US wants peaceful resolution with Iran
The Guardian and Reuters report that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington and its allies were seeking a “peaceful resolution” with Iran in the wake of the attack on the Khurai and Abqaiq oil plants in Saudi Arabia, making clear that Washington would limit its initial response to further sanctions. Pompeo’s remarks mark a significant cooling of rhetoric after President Donald Trump had warned the US was “locked and loaded” and Pompeo had said the attack was “an act of war”. The Guardian, Times and Reuters report that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has warned that any attack on his country would result in “all-out war”.
BBC News, the Guardian, Telegraph, Times, Independent, Reuters and Daily Mail report that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz are jostling over the terms of a unity government. Netanyahu has urged Gantz to start negotiations on a joint administration, though Gantz rebuffed the idea, calling it spin. He said he wanted a unity government – but only one led by him. His party has ruled out joining a coalition led by Netanyahu, who faces possible corruption charges. At a ceremony attended by both party leaders in Jerusalem, President Reuven Rivlin said he had heard “loud and clear the voices calling for a broad and stable national unity government” and praised the prime minister for “joining that call”.
In the Times, Anshel Pfeffer argues that “if no one budges, Israel will face a third election”. In the Independent, Mairav Zonszein examines what the inconclusive Israeli election results mean for Netanyahu and President Trump: “This will certainly be a blow for Jared Kushner, but Trump’s cozying up to Netanyahu might not have been for the reasons the Israeli prime minister hoped anyway”.
Reuters presents a profile of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.
The Jewish Chronicle argues that after more than a decade in power, Benjamin Netanyahu’s light has dimmed.
In the Jewish Chronicle, Anshel Pfeffer writes that “months after he conjured a striking victory despite dismal opinion polls, Prime Minister Netanyahu has lost a rerun election he need not have called”.
In the Independent, Bel Trew argues that the Joint List emerged as the unlikely victor in Israel’s fraught elections: “Arab politicians believe Netanyahu’s rhetoric actually galvanised support for their coalition”.
The Telegraph and Daily Mail report that air raid sirens were tested across Riyadh on Thursday as Saudi Arabia prepared for a possible escalation with Iran. Text messages were sent out to residents ahead of the 1pm tests in Riyadh and neighbouring provinces, which civil defence said was to ensure the sirens were “effective and ready.” The US and Saudi are considering their response to Saturday’s assault on key oil facilities which left the kingdom reeling. Asked whether military retaliation was being considered, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi’s ambassador to Germany, said “everything is on the table.”
Reuters reports that the US military said on Thursday it was consulting with Saudi Arabia on ways to mitigate threats from the north. The Pentagon officials declined to specifically say what kinds of changes to Saudi defences might be examined.
Reuters reports that the Saudi-led coalition said it intercepted and destroyed an explosives-laden boat launched from Yemen by the Iran-aligned Houthi group on Thursday. The Independent and Reuters report that the Saudi-led military coalition has carried out attacks on targets in Yemen. The strikes hit areas north of Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah, Saudi state TV reported.
Reuters reports that oil prices are on track to jump more than 7% this week as early trading on Friday saw gains extended on fresh Middle East tensions. Brent crude LCOc1 is on track to rise about 7.7% this week, the biggest weekly gain since January.
The Financial Times reports that Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi called for world leaders to defuse rising tensions in the Gulf as Italy’s largest oil and gas company embarks on an expansion in the Middle East. “We cannot risk a war,” said Descalzi. “We cannot risk a big conflict that can involve more countries. It’s not just a question of energy security, it’s a question of human lives.”
In BBC News, Kasra Naji asks “why would Iran raise the stakes by attacking Saudi Arabia?”: “the hardliners in Iran may well be reflecting on whether their strategy is leading their country to war and destruction, rather than the easing of sanctions”.
In the Guardian, Patrick Wintour claims that the attack on Saudi oil facilities shines a light on “geopolitical truth and lies”: “Disentangling responsibility has been made so much harder by casual peacetime mendacity”.
The Financial Times reports that the Trump administration has issued visas to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to attend the UN General Assembly in New York. But the US refused visas for some members of the Iranian delegation that had planned to travel to New York, according to one person familiar with the decision.
The Times and Reuters report that the US has cut more than $160 million in funding to the Afghan government over accusations of corruption days before elections that President Ghani hopes will strengthen his hand for future peace talks.
Reuters reports that Tunisia’s largest political party, moderate Islamist Ennahda, will back former law professor Kais Saied in a presidential election run-off, it said on Thursday, potentially boosting his chances against detained rival Nabil Karoui.
The Financial Times reports that Saudi Arabia is pressuring wealthy families to buy in to the initial public offering of its state oil company, as part of a plan to achieve the $2tn valuation coveted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Reuters reports that refinery outages in Saudi Arabia following last weekend’s attacks on its oil facilities could deal a blow to the shipping industry’s preparations for the biggest switch in fuel standards in decades.
Reuters reports that Russia cast its 13th veto on Thursday of UN Security Council action on the Syrian conflict, blocking a demand for a truce in northwest Syria because it does not include an exemption for military offensives against UN blacklisted militant groups.
BBC News and Reuters report that workers in Qatar continue to be mistreated despite promises to improve rights ahead of the 2022 World Cup, according to Amnesty International. A new report from the human rights group says thousands of workers are going unpaid. It adds that a new commission set up to help improve workers’ rights is failing to protect them. Amnesty has urged Qatari authorities to “end the shameful reality of labour exploitation”.
In the Jewish Chronicle, Ed Hussein argues that Arabs and Jews must use the Egypt-Israel peace deal as a springboard to go much further.
Israeli Air Force completes training exercise with RAF
Haaretz and the Times of Israel report that Israeli fighter planes joined 50 aircraft, including the new F-35, from the UK, German, Italian and US air forces for the 20-day Cobra Warrior exercise held in the UK. It was the first time that Israeli jets were deployed to the UK and the first exercise with the RAF of this magnitude.
IAF Air Division Commander, Brig. Gen. Amnon Ein Dar said: “The cooperation with the UK over the years, and especially this past year, have gotten warmer and stronger….a lot of air force bases were first British bases [during the Mandate of Palestine], so it’s nice to fly in the UK 70 years later…It was a beautiful, historical moment.”
Tillerson says Netanyahu “played” Trump
The Israeli media all report that former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave an interview to the Harvard Gazette and described Benjamin Netanyahu as “a bit Machiavellian.” He said: “In dealing with Bibi, it’s always useful to carry a healthy amount of skepticism in your discussions with him,” recounting that Israel would share “misinformation” to persuade the US of something if necessary. He added: “They did that with the president on a couple of occasions, to persuade him that ‘We’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys.’ We later exposed it to the president so he understood, ‘You’ve been played’. It bothers me that an ally that’s that close and important to us would do that to us.”
US envoy Greenblatt visits Israel
President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, arrived in Israel on yesterday. Channel 12 News reported that he came to attend US Ambassador David Friedman’s daughter’s wedding. According to Ynet, Greenblatt will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Blue and White Leader Benny Gantz and other party leaders.
Syria shoots down drone
The Israeli media report Syrian sources saying a drone was shot down over the village of Aqraba in the southern suburbs of Damascus. There were also reports of large explosions near Damascus international airport.
Ultra-Orthodox want to cancel veto on Lapid
In a sign that they want to consider a unity government, MKs from United Torah Judaism will ask their spiritual leader, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky to repeal the veto that the rabbis have imposed on any alliance with MK Yair Lapid from the Blue and White party because of his previous policy positions about religion and state.
Head of Mossad to enter politics?
According to Yediot Ahronot, the current head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen, found himself in the eye of the storm when Prime Minister Netanyahu marked him out a potential successor. Cohen, considered one of the best spy operatives in the history of Israeli intelligence, has already confirmed to his associates: “I am attracted to the leadership and it may lead me to consider something further in the future.”