednesday that it is watching developments in Sudan with concern and supports continued dialogue between the IMC and opposition.

BBC News reports that eight Egyptian police officers have been killed in a militant attack on a checkpoint in the northern Sinai peninsula. Five militants were also killed in the ensuing exchange of fire, while others escaped and were being pursued security forces. The attack took place west of the city of El-Arish, as local people celebrated the Islamic festival of Eid al-Fitr. Islamic State has claimed that it was behind the attack.

In Reuters, Eric Knecht examines attempts by Qatar to restructure its economy that was once heavily reliant on fellow Gulf States during the trade and transport boycott by Saudi Arabia and its allies that has been in place June 2017.

All the Israeli media report the funeral yesterday of President Rivlin’s wife, Nechama, who was buried at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem. At the request of the family, the funeral was open to the general public. Also, in attendance, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, Deputy President of the Supreme Court Judge Hanan Melcer, IDF Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Aviv Kochavi, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, ambassadors from around the world, religious leaders from the Christian, Muslim, Druze communities in Israel, artists, writers and poets. Maariv notes the President buried his wife on her 74th birthday.  While both Haaretz and Israel Hayom chose identical headlines quoting the president saying “I was privileged to be the spouse of the President’s wife.” Also, among the eulogies, Rabbi Benny Lau said: “Jerusalem worked its magic on a young student from Moshav Herut in the Sharon area. All her senses were dedicated to this magical city and its people. Two years ago, Nechama wrote a short article about Psalm 122 on the website of the 929 initiative, in which she said, ‘I was not born in Jerusalem and I did not grow up here. But I have lived in Jerusalem longer than anywhere else. I came here at the age of 19, to be a student at the Hebrew University. Along the way, I built a home with Ruvi, a Jerusalemite son of Jerusalemites. Still, every time I see Jerusalem laid out before me at the entry to the city, I can feel the biblical passage ‘Our feet shall stand at thy gates, O Jerusalem’. I love to walk the streets of Jerusalem, with their heart and soul. Sometimes, I feel like the buildings tell a story. My Jerusalem is that of the hawkers at Machane Yehuda market, some of whom I know by name, of the Hebrew University, the museums, the holy places, the artists’ houses, and my home.’” Channel 12 news reported that condolence messages received from leader from abroad included US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

The other major story covered by all the papers is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to appoint MK Amir Ohana as Justice Minister. Yediot Ahronot includes a statement from the Prime Minister’s office that said: “MK Attorney Amir Ohana is a jurist who is very familiar with the justice system. He has an undergraduate degree in law and interned with the Central District Attorney’s Office. For a decade MK Ohana worked as a lawyer and appeared in various courts across Israel. In the Knesset he spearheaded a series of laws, including Basic Law: Nation State.” In response a source in the Union of Right-Wing Parties responded by saying: “Netanyahu is invited to present the agreements that he signed with the Orthodox and Ultra-orthodox parties. Netanyahu’s attempt to exploit Smotrich’s remarks, which the media maliciously took out of context, is an ugly move. We’ll draw conclusions.” Smotrich himself is also quoted saying, “Amir Ohana is a friend and a worthy man, and of course I wish him great success, but he isn’t the story…The story is Netanyahu, who doesn’t treat any of the other partners the way he permits himself to treat religious Zionism. The time has come for us to draw conclusions.” Meanwhile, the fact that the Union of Right-Wing Parties has been left without the justice portfolio in the current government has produced tensions between Smotrich and the party chairman, Rafi Peretz. Prime Minister Netanyahu is weighing the possibility of giving them the education and transport ministries, but they both want the education portfolio for themselves. Smotrich said yesterday that the merger agreement that established the Union of Right-Wing Parties gave him the right to first choice of the portfolios that were given to the party, but sources close to Peretz said that that agreement was no longer relevant, since it applied to the previous elections.

Maariv reports Prime Minister Netanyahu has submitted a formal request to Attorney General Mandelblit to postpone his hearing. The paper notes: “After the elections the State Attorney’s Office made its position known that new elections could not be grounds for postponing Netanyahu’s hearing. A senior State Attorney’s Office official said at the time, ‘the Prime Minister knew that he was facing a hearing before the last elections, and that is certainly the case now as well.’ Attorney General Mandelblit sent a letter in May to Netanyahu’s lawyers in which he wrote that the hearing, which had been scheduled to be held in July, would be postponed until October 2-3, adding, ‘there is no justification for the hearing to be set in in another year’s time from the date at which you collected the material, which would be damaging to a vital public interest in a decision being made on this case as quickly as possible and, under the circumstances, there is no germane justification for that.’ MK Yair Lapid said: ‘Netanyahu is once again asking for a postponement of the hearing. His audacity knows no bounds. Mandelblit, you can’t let him disgrace the legal process yet again. You can’t postpone the hearing only because Netanyahu has pushed (once again) for needless elections. If it isn’t convenient for Netanyahu to be a politician, let him go deal with his legal issues. That will only make things easier for us and the Likud to form a national unity government.’”