Iran conducts military drill in Gulf
The BBC, Guardian, Associated Press and Independent report that Iran has launched missiles at a mock-up of a US aircraft carrier in the strategic Strait of Hormuz. The military drills included fire so heavy that the US military temporarily put two regional bases on alert. The US Navy condemned the “irresponsible and reckless behaviour by Iran”, labelling it an attempt “to intimidate and coerce”. The drills – named Prophet Mohammed 14th – were broadcast on state television.
The Times reports that attempts by an Israeli city to foster Jewish and Arab harmony by raising a statue to Egypt’s most celebrated singer, Umm Kulthum, have been criticised by hardliners over her historic opposition to Zionism. She performed in her younger days in Haifa, a city then in British Mandate of Palestine, now Israel’s third largest city. Haifa maintains a substantial Arab minority and prides itself on its multi-ethnic co-operation. The statue has been promoted by Raja Zaatry, an Arab member of the council, and backed by Einat Kalisch-Rotem, the Jewish mayor, who said that the decision to approve it showed how the city was a “model of co-existence”. Some of Kulthum’s songs included fierce anti-Israel rhetoric. The reports notes that Yair Netanyahu, son of the Israeli prime minister, called the decision “shameful,” whilst a Likud member said that he was “saddened” by the decision to honour a woman who called for the destruction of the Israeli state.
The Telegraph leads with Britain’s ambassador to Iraq being targeted by a graphic propaganda campaign after he encouraged Iraq to turn its back on armed groups that operate outside the law. One militia group with ties to the Iranian regime, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, published a series of posts on the messaging app Telegram which warned the senior diplomat to keep his views to himself. The warning was accompanied by two polaroid-style photographs of the ambassador, which were edited so that his face and head were smeared with blood.
The annual Hajj pilgrimage by Muslims from around the world is beginning in Saudi Arabia, but is dramatically scaled back because of coronavirus according to reports in the BBC and Associated Press. Only 10,000 pilgrims are expected, as opposed to the usual two million. The vast majority normally come from abroad, but this year the only foreigners allowed to attend are those who reside in the Saudi kingdom. The kingdom has recorded more than 270,000 cases with nearly 3,000 deaths, one of the largest outbreaks in the Middle East.
The Times and the Independent note that two of Egypt’s biggest female social media stars have been jailed for two years for “violating family values”. They had millions of followers on TikTok where they posted clips of themselves dancing and joking. One of the women, Haneen Hossam, a 20-year-old archaeology student, was accused of inciting girls to join a social media site for money. It was implied that she was effectively trafficking young girls for prostitution. Last month, a belly dancer, Sama al-Masry, was jailed for three years. About half a dozen girls are awaiting trial on similar charges in Egypt after MPs and other conservative figures in Egypt complained.
The coronavirus outbreak has shone a spotlight on the treatment of millions of foreign workers across the oil-rich Gulf, says a new report in The Financial Times. Many have lost their jobs as businesses have closed, and thousands have left. Now there are questions about how many will return and whether Gulf governments will use the crisis to improve workers’ conditions.
All the Israeli media focus on the Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu’s press conference last night in which he laid out the fundamentals of his strategy for dealing with the pandemic. Sarit Rosenblum writes in Yediot Ahronot that “Professor Gamzu succeeded in conveying his message more credibly and convincingly than any of his predecessors had.” Sarit adds: “The fact that the new coronavirus czar didn’t hesitate in his first week to enlist the IDF to help fight this war and that he asked it to do the critical job of severing the chains of infection is very impressive. The decision to hold the professional discussions with a large number of experts with different views, some of which are diametrically opposed to his own, is also encouraging. At long last we have someone who is prepared to set his own professional ego aside and to try to reach a consensus among everyone who might be able to pull us out of the mud.”
Writing in Ma’ariv, Ben Caspit also praises Professor Gamzu’s appearance yesterday as “persuasive, compelling and professional”. Capsit says, “The peak moment arrived when Gamzu dropped his gloves and explained to his audience, including Netanyahu and Edelstein, that the time has come to turn responsibility over to the security establishment.” A total of 1,865 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, placing the number of people actively sick at around 33,600. According to Health Ministry data, 314 COVID-19 patients are in serious condition, among whom 97 are on ventilators. Eight people died yesterday of the coronavirus, bringing the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Israel to 486.
All the Israeli media also report on the decision by Coalition chair Miki Zohar to fire fellow Likud colleague Yifat Shasha-Biton as chairwoman of the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee. Shasha-Biton said that her actions on the committee had been informed by her conscience, and that the decision to fire her stemmed from the coalition’s desire to prevent serious debate, dialogue and listening to the public. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly supported Zohar’s decision to punish Likud faction members who had failed to comply with faction discipline, saying that the Likud could not govern without discipline, especially during the coronavirus crisis.
Kan Radio News notes this morning that Likud MK Shlomo Karai has launched an initiative to collect signatures from Likud MKs to oust Miki Zohar as coalition chairman and as Likud faction chairman. Karai said: “Anyone who acts like a bully and briefs [journalists] against his fellow faction members should not expect that to be met with silence.” Several high-ranking Likud ministers reportedly support Karai’s initiative to oust Zohar in the aftermath of recent clashes within the Likud faction. However, Netanyahu spoke yesterday with Karai and demanded that he drop the initiative immediately.
Ma’ariv follows last night’s protests in Tel Aviv where several demonstrators were attacked with tear gas, one demonstrator had a glass bottle thrown at him and another was injured with a stone. Approximately 1,000 people attending the demonstration near the home of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, protesting against his efforts to suppress the public protest against Prime Minister Netanyahu. The demonstration was dispersed after midnight following clashes that erupted between police and some demonstrators. Organisers said that the incidences of violence were the result of incitement. They said that five demonstrators had to be taken to hospitals for medical treatment after being stabbed by supporters of Prime Minister Netanyahu. The police announced that four suspects were arrested for questioning yesterday for allegedly disturbing the peace and assault.