Foreign Secretary Truss to meet Iranian counterpart at UN
The BBC, Independent and The Telegraph report that newly installed Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will push for the release of a dozen Western dual nationals being held by Iran when she meets her Iranian counterpart later today at the UN in New York. The BBC focuses on one prisoner currently held in Iran, Anoosheh Ashoori, who lived in the UK for 20 years but was arrested in Iran after flying out to see his mother. The UK-based families of Iranian prisoners believe their relatives are being held hostage, partly as bargaining chips over a £400m debt that Britain owes Iran for a decades-old arms deal that was never fulfilled.
The Independent and Reuters follows reports in Israel that former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mocked Joe Biden as he repeated a previously debunked claim that the US president had dozed off during a meeting with new Israeli leader Naftali Bennett last month.
The Financial Times publishes its ‘Big Read’ titled, “‘More of China, less of America’: how the superpower fight is squeezing the Gulf”. Caught between long-term ally Washington and an economically powerful Beijing, Middle East states are struggling to balance relations says the paper.
Reuters reports that Syria’s defence minister visited Jordan on Sunday to discuss stability on their mutual border. According to officials, it was the first such meeting since the Syrian conflict erupted a decade ago when the two neighbours supported opposing factions. Jordan is reportedly concerned about the growing presence of Iranian-backed forces on its border and has appealed to Russia to rein in Iran’s entrenchment in Syria.
The Guardian publishes a new video report on a demonstration in Kabul by women holding up signs calling for the participation of women in public life. The protest came as female government employees in Kabul were told to stay home, with work only allowed for those who cannot be replaced by men. The order was given by the interim mayor of Kabul, detailing the latest restrictions on women by the new Taliban rulers.
The Times follows speculation over the future world supply of opium after the Taliban has promised to outlaw selling it. Helmand, the main opium cultivating province in Afghanistan, has no plans to stop growing the crop that supplies most of Europe’s heroin, however. Abdul Ahad, 45, the provincial governor, who is known to the Taliban as Talib Mawlawi, said that it was up to the rest of the world to find another income for farmers before it could be banned. Afghanistan is the biggest opium producer in the world, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, accounting for more than 80 per cent of supply. It also made up 11 per cent of Afghanistan’s economy in 2018.
The Financial Times reports that the first public visits by Iran’s new hard-line president Ebrahim Raisi have made clear his top priority — accelerating imports of COVID-19 vaccines into a country hard hit by the pandemic and not a return to nuclear talks in Vienna.
In the Israeli media, the capture of the two remaining escapees from the Gilboa Prison break dominate the headlines this morning. Yediot Ahronot’s military affairs commentator, Alex Fishman, writes: “The operation is over but not done, and not only because the interrogations are still underway either. It is over but not done because of the rot that allowed for this disgraceful prison break to happen in the first place. The Shin Bet and the IDF will continue to capture terrorists and take them into custody. The question is whether the government and the Prison Service have the capacity to keep them behind bars. The government is trading in the most dangerous among them in a deal with Hamas, while the Prisons Service is dozing in the watchtower.” Yoav Limor makes a similar point in Israel Hayom, arguing: “The disparities that came to light between Israel’s two security arms is without precedent. One is the particularly muscular arm that the Shin Bet, the IDF and the SWAT team embodied yesterday in the capture of the terrorists, demonstrating the kind of surgical capability that few armies in the world have, with its combination of intelligence and execution. This ability has been perfected since Operation Defensive Shield into an art, enabling them to arrest terrorists nightly and to prevent many terror attacks. But the second arm of this body is incredibly inadequate. The Prison Service showed its incompetence and unprofessionalism, plus every other superlative imaginable. The fact that the entire chain of command that was involved in the fiasco has yet to resign shows the degree to which the professional ethic there is rotten.”
Maariv reports that the Bennett-Lapid government announced yesterday its policy goals for the duration of its term. The central issues that the 27 cabinet ministers intend to focus on are as follows: improving service to the citizens, with special emphasis on digital services; the war against the coronavirus; coping with the climate crisis; advancing Arab society in Israel; and easing regulatory red tape. The government’s goals were published in the context of the coalition’s efforts to draft a state budget for 2021 and 2022, and are designed to serve as a complementary means to synchronise the government’s actions and to restore the public sector to proper and full functionality. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said: “Just like a ship can’t be steered without a compass, the cabinet ministers also need to define for themselves and for the public what are the goals that they aspire to achieve, and what are the central spheres [of action] to which they wish to devote energy and resources.”
Haaretz follows a new study in Israel which shows a booster shot of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine significantly reduces viral load in patients infected with the delta variant, and therefore reduces the chances of transmission. The researchers concluded that about six months after someone receives the second dose of the vaccine, its effectiveness at reducing viral load dissipates. According to Health Ministry data, 6,500 people tested positive yesterday for COVID-19, accounting for 5.2 per cent of all tests processed. There are 730 people hospitalised in serious condition, 194 of them on ventilators. Thirteen people died yesterday from the virus, and since the start of the outbreak in Israel, 7,541 people have died.
Yediot Ahronot notes that Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana (Yamina) has drawn up new criteria for receiving state funding for building synagogues that gives a significant advantage to settlements in the West Bank, giving NIS 20 million to 30 local authorities where there is a shortage of buildings designated to be houses of worship. This money is given every year, but for the first time, it gives preference to a “locality or a neighbourhood located in a place of security sensitivity”. Officially, the new criteria make no explicit mention of the West Bank, only referring to places close to Israel’s borders, but that is only for legal reasons. Officials who were involved in drawing up the criteria confirmed that the goal was to give the bulk of the money to the settlements. “The document appears to be tailored to Judea and Samaria. It’s fairly clear that this is where the money will go,” one official said.
Kan Radio follows Opposition Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu’s Facebook broadcast yesterday in which he appeared to be mocking US President Joe Biden for his behaviour when meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the White House. “Yes, I heard about the meeting. I heard that Biden was very attentive. He was very attentive in that meeting; he dropped his head in assent,” Netanyahu said while he let his head drop forward to his chest, alluding to claims by right-wing figures that President Biden had fallen asleep at the meeting. The Likud later issued a statement saying Netanyahu had not been criticising President Biden, for whom he has great esteem and values as Israel’s friend for 40 years, and that his criticism was directed only at Naftali Bennett, who in his visit to the White House, had spoken at great length about nothing. Yediot Ahronot reports that Netanyahu’s imitation raised a number of quizzical eyebrows in political corridors. Some people described Netanyahu’s behaviour as “miserable and ugly,” accusing him of being willing to damage Israel’s relations with the US by insulting the president in his effort to criticise Bennett.