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Media Summary

Biden will end US involvement in Yemen war

The BBC, The Times, Financial Times and The Guardian report that President Joe Biden will end American support for offensive operations by its allies in Yemen, which has been devastated by a six-year war where more than 110,000 people are believed to have died. “The war in Yemen must end,” President Joe Biden said in his first major foreign policy speech during a visit to the US State Department. As a result of Thursday’s announcement, the US will stop supporting offensive operations, including the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This will not affect operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Times reports how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has engineered the merger of three far-right parties – Jewish Power, descended from a party banned over terrorism attacks on Arabs, the ultra-nationalist National Union and Noam, dedicated to removing LGBT rights – in the hope that they can scrape into parliament in the election on March 23 and help him form a majority coalition.

The Independent leads with the headline, “Six months ago Beirut blew up, now Lebanon is on the brink of collapse”. After the massive explosion which ripped through the capital last August, the nation is battling a new set of crises that could tip it over the edge.

The Telegraph and the Financial Times report on international calls to investigate the killing of Hezbollah critic Lukman Slim in Lebanon. The 59-year old’s body was found in a car in majority Shia southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah is dominant. In late 2019, Slim said he had received death threats and warned that he believed Hezbollah would target him. The Telegraph says it was the first apparent political assassination in Lebanon in years.

The BBC publishes a video report about the rebuilding of Mosul, three years after the devastating battle to reclaim the city from ISIS. A project with the title “reviving the spirit of Mosul” has hired locals of all faiths to work together to rebuild the landmark al-Nuri mosque, and the historic al-Saa’a and al-Tahera churches.

The Guardian, Financial Times, Independent, The Telegraph and The Times note that a Belgian court has sentenced an Iranian diplomat to 20 years in jail for attempted murder and involvement in terrorism. Assadollah Assadi, who was attached to the Iranian mission in Vienna, supplied explosives for the failed bomb attack at a rally outside Paris attended by five British MPs. Assadi had warned authorities last year of possible retaliation if he was found guilty.

The Israeli media is dominated by two issues: The Cabinet’s decision last night to extend the lockdown until Sunday 7:00 AM and the political developments over the lists for the elections. Kan Radio News reports on the stormy Cabinet session in which it was agreed that the exit from the lockdown would be slow, based on the recommendation of the Health Ministry. One-on-one services, takeout from restaurants and rental of B&Bs for nuclear families will be permitted starting Sunday. Workplaces that do not hold public reception hours will reopen, and the ban on going more than 1km from home will be lifted. As of now, kindergartens will not reopen. The cabinet will meet again on Sunday.

Maariv and Yediot Ahronot lead with headlines noting that over 5,000 people have now died from the pandemic since it started a year ago. There are 1,040 people hospitalized in serious condition, 307 of them on ventilators. Yesterday, the Prime Minister attacked Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for his demands to reopen the economy. Netanyahu also accused Gantz of wanting to increase infection for election considerations. The blood of many Israelis will be on your hands, Netanyahu told Gantz. The Defence Minister was furious and replied: “For decades I have protected human lives and that is what I will continue to do. To say that I have put lives at risk is a lie.”

The Jerusalem Post publishes an interview with former coronavirus coordinator, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, who said that the current lockdown is not working because Israel’s leaders do not empathise enough with the public. “This is the fifth week that commercial [businesses] are closed. If you open street shops, it will not really make such a huge difference. Let them return to their lives; let them return to their businesses.”

The date for submitting lists for the 24th Knesset ended last night, and 39 parties submitted their lists. Yediot Ahronot publishes a commentary by Sima Kadmon, who writes: “The Prime Minister is starting the election campaign this morning with a considerable advantage. This week he scored two achievements, whose significance cannot be overstated: He succeeded in maximising the right- wing electoral potential almost to the fullest, and he also managed to dismantle the Joint List.” She adds: “The centre-left camp is starting the election campaign this morning from a position of inferiority. It did not manage to unify its forces or to cause all the parties that are doing poorly to quit the race. In any case, it appears that there is no room for three egos such as Huldai, Michaeli and Shelah in the same room.”

Similarly in Yediot Ahronot, former Likud minister Limor Livnat writes: “Ostensibly, it appears that the Prime Minister’s situation is better than in the previous three rounds of elections, but only ostensibly. He worked very hard to ensure the union between Smotrich from the religious Zionist party and Itamar Ben Gvir, the disciple of Kahane, from Jewish Power. But [Jewish Home leader] Moshe’s decision last night to join forces with Bennett and turn her back on Netanyahu-Smotrich-Ben Gvir could harm the chances of the latter two of crossing the electoral threshold. This move could prove to be a severe blow for Netanyahu.

Israel Hayom reports that an unarmed Palestinian attacked a settler in the Sde Efraim farm in the Binyamin region. He was shot to death by one of the workers. The IDF said it was attempted terrorist attack. The Palestinian, a resident of the nearby village Ras a-Karkar, drove a car into the farm. He banged on the doors of the buildings and shouted “Allahu akbar”. One of the residents came out of the house and began to grapple with him. A worker came quickly and shot the Palestinian to death. The IDF is searching the area.

Yediot Ahronot reports on suspected Israeli missile strikes reported Wednesday night in Syria. The attack occurred at 11:00 PM and successfully destroyed Iranian weaponry. It was the sixth attack in Syria in the past month to be attributed to the IDF. This large number of attacks is suggests that the Iranians have greatly increased their arms smuggling to Syria. The IDF recently reported that the land route for arms smuggling from Iran to Syria had been closed. But it seems that the air route is active again.

Walla News notes that Iran, Israel and the Palestinians were notably absent from US President Joe Biden’s first foreign policy speech. Instead, Biden emphasised his promise to return US foreign policy to a multinational approach and cooperation with the international community, after four years of the previous administration’s nationalist “America First” policy. “America is back. Diplomacy is back,” Biden told the State Department staff. “You are the centre of everything I plan. You are the heart of it.” The only reference to the Middle East was Biden’s announcement that he was ending US involvement for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. “This war created a strategic and humanitarian catastrophe,” but he stressed that the US “will continue to assist and support in Saudi Arabia”.