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Media Summary

Hezbollah denies connection to drug trade

BBC News reports that talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over a dam on the Nile river have collapsed. Egypt is concerned the dam will severely impact the country’s water supply. The United States along with the World Bank attempted to lead mediation efforts surrounding disagreement about the dam, fearing further escalation would destabilise the region.

BBC News reports that an Israeli diamond magnate will face trial in Geneva over allegations of corruption related to a major mining deal. Beny Steinmetz is a former Swiss resident and is accused of winning rights to mine a large area in Guinea by bribing one of the wives of former Guinean President Lansana Conte. Steinmentz could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The paper also notes how rare it is for such a corruption trial to proceed in Switzerland.

BBC News reports that the leader of Lebanese-based Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah denied allegations of links to large scale amphetamine production. In the summer of 2020 nearly 30,1000 lbs of the drugs were seized in Italy and while authorities refused to comment publicly on the origin of the drugs, it is most likely the drugs were produced in factories in areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar al Assad. US and European authorities have long accused Hezbollah of profiting from drug trade and Israeli authorities blamed the group for drug smuggling.

The Independent reports that Israel has denied a request from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to immediately vaccinate Palestinian health workers. The request from the WHO came amid growing concerned of a public health disaster in the Palestinian territories. Israeli authorities denied the request citing shortages of vaccinations for their own citizens.

The Guardian reports on the journey of 29 year old Noor from Yemen to the UK. The report details her escape from the war torn country and arduous trip to the UK: “Anushka Asthana talks to Noor, 29, who escaped from Yemen when her life was threatened because of her work as a human rights campaigner focusing on girls’ rights to education and the right for children not to be forced into marriage. Noor was forced into marriage at the age of 14, but later managed to divorce her husband. She travelled alone with only smugglers and other desperate migrants for company on a terrifying eight-month journey to Britain. Noor was determined to flee not only because her own life was in danger, but also in the hope of rescuing her four children from the Yemen civil war once she had reached safety, and because her children’s lives would be at risk if she remained in the country. She describes the devastating impact of leaving them behind. Her oldest daughter is at risk of child marriage in Yemen, and she says time is running out to bring her children to safety.”

The Times reports on the state of Lebanon’s infrastructure, specifically its railway system. The paper notes that last summer’s Beirut blast left a devastating blow to the country’s infrastructure and further underscored the need for a functioning railway: “The continuing existence of a railway administration, with 300 staff, in a country whose railways were all destroyed in a civil war that ended three decades ago is a paradox unique to Lebanon. It is a country whose bureaucracy exists to provide opportunities for sectarian political patronage as much as services like railways.”

Jake Wallis Simons writes for The Spectator about “What Amnesty International gets wrong about Israel’s vaccine programme.” He notes that claims that Israel is “denying Covid-19 vaccines to Palestinians… is an easy narrative to get behind. But it fails to account for a simple fact: the Palestinian leaders themselves haven’t complained… Corruption, factionalism, a lack of proper elections – Mahmoud Abbas is currently 16 years into a four-year term – and incompetence had resulted in a government that often struggled to meet the basic needs of its citizens.”

Reuters reports that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday that the US will move to designate Yemen’s Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist organisation. A statement released yesterday read: “The Department of State will notify Congress of my intent to designate Ansar Allah sometimes referred to as the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).” There is growing concern among aid groups that such a designation would further threaten peace talks and exacerbate the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

The Associate Press reports on Gidon Saar emerging as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top challenger in Israel’s upcoming election. The report notes “Now, the telegenic Saar, armed with extraordinary political savvy and a searing grudge against his former boss, could prove to be Netanyahu’s greatest challenge…  his entry into the race reconfigures the playing field and could complicate Netanyahu’s task of forming a coalition government, perhaps sidelining the Israeli leader after more than a decade at the helm.”

The Associate Press reports that a delegation of South Korean diplomats arrived in Iran on Sunday amid ongoing tensions of Iran’s seizer of a South Korean flagged oil tanker. Iran is demanding South Korea release $7 billion in cash held in the country’s banks due to US sanctions. The report notes that a South Korean diplomat was able to meet with one of the crewmembers who said that he and the other 19 individuals aboard the ship were safe.

The Israeli media focuses on the split between Yesh Atid and Telem. Telem leader Moshe Yaalon presented his four new candidates yesterday: Professor Hagai Levine (former chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians), prominent anti-Netanyahu activist Gonen Ben Itzhak, former science and technology minister Izhar Shay, and Karin Meir Rubinstein, president of the Israeli Association of Advanced Industries. Yaalon had also included Ayman Abu Raya on his party’s Knesset list but later removed him after learning that he was a suspect in a corruption case. Yaalon explained the decision based on the party’s values, first and foremost the value of setting a personal example. Abu Raya said that that he was unaware of any allegations against him and that he accepted Yaalon’s decision. On Army Radio, Yaalon called for all centre-left to unite: “In the end, all the splinters of all the parties must unite to form an alternative government. We will find the way to talk about that. This is not about right wing and left wing.”

Maariv reports on Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s zoom call with journalists yesterday. Lapid said he was opened to the idea of forming a new government with New Hope after the elections, saying: “Gideon is a through-and-through right winger who supports annexation and thinks that a radical change in the justice system is needed. He is proud of his close ties with the Haredi parties and he introduced the minimarkets law. On all of those issues we are on opposite sides of the ethical divide, but that won’t stop us from forming a government.” Lapid also spoke about the split with Telem. He said he would not rule out a future merger with Yaalon again “as long as that merger strengthens our principles,” and called for more mergers in the center-left bloc, saying: “I think that we need to create mergers among liberal parties, people who believe that the country needs to nurture the middle class and to protect the courts. Anyone who believes in that needs to join.” Lapid said that Yesh Atid was open to negotiating with all the left-wing parties and would not reject any of them outright. Lapid also presented his party’s views on various issues, “We are opposed to insane annexations; we’re against religious coercion; we’re in favour of advancing liberal legislation and protecting the rule of law.”

Yediot Ahronot reports on efforts by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s inner circle to create a merger between Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. Their goal is to prevent any right-wing votes from being lost in the upcoming election were a party to fail to cross the electoral threshold. The only viable option that Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit has at present is to run with Smotrich’s Religious-Zionist Party, which is part of the Yamina faction but is in a dispute with its leader, Naftali Bennett. Ben Gvir has so far refused to meet with Smotrich, suspecting that the latter is only interested in strengthening his leverage in talks Bennett over securing 4 places in the top 10 of Yamina’s list in the upcoming election. One source said Netanyahu had no problem with Smotrich using his meetings with Ben Gvir as leverage, as long as that would guarantee that he had four more MKs who would vote in favour of a future coalition with him.

In Channel 12 News, Amit Segal speculates that a merger between New Hope and Yamina would all but end Netanyahu’s hopes of forming a right-wing government. Segal writes: “Under those circumstances, the most Netanyahu will be able to achieve is a fifth election. Alternatively, New Hope-Yamina will be able to form a government. The Haredi parties, the left-wing parties and the centre parties will all know that that will be the only way of averting yet another election.”

A new poll by Radio 103FM this morning suggests that Smotrich would pass the electoral threshold were he to break from Yamina. The poll gives Likud’s 27 seats, New Hope 17, Yamina 14, Yesh Atid 13, Joint List 10, Shas 8, UTJ 7, Yisrael Beiteinu 7, The Israelis 5, Blue and White 4, Meretz 4 and National Religious Party 4. The pro-Netanyahu parties — the Likud, Shas, UTJ and the Religious Zionist Party — would win 46 seats. Even if Yamina were to decide to join the coalition — though Bennett has refused to commit to either side — that would still grant a Netanyahu-led government just 60 seats, which is short the majority needed to form a government.

Kan Radio News reports this morning that Defence Minister Benny Gantz will not legalise any outposts built on state lands in the West Bank. At a meeting with the senior officials in his ministry, Gantz decided that the legalisation of such outposts would only begin after enforcement was increased against illegal construction beyond the Green Line and after the tools and the staff were given to the Civil administration. Israel does, however, intend to approve the construction of 850 housing units in the settlements prior to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden next week. Approximately 500 housing units will be approved for construction in Itamar, Beit El, Shavei Shomron, Oranit and Givat Zeev. About 250 housing units will be approved for the outpost of Nofei Nehemia. In Tal Menashe, where Esther Horgan lived, who was murdered in a terror attack last month, the process will begin to approve the construction of about 100 housing units.

Yediot Ahronot also reports about the rising tension in the West Bank, particularly between settlers and the IDF. On Saturday evening, leader of the Golani Commando Unit Lt. Col. Kayouf was attacked when clearing a road during a demonstration near the settlement Kedumim to protest the death of Ahuvia Sandak, who was killed during a police car chase after a stone-throwing incident. The paper notes, “This demonstration should be seen as part of a troubling trend in the territories. There has been a rise in the number of price tag operations, and of attacks on Palestinians and against the security forces since Sandak’s death. IDF and GSS sources have warned about a worrying rise in the number of acts of terrorism against Palestinians and are concerned that this might ultimately result in casualties, escalating tensions and possibly leading to a loss of control. They are not worried only about roads being and stone-throwing, but are worried about possible terror attacks with live weapons.” Chief of Staff Lt.  Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Defence Minister Gantz condemned the attack on Kayouf. “The attack on IDF soldiers, who spend their day and nights defending the country’s citizens, by the settlers whom they protect is wrongful behaviour that we must condemn and take vigorous action against,” Kochavi wrote. Gantz promised: “The recent phenomenon of violence will be dealt with harshly.”