British officials meet Taliban leaders in Kabul
BBC News and The Guardian report on the Mossad’s mission to find out what happened to Ron Arab, a missing Israeli airman who is suspected of dying in captivity. His plane went down over Lebanon in 1986 during a bombing raid. The pilot of the aircraft was rescued by Israeli forces but Arad, the navigator was captured by Amal, the Lebanese Shia militia group. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett confirmed the operation, saying it was a “courageous mission” but that he couldn’t share any more details. The Timesreports that an Iranian general was allegedly kidnapped in Syria last month by Israeli forces as part of the mission.
The Telegraph reports that senior UK diplomats met with top Taliban leaders in Kabul this week for the first ever face to face talks since the group took over Afghanistan. Reports suggest that Taliban leaders have asked British diplomats for formal diplomatic relations and assistance in releasing billions of dollars in frozen Afghan government assets.
BBC News reports that new leaked documents show that Qatar’s ruling family avoided £18.5 million in taxes by buying two of the most expensive houses in the UK. The properties, worth over £120 million, were purchased using offshore companies There is however, no suspicion of illegal activity.
The Associated Press reports that recently leaked documents show that Lebanon’s politicians and bankers have stowed wealth in offshore companies and used tax havens to buy expensive properties. All this happened as the country was spiraling into the worst economic crisis its citizens have faced.
The Guardian reports that Interpol is facing a wave of criticism after allowing Syria to rejoin its network. Toby Cadman, a UK barrister involved in Syria-related war crimes prosecutions told the paper “I am profoundly disappointed and concerned such a decision has been made. Interpol’s systems are opaque, with no real oversight or accountability, and routinely abused by states like Syria which have little regard for human rights.”
Reuters reports that Iran’s quest for more leverage in the ongoing JCPOA nuclear talks is merely a stalling tactic. Officials say that in stalling ongoing talks, Iran is advancing its uranium enrichment program and a possible pathway to a nuclear bomb. One Iranian official said “Iran will eventually return to the talks in Vienna. But we are in no rush to do so because time is on our side. Our nuclear advances further every day.”
In the Israeli media, most of the papers focus on the meeting yesterday between US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Israeli National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata in Washington. According to a US official, the meeting gave the two allies a chance to share intelligence and develop a “baseline assessment” of how far Tehran’s nuclear programme has advanced. A statement from the White House said: “Mr. Sullivan explained that this administration believes diplomacy is the best path to achieve that goal, while also noting that the president has made clear that if diplomacy fails, the United States is prepared to turn to other options.”
Also heavily featured in the Israeli meida is Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to disclose information about a Mossad operation that was carried out in hope of discovering what befell Ron Arad, an IAF navigator who fell captive in Lebanon in 1986 and is presumed to be dead. In Yediot Ahronot, Ron Ben-Yishai cites two primary goals that Israel hoped to achieve by publicly disclosing information about the operation: “Israel wanted, by means of its most senior official (the prime minister), to stress that the operation in question was completely unrelated to the ongoing covert war that is being fought out between Iran and Israel in connection to the Iranian nuclear programme, the Islamic Republic’s military buildup or any of its proxies’ operations against Israel across the Middle East. That message was aired by the prime minister because Israel wanted to avoid Iranian retaliation for an act that, on the face of things, was far more egregious that previous Mossad operations that have been carried out to disrupt the Iranian nuclear programme and in the war-between-wars.”
In Maariv, Tal Lev Ram questions Prime Minister Bennett’s decision to violate Israel’s policy of ambiguity, arguing that that was done “solely” on account of “political considerations,” writing: “Bennett passionately argued that Netanyahu’s decision to abandon the policy of ambiguity on the Iranian nuclear programme, the attacks in Syria and the efforts to stop the precision-guided missile program should have been discussed by the security cabinet, and that no such discussion was ever held. On Monday, however, Bennett acted exactly like his predecessor. Without consulting, informing or discussing the matter with anyone he decided to disclose information about the Mossad’s activity.”
Kan Radio News reports that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett withheld his decision to publicise the Mossad operation to obtain information about the fate of Arad from Defence Minister Benny Gantz, but Bennett did inform Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of the decision to publicise the operation. During yesterday’s cabinet meeting Bennett said he was disappointed with the criticism he has received for going public with the operation and about the timing of the operation. Bennett said the decision to go public about the operation had not been made for political purposes but, rather, had been an ethical one: He wanted to praise the people Mossad operatives who took part in the operation, and to demonstrate that Israel continues to be responsible for its soldiers, even if they have been missing in action for decades.
All the papers note that the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients in Israel has fallen to 489. That is about 280 fewer than the highest number of the current wave. Out of the seriously ill, 197 patients were connected to ventilators. To date, 7,853 people in Israel have died from COVID-19. According to Health Ministry data, unvaccinated patients account for over 76 per cent of all severe cases while patients who have received a vaccine booster shot account for less than 7 per cent.
Maariv reports that a senior Hamas official has told Turkish state news agency Anadolu that progress has been made in talks with Egypt over a truce for the Gaza Strip. The official said the pace of reconstruction work in the Gaza Strip would be accelerated as part of the agreement, and that the blockade would also be eased. Speaking to the Turkish news agency, the official said the meeting on Monday between members of Hamas’s delegation to Egypt, which is headed by Hamas Political Bureau Director Ismail Haniya, and Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate Director Abbas Kamel, had been “serious” and had addressed “a broad range of issues.” He said the parties agreed about the need for a truce agreement between the resistance organisations and Israel, and to allow the agreement to take root.