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Media Summary

Explosion reported at Iranian nuclear facility

BBC News, The Independent and The Times report on an explosion in Iran’s main uranium enrichment plant in Natanz. Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behruz Kamalvandi said there was an incident in “one of the industrial sheds under construction” at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant. Kamalvandi added there were fatalities and concerns about contamination. This is the second explosion at a Key Iranian military production facility in a week after an explosion was seen at a secret missile base outside Tehran last week. Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency published a commentary addressing the possibility of sabotage by Israel and the US following the explosion.

BBC News reports on the UN placing two of its workers on unpaid leave over allegations of sexual misconduct in an official car in Israel. The UN launched an investigation after two men were filmed in a marked car on a main street in Tel Aviv with a woman in a red dress straddling a man in the back seat. The men have been identified as staff members of the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), a military observer force based in Israel. The spokesman for the UN Secretary General said he was “shocked and deeply disturbed” by the footage.

The Independent and The Times both report that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put West Bank annexation on hold after he missed the 1 July target date to bring forward a government decision on annexation. Writing in The Times, Anshel Pfeffer says “disagreements and intense pressure from Israel’s friends, including a plea from Boris Johnson” delayed annexation. In The Independent Bel Trew notes that Netanyahu missed the self-imposed 1 July date because “fraught talks with the United States having yet to yield results”.

Richard Spencer writes in The Times about the risk of a return of sectarian violence amid Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis. Spencer writes that middle class families have taken to Facebook to sell furniture, shoes and clothing, while the army announced this week that it could no longer afford to serve its soldiers meat. This comes as the country’s national electricity company no longer has foreign currency to buy fuel, all of which prompted Alain Bifani, the head of Lebanon’s finance ministry to resign this week, after two decades on the job. Bifani said the country was “sinking into a whirlpool of unemployment and poverty,” adding that he “refuse[d] to be a partner or witness to what is happening”.

Alona Ferber writes in the New Stateman about how Arab citizens of Israel view annexation. She writes: “For Arab citizens, who make up 20 per cent of the Israeli population, the proposed move is also a continuation of long-standing policies infringing on their civil and political rights.”

The Israeli media report 1,107 confirmed new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours bringing the number of people ill with the virus to 9,618. This is the first time new cases have exceeded 1,000 in a 24 hour period. 325 people have died from coronavirus since the outbreak, nine in the last 24 hours. There are 70 people hospitalised in serious condition of which 27 are on ventilators. Testing has also increased to a record-breaking 24,000 on Thursday with a 4.5 per cent rate of confirmed cases detected. Last night Prime Minister Netanyahu reintroduced restrictions on public gatherings, including a limit of up to 20 people gathering in closed spaces and a limit of 50 people at bars, clubs, event halls, and synagogues.

Yediot Ahronot reports that Finance Minister Yisrael Katz prevented an even harsher step of limiting restaurant diners to only 50 people. He said that this would cause the industry, which employs 150,000 people and which has only now reopened, to collapse. After he threatened to vote against the decisions, it was decided that the matter of restaurants would be worked out on Sunday. The paper also notes another rift emerged between the prime minister and Alternate Prime Minister and Defence Minister Benny Gantz who repeated his call to give the Defence Ministry operational responsibility for handling the crisis. Gantz said: “The Home Front Command was formed in order to oversee the kind of event that we are now experiencing.” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein replied: “When I see the calls about the need to transfer authorities from the Health Ministry, in my book, that’s not called getting under the stretcher, that’s called making politics at the expense of Israel’s citizens.” Toward the end of the coronavirus cabinet meeting, Netanyahu left the room, came back a few minutes later and angrily said: “I realise that we’re making politics, and that will have only one result,” which was understood by some of the ministers as a threat to call elections. He then closed the meeting by banging the gavel on the table and he angrily left the room. Later in his public announcement, Netanyahu said: “It is unthinkable that during battle, the brigade commander says one thing, the deputy brigade commander says another thing, and that there be ten different opinions. You decide on a battle plan and you stick with it.”

All the newspapers report on a mysterious explosion in an Iranian nuclear facility. Haaretz notes “a  Middle Eastern intelligence official told the New York Times that the fire was caused by an explosive device that was planted inside the facility, and that the blast destroyed a section of the building containing centrifuges that were not yet operational. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran sought to downplay the fire, calling it an ‘incident’ that only affected an under-construction ‘industrial shed,’ spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. However, both Kamalvandi and Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi rushed after the fire to Natanz, which has been targeted in sabotage campaigns in the past.”

Israel Hayom reports that Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) signed a historic collaboration agreement with Group 42 from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The companies will collaborate in the fields of research and development in an effort to find solutions to the coronavirus.  The cooperation agreement was signed during a video call between the UAE and Israel, during which ways to leverage common innovative technologies in the fields of artificial intelligence, sensing, laser, and more were discussed. The initiatives are not only meant to help the populations of the two countries but to aid the global and regional fight against the coronavirus.  IAI Executive Vice President Yoav Turgeman said, “IAI is pleased to sign this cooperation agreement with our partners in Abu Dhabi. The coronavirus disease crosses continents, peoples, and religions and we see paramount importance in the cooperation that will deliver breakthrough solutions. In recent months, IAI has joined the fight against the coronavirus on the basis of the technological know-how, capabilities, and boldness that have existed in IAI since its inception.  The best minds in the]company have enlisted in the campaign to protect Israel and help the healthcare system. We are proud to team up with Group 42 from the United Arab Emirates and represent the first step toward future partnerships between the two countries.” Israel and the UAE do not have formal diplomatic relations, but they are believed to maintain close behind-the-scenes contacts because of their shared concerns about Iran.

Yediot Ahronot includes a poll asking if the Knesset elections were held today which party would you vote for? The Likud is firmly in the lead with 38 seats. This, however, represents a 3-seat drop compared to the previous poll. Yesh Atid-Telem led by Yair Lapid solidifies its position as the second-largest party with 17 seats, while the Joint List led by Ayman Odeh maintains its strength with 15 seats. Blue and White, however, continues to weaken, receiving only 10 seats in the poll. Yamina, led by Naftali Bennett, and Shas, headed by Aryeh Deri, with 9 seats each.  United Torah Judaism receives 8 seats in the poll, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu 8 seats, and Meretz with 6 seats. Remaining below the electoral threshold is the Labour Party, Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher and the Derech Eretz partnership of Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser.