Media Summary

Gantz opens inquiry in submarine and naval vessel purchases

The BBC and Independent report that rising numbers of coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip is threatening to overwhelm the Palestinian territory’s healthcare system within days, experts warn. Of Gaza’s 100 ventilators, 79 are already taken up by Covid-19 patients, said Abdelraouf Elmanama, of the strip’s pandemic task force. “In 10 days, the health system will become unable to absorb such a hike in cases and there might be cases that will not find a place at intensive care units,” Elmanama warned.

The Telegraph and The Times lead with the release of Jonathan Pollard, the former US Navy officer convicted of spying for Israel, who finished his parole and is expected to move to the Jewish state soon. The decision to lift his travel restrictions is seen as a parting gift to the Israelis from the Trump administration, which has heavily favoured Israel during its term. The 66-year-old convicted spy was released from federal prison in 2015 after serving 30 years and placed on parole. A five-year travel ban was placed on him.

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Tony Blinkin as his Secretary of State, which underlines the president-elect’s focus on restoring America’s traditional alliances, according to The Times. He was deputy secretary of state for the final two years of the Obama administration, and previously spent four years as Biden’s vice-presidential national security adviser. For further reading on Blinkin’s views on the Middle East, read BICOM’s latest briefing here.

The BBC explains the case of Shamima Begum, who ran away to Syria as a 15-year-old to join the self-proclaimed Islamic State. She is now in a refugee camp in Syria trying to get back home, but her British citizenship has been revoked by the government who say she poses a threat to national security. The Supreme Court is deciding exactly how her case should be handled, and its decision could have huge implications on how cases like Shamima’s are dealt with in the future.

The Guardian notes that Saudi Arabia is ending capital punishment for juvenile crimes, but campaigners fear at least 10 prisoners could be executed at any time. “There’s a huge gap between what they’re saying and the situation on the ground,” said one campaigner to the paper. “Reforms abolishing flogging as punishment took place at the same time. A week after the royal decree was published, the Ministry of Justice issued implementation regulations and a court circular to direct the reforms.”

The Hebrew media in Israel report this morning that Defence Minister Benny Gantz has decided to open an inquiry in the Defence Ministry to investigate the procedural aspects of the submarines and naval vessels purchases. The Likud criticised the decision, saying Gantz has failed to get out of the depths in the polls, so he was recycling the submarines to get votes while his party was busy with partisan infighting. Moshe Yaalon (Yesh Atid-Telem) welcomed the decision and said that there would be no choice but to see the criminal inquiry through or to establish a state commission of inquiry if the committee could not subpoena Netanyahu and others. The inquiry may face challenges from Attorney General Mandelblit who will not want the committee’s actions to undermine the criminal proceedings being held by the Police in “Case 3,000”.

Yediot Ahronot leads with an interview with Gantz, in which the alternate Prime Minister and Defence Minister said he had considered the opening of an inquiry for around two months. He added: “I examined all kinds of alternatives, and I also decided that there would be a balanced and good committee. Ultimately, a political context can indubitably be found for this, but more than the political context, this is a very serious matter that ought to be probed. I spoke about this with the prime minister earlier and I told him that I’m not out for his head, but that I am pursuing the matter.” Speaking about the government, Gantz said: “I’m not willing to bear the responsibility for a dysfunctional government. The country is working on a low flame at this time because Netanyahu has been preoccupied with other matters. Netanyahu is thinking of his trial first. It’s utter chaos.”

Commenting in Yediot Ahronot, Alex Fishman notes that while the inquiry committee “may look like a poodle — a tepid government committee with almost no teeth to examine bureaucratic procedure — it can turn into a vicious Rottweiler.” He writes: “The police have ostensibly already investigated the criminal angles, the attorney general decided from the outset that Netanyahu was not involved, and the State Attorney’s Office has since indicted a number of former senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office. So why is Netanyahu’s circle so scared?” Fishman claims that the inquiry “will discover very quickly that everything that was done in the procurement of the submarines and the defensive vessels was not done according to procedure… the top tiers of the Defense Ministry’s bureaucracy will pass — rightfully so — all the allegations and suspicious of flawed procedure to the prime minister’s circle. They were only the rubber stamp for the decisions that were forced on them and on the defense minister.”

In Israel Hayom, Amnon Lord attacks Benny Gantz for launching an investigation “on a matter that is strategic of the first order, for political reasons.” He accuses former high-ranking officials in the Defense Ministry of operating “vocal pressure groups with a strong media tailwind” to force a committee of inquiry “with the goal of crucifying the prime minister.” He also claims that there is no need for tenders to purchase submarines because since 1991, Germany has been Israel’s regular submarine supplier. He concludes by accusing the security establishment of “entangling Israeli society over and over in the last decade in scandals.”

The coronavirus cabinet will discuss preparations to reopen schools. The cabinet is expected to authorise fifth- and sixth-grade pupils to return to school tomorrow, and eleventh- and twelfth-graders a week later. The Education Ministry, the local authorities and several coronavirus cabinet ministers have been pressing to reopen schools for seventh through tenth grade in green cities. Kan Radio News notes that ministers Zeev Elkin and Izhar Shay will present the cabinet with a series of recommendations to increase the use of the track and trace app HaMagen 2, which is more accurate than the current method of intelligence surveillance. The minister will propose, inter alia, reducing the number of days in quarantine for the app’s users, giving a financial incentive, and making it part of the criteria for commercial activity. The ministers will also propose allowing businesses and stores that require customers to have the app active to admit more shoppers. However, there are legal impediments to implementing some of the recommendations.

Israel Hayom reports on the government’s new 1bn shekel (£224m) aid package to communities in along the Gaza border. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the plan “seeks to strengthen community support networks, further develop the local and regional economy, and bolster local government”. Such measures include increase budgets for resilience centres, tax benefits and property tax rebates, special security grants, agricultural technology development, boosting access to welfare services, enhancing the sense of personal security, developing tourism, strengthening formal and informal education, promoting industrial areas, community empowerment and infrastructure development.