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Media Summary

Double disaster for Iran of oil refinery explosion and sinking of navy ship

The BBCTelegraphThe TimesFinancial Times and the Independent reports on the political developments last night in Israel. All the papers carry the image circulated on Israeli media that showed Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett and Arab Islamist Raam party leader, Mansour Abbas, signing the agreement, a deal many thought impossible. The Telegraph writes that “Abbas made history on Wednesday night as he became the first Arab politician to agree to joining an Israeli government – in contrast to previous Arab leaders who have only offered external support to Israeli coalitions. But this political marriage could run aground very quickly indeed, as on the fundamental issues that define Israel’s politics, its members are poles apart. In truth, they are united by one policy alone – unseating Mr Netanyahu after 12 years in power.”

The BBC’s Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen, writes that “No-one should expect big, new initiatives from a new government. Just surviving the onslaught Mr Netanyahu is undoubtedly planning will be a full-time job. His opponents will be hoping that his fall will continue in the Jerusalem courthouse where he is already on trial on serious corruption charges.”

Meanwhile, The Guardian focuses on Israel’s slated new prime minister, Naftali Bennett. “The hardline religious nationalist, once the head of a prominent Jewish settler group and now expected to become Israel’s next prime minister, is open about his plans for millions living under occupation.” They quote from Bennetts’s Stability Plan, released in 2012: “The proposal would squeeze most West Bank Palestinians into urban enclaves with limited control over their lives. A few tens of thousands would be granted Israeli citizenship, to ‘counter any claims of apartheid’, the document states.”

The Financial Times’s David Gardner writes that for now, “neither specious arguments nor seductive job offers have tempted Netanyahu’s aggrieved former partners back into the fold. But Israeli politics could yet spring a surprise: Bennett’s far-right grouplet has already suffered one defection; one more and the Lapid-Bennett combination will not have the numbers.”

The TelegraphIndependent and The Times on the double disaster in Iran as an oil refinery explosion sent huge plumes of black smoke across Tehran and the navy’s largest ship caught fire and sank in mysterious circumstances. Iran gave no further explanations for the incidents, but this year Israel and Iran accused each other of tit-for-tat strikes on cargo ships, according to The Telegraph. Israel does not ordinarily confirm covert attacks and there was no claim that it had targeted the Kharg, however. A spokesman for the Tehran Oil Refining Company dismissed “all speculation centring on sabotage”, saying that the accident had been caused by a “technical problem”.

The Guardian publishes an opinion piece by hard-left Israeli activist Michael Sfard, who explains why Israeli progressives have started to talk about ‘apartheid’. Sfard writes: “Israel’s progressive camp is in the midst of updating its frame of reference for the conflict … the updated paradigm provides a comprehensive analysis to understand the situation in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel – using a lens that reveals an Israeli ethnocracy. Our upgraded lexicon reduces the gap between the racialised reality and its political description, and therefore makes the forging of a shared Palestinian-Israeli vision possible – a vision that respects the national aspirations of both peoples, and guarantees equal rights to everyone living in the land. This new model is critical – but only moral and political integrity will make it possible.”

The Independent reports that life in Israel is at its closet to pre-COVID normality thanks to a successful vaccine rollout. Israel is reporting just fifteen new daily coronavirus cases in the last week — its lowest count in more than a year. The fall in infections has encouraged Israeli businesses to return to full capacity. Residents are no longer required to carry proof of their COVID jabs as they visit restaurants, sporting events, or entertainment venues.

The Israeli media is dominated by the dramatic events late last night whereby after four weeks of intense political negotiations, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid formally informed President Reuven Rivlin that he had succeeded in forming a new government. United Arab List (UAL) Chairman MK Mansour Abbas’s decision to formally join the coalition — it remains unknown if he will join the government or not — is billed as an historic development by much of the Hebrew press. Yediot Ahronot writes that despite the coalition signing by the UAL, differences of opinion continue to divide the southern chapter of the Islamic Movement. “Whereas some officials in the movement supported the decision, others were opposed, saying: ‘[Abbas] should have gotten [signed] confirmation of the decision to repeal the Kamenitz law and to recognise the unrecognised villages in the Negev, and [he should have done so] without [making] any concessions.’” One member of the southern chapter of the Islamic Movement’s Shura Council said: “The Shura Council authorised the members of the United Arab List to decide whether to join the new government or not, but our condition was not to concede repealing the Kamenitz law, since that is the demand of the Arab street in the state [of Israel].  We are supposed to achieve that objective, not to ignore it. Mansour Abbas isn’t the only one who can decide [i.e. he doesn’t have the authority to decide alone], but all of us together.”

Maariv focuses on the leadership qualities shown by Yair Lapid. “Lapid’s journey to the top of the political mountain has been a confidence-building journey with the Israeli public. It isn’t easy for a person who served as a journalist with Bamahane (weekly IDF magazine) to reach a position of leadership in a society that views military combat service as a necessary preparatory route and an entry ticket to the top tiers of leadership. That becomes even more difficult in a reality that dictates a security-political agenda. Lapid has displayed nerves of steel and has shown the public that things can be done differently. That reflects more than mere political maturity; it embodies the possibility of a new compact with Israeli society, one that will include a change in priorities, honesty and decency.”

Yediot Ahronot publishes a commentary arguing it is ironic that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the person who facilitated this new alliance between Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett, Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid and United Arab List Chairman Mansour Abbas. “It was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who gave [that partnership] a seal of approval before and after this last election, after years of inciting and offensive rhetoric toward the Arab public. He is the cause and the effect of that singular meeting, a meeting that had never happened before in Israeli politics. It was he who plotted the steps that painted the Arabs and Jews into a single corner in which they were forced for the first time to engage in dialogue with one another as people with shared interests; he was the stage director who produced the unfinished play that will now be written by right-wingers and left-wingers together.”

Israel Hayom writes that “Beginning at midnight last night, the rules of the game changed. Up until midnight, the game had been played by the heads. Now the game is going to be moved to the tails — to the back benches. The Likud’s strategy has also changed. If up until yesterday Netanyahu waged an orderly war, initiated moves and made offers, in the coming week and a half he will engage in guerrilla warfare, in which shots will be fired in every possible direction. The rule for Ayelet Shaked will be the same for Zeev Elkin and the rule for Nir Orbach will be the same as for Sharren Haskel. Everyone will be targeted. This will be a desperate, losing battle. But it’s the only move he has left.”

In other news, Kan Radio reports that Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood has said the US supports replenishing Israel’s arsenal of interceptor missiles for the Iron Dome system to defend Israel. Defence Minister Benny Gantz is scheduled to meet today in Washington with top US administration officials to discuss the special American aid that is earmarked for providing Israel with more interceptor missiles.

Kan Radio reports that National Security Council Director Meir Ben-Shabbat will hold a meeting today with senior Israeli officials to discuss the ceasefire negotiations with Hamas, the talks with Egypt and the issue of the hostages and the MIAs. IDF and intelligence representatives will attend. High-ranking Israeli officials have expressed concern that the talks on a truce being held in Egypt will not progress because of the political crisis.