Media Summary

Egyptian singer facing charges for posing with Israelis in Dubai

The BBC and The Guardian report that a prominent Egyptian singer who was photographed posing with two Israeli celebrities at a party in Dubai faces a court hearing in Egypt next month. A lawyer has filed a suit accusing Mohamed Ramadan of “insulting the Egyptian people” with the images, which were condemned by many Arabs online after Israel’s government shared them.

The Independent runs the headline, ‘Israel’s peace deal talks with Saudi Arabia stall after secret meeting, reports say,’ writing that the secret meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday failed to produce a normalisation agreement.

Reuters reports that Israel launched air strikes on an area in the southern outskirts of Damascus, which is believed to have a strong Iranian military presence, in the second such attack within a week. The Israeli aerial strike on the area came from the Golan Heights and caused only material damages, the Syrian army said.

The Times and Financial Times lead with the unveiling of President-elect Joe Biden’s national security team in a live television broadcast last night. Biden declared that “America is back” and “ready to lead the world”. He added: “Collectively, this team has secured some of the most defining national security and diplomatic achievements in recent memory, made possible through decades of experience working with our partners. That’s how we truly keep America safe.”

The Guardian and the Independent report that Saudi Arabia will put women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul on trial today, more than 900 days after she was detained, and just after the country wrapped up hosting duties on a virtual G20 summit. Hathloul is on hunger strike and has been held incommunicado for nearly a month. A UN women’s rights committee recently expressed alarm about her failing health.

The Times notes that the US has sent B-52 bombers to the Middle East to provide a show of force in the region as American, Israeli and Saudi officials held an unprecedented diplomatic meeting on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast. Central Command said the B-52Hs had been sent “to deter aggression and reassure US partners and allies”.

In the Israeli media, Kan Radio News reports that the investigation into the IAF training incident is ongoing and all flight training exercises have been suspended. Two soldiers died in the accident yesterday, Maj. (res.) Itay Zayden, a 42-year-old resident of Kibbutz Shoval, and Corporal Lihu Ben-Bassa, a 19-year-old cadet from Rishon Lezion. The preliminary assessment is that a sudden technical malfunction caused the crash, and not human error.

Two polls yesterday evening show that the Likud remains in the lead, but the breakdown into numbers in the two polls is quite different. The Channel 13 News poll found that the Likud would win 27 seats, followed closely by Yamina on 23, Yesh Atid-Telem on 20, Arab Joint List on 12, Blue and White on 10, Yisrael Beiteinu on 8, Shas on 7, UTJ on 7 and Meretz on 6. The right-wing/ultra-Orthodox bloc wins a slim majority of 64. The Kan Television News poll found the Likud with a larger lead of 31 seats to Yamina’s 21 seats, followed by Yesh Atid-Telem on 17, Arab Joint List on 11, Blue and White on 9, Yisrael Beiteinu on 9, Shas on 9, UTJ on 7 and Meretz on 6. In one poll, 44 per cent of the public would hold Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responsible for new elections, as opposed to 31 per cent who believe that Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz would be equally to blame and a mere 16 per cent who would hold Gantz responsible.

Maariv reports that Likud sources believe Gantz is considering withdrawing his demand to have the 2021 budget approved by the end of December and that instead of this, he is prepared to accept the Finance Ministry’s timetable — final approval in February. Sources inside Blue and White denied the allegation and told Maariv that their position has not changed, and that the budget for next year must be approved in just over a month from now. Yesh Atid-Telem plans to table a bill to disband the Knesset for a preliminary reading on the Knesset floor next Wednesday. Likud sources do not rule out the possibility that Blue and White will support the bill. Meanwhile, Yediot Ahronot says the Yamina intends to vote in favour of the bill. Lapid had originally intended to put forward the bill several weeks ago, but he withdrew it several times after realising that the bill was likely to be voted down. On Monday, Lapid announced that the bill would be introduced next week, even if it became clear that it would fail to win the support of a majority.

Channel 12 News notes that Syrian television reported last night about an Israeli attack in southern Quneitra and Jabel al-Mane, which is southern Damascus. No Israeli officials have confirmed those reports thus far. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that at least eight foreign pro-Iranian fighters were killed in the airstrikes. Syrian television reported property damage but no casualties. Meanwhile, the Times of Israel says UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan wrote to the Security Council last night demanding that it act against Iranian military entrenchment in Syria. Referring to the IEDs recently found on the Israeli-Syrian border, Erdan said: “These incidents, conducted by Iran’s proxies in Syria (IRGC Quds Force, Unit 840), prove once again that Syrian territory, including the Area of Separation (AOS), is being abused by hostile elements.”

Maariv also reports the Jerusalem District Court announced yesterday that the introduction of evidence in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s trial would begin in February, and not in January as originally scheduled. The court accepted Netanyahu’s lawyers’ motion to postpone the date for their response to the indictment from next Sunday to 13 January. The defendants in the case, including Netanyahu, will have to be present in the court for that hearing.