Media Summary

Al-Qaeda exploits US unrest

BBC News and The Telegraph report on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s decision to sack the country’s Prime Minister, Imad Muhammad Dib Khamis, amid an ongoing economic crisis. Assad’s office issued a statement yesterday “relieving the prime minister of his position” following days of mass protest calling for the fall of the Assad regime. Dozens of protestors marched through the town of Suweida, a Druze-majority town in southwestern Syria, calling for freedom and as Syria’s currency plummeted by close to 70 per cent in value since April. The Assad regime blamed Western sanctions and exchange rate manipulation for the country’s economic woes. Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that next week the US is due to implement the ‘Caesar Act,’ which will target individuals tied to the Assad regime, as well as its two main backers, Hezbollah and Iran.

The Telegraph, Independent and Times report on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan creating a new “militia” after the Turkish Parliament passed a law allowing neighbourhood watchmen to carry guns, search suspects and in some cases use lethal force. Previously, these forces were traditionally armed with truncheons and whistles. The watchmen, called ‘bekci,’ had been used to support Turkish police forces for decades but was folded into the police in 2008 and subsequently resurrected in 2016 following the failed coup. Critics of the law worry that the forces will serve as a militia and are part of a larger government effort to expand the footprint of law enforcement. Some suggest that the powers granted to the forces may be unconstitutional.

Frank Gardner writes for BBC News about Al-Qaeda’s attempt to exploit US unrest by reaching out to Muslims and non-Muslims and encourage them to present themselves as ‘champions of the oppressed’. The group’s most recent English language issue says ‘not even the Democrats can help you but we can’.

Charlie Mitchell and Richard Spencer write for The Times about Iran’s delaying tactics in cooperating with the inquiry into the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 that killed 176 people on 8 January. Iran has yet to handover the black boxes and has said that its contents “will be of no help for the investigation”. While they maintain their readiness to handover the black boxes, they do not specify when. A Canadian dentist whose wife and daughter were killed in the crash described his frustration with the Iranians, saying: “It’s like a psychological war that Iran is pursuing against us.”

The Financial Times reports that Saudi Arabia may cancel the Hajj for the first time in modern history because of the coronavirus pandemic. Saudi Arabia has over 100,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and while the country was able to organize the Hajj during previous viral outbreaks, the global scale of this virus is far more challenging.

The Economists reports on a second wave of the coronavirus across the Middle East. While many countries across the region have declared the pandemic finished, the recent spike in positive tests shows that ‘the pandemic is not finished with them’. With economies coming back to life following months of stagnation, ‘government are reluctant to shut down again.’ This is why halting a second wave ‘may be harder than it was dealing with the first’.

The Financial Times editorial board leads with the headline, ‘World should not be silent on Israeli annexation,’ maintaining that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ‘all but destroyed any hope of a two state solution’. The editorial board writes that at a time when the US is embarking on a ‘reckless Middle East policy’ Europe must stand up and take the lead, as it is Israel’s largest trade partner.

Yediot Ahronot publishes an exclusive oped by the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, where he warns of the dangers on annexation.  He wrote,  “Until recently, Israeli leaders have spoken enthusiastically about normalising relations with the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries. However, such talk contradicts the Israeli annexation plan…. For years, the United Arab Emirates has demonstrated unflagging support for peace in the Middle East. We have promoted involvement and conflict-reduction, helped create incentives—carrots instead of sticks—and focused our attention on things that can be of use to all parties. We have consistently and actively opposed violence by all sides: we have declared Hezbollah a terrorist group, denounced Hamas’s incitement and condemned the Israeli provocations. For all of this time we have remained enthusiastic supporters of the Palestinian people and longstanding proponents of the Arab peace initiative…. Annexation will definitely, and immediately, reverse all of the Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and the United Arab Emirates…. The United Arab Emirates has encouraged the Israelis to think about the positive side of more open and normalised relations. We have done something similar with UAE citizens, and with the Arabs in general. For example, Israel has been invited to attend Expo 2020, the global exhibition that is planned to take place next year in Dubai. There is an Israeli diplomatic presence in Abu Dhabi as part of the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency…These are the carrots, the incentives, the positive sides for Israel. More security. Direct ties. Growing acceptance. This is what normalisation can be. But normalisation is not annexation. Annexation is a mistaken provocation at a different order of magnitude. Further talk of normalization in such circumstances creates false hopes for better relations with the Arab world. In the United Arab Emirates, and in a large part of the Arab world, we would like to believe that Israel is an opportunity, not an enemy. We face too many common dangers and see the huge potential for warmer ties. A decision by Israel to annex [territory in the West Bank] will be an unmistakable signal as to whether it views things the same way.” 

Channel 12 News highlights an interview by former prime minister Ehud Olmert to a Saudi newspaper, Elaph. Olmert was asked about the strategic significance of the Jordan Valley for Israel, he answered, “The claim that we need the Jordan Valley from a security standpoint is nonsense with no truth to it. I’m saying that as a prime minister of Israel. No one will say that I’m not a patriot…When I say we need the Jordan Valley, we don’t need it for security purposes. What for? The reasoning is that there will be a buffer between the Palestinian state and Jordan.” Olmert revealed that he had discussed the issue with the Jordanian king. “I talked to King Abdullah about it. I asked the king, ‘Would you be willing to have a NATO international force along the Jordan River on the Jordanian side?’ He told me yes.”

Army Radio interviewed Settlements Minister Tzipi Hotoveli where she confirmed was offered and accepted the position to be the next ambassador to the UK.  Hotovely said: “It is undoubtedly one of the most senior positions in the foreign service. Britain is very important within Europe and very friendly, certainly under Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, and that is something that must be leveraged with important diplomatic work.”

Israel Hayom reports that a 10-day-old baby to Syrian parents who live in Cyprus was flown to Israel on Thursday to undergo an emergency procedure to correct a severe congenital heart defect. The baby boy was flown in a specialised ambulance plane after the complex operation was expedited by the Israeli Embassy in Nicosia, the Cypriot Health Ministry, and Israeli and Cypriot doctors. Israel’s Ambassador to Cyprus, Sammy Revel, is quoted saying, “The Syrian baby was born with a rare heart defect. The Cypriot Health Ministry turned to us, and we received all the necessary permits from the authorities in Israel. On Thursday (the baby) was urgently flown via air ambulance to Israel, and was immediately transferred to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. He is supposed to undergo life-saving surgery there. This is an expression of solidarity, to save the life of a baby is always the right thing to do.”