Iranian intelligence officials arrested in US over planned kidnapping of Iranian critics
BBC News and The Times report on the arrest of four Iranian nationals in the US who are charged with plotting to kidnap an Iranian author based in New York. The indictment from the US Department of Justice says that the target was chosen based on their critical views of Iran. Those charged are described as intelligence officials. It is believed the accused were planning to kidnap a journalist and political commentator based in the UK.
The Independent reports that Iran has launched an Islamic dating app with the goal of boosting birth and marriage rates in the country. The app, called Hamdam (Companion) was launched by an organisation under the authority of the Supreme Leader. In 2020 birth rates fell to a 100-year low while divorce rates have been on the rise since 2015.
A video report from BBC News examines the future of the children of the Islamic State. The report notes that the children are facing a lifetime of imprisonment. The report notes that “the children, whose parents supported the Islamic State, are being moved from desert camps to secure children’s homes, and onto adult prisons, in a conveyor belt of incarceration”.
A video report from The Guardian covers clashes in Lebanon between police and the relatives of victims of the Beirut port blast last year. The relatives were protesting outside the home of the country’s interior minister over his refusal to comply with the investigation into the bombing.
Frank Gardner writes for BBC News about the US’s softened position towards Saudi Arabia. He notes: “Before he became president, Joe Biden called Saudi Arabia ‘a pariah’ for its part in the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. As president, he authorised the release in February of a damning US intelligence report that pointed the finger of suspicion at Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman … but now, less than six months after taking office, the Biden administration has rolled out the red carpet for MBS’ younger brother, the Deputy Defence Minister, Prince Khalid Bin Salman.”
Kim Sengupta writes for The Independent about how the suspected coup in Jordan earlier this year revealed the limits of Saudi Arabia’s power and what implications that has for the wider region. He writes that what happened “shows how dynamics in the region are changing and that Jordan is willing to push back against the big players”.
The Financial Times writes about the latest point of tension in the Saudi-UAE relationship. The paper notes, “Trade threatens to become the latest flashpoint in the economic and strategic rivalry between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi and risks adding to tensions in the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council after Saudi Arabia imposed new tariffs on imports from its neighbours.”
In the Israeli media, most of the papers report about the coronavirus cabinet’s decision yesterday to cute quarantine requirements to one week, on condition of a negative test. At the same time there will be expanded oversight and enforcement of people who violate their quarantine period. The coronavirus cabinet is also reluctant to endorse the Health Ministry’s recommendation to renew the Green Certificate Programme on mass events of more than 100 people without funding in place for quick-result testing stations and PCR tests. In recent days there have been more than 50 confirmed cases of the Delta Plus variant, which Health Ministry officials consider to be more aggressive and worrisome. The coronavirus infection rate continues to rise, with 754 people testing positive for the virus yesterday. The number of people who are hospitalised in serious condition also rose, and stands at 53 as of this morning.
Kan Radio News reports that there was a drive-by shooting at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Border Police units arrested a 36-year-old suspect shortly after the incident. The suspect is an Israeli resident with a blue [Israeli] ID card. Police found a gun in his car when they searched it.
Maariv lists some of the newly-elected chairmen of the Knesset committees. The Knesset House Committee elected MK Nir Orbach (Yamina) to head the committee that oversees parliamentary life. The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee elected MK Ram Ben Barak (Yesh Atid) as chairman, and the Knesset Finance Committee elected MK Alex Kushnir (Yisrael Beiteinu) as chairman. Chairmanships of the rest of the Knesset committees have yet to be decided due to disagreements between the government and the parliamentary opposition. Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy expressed disappointment yesterday that his efforts to bridge the gaps between the government and the opposition in order to appoint MKs to the committees. “Over the past month I have put a lot of effort into trying to get the sides to compromise. Despite the fact that it is really not my job to bridge this gap, I took it upon myself. Last Saturday night I asked the sides to meet for a mediation session and was very disappointed that I was not successful. I am still extending my hand, and there are some proposals. I have disagreements with my fellow coalition members; I’m not happy about this situation.”
Yediot Ahronot writes that MK Nir Barkat has introduced a proposed amendment to Basic Law: Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel that could discomfit the Bennett-Lapid government and create tensions with the Americans ahead of the Biden administration’s plans to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem that will provide services to Palestinians. The amendment stipulates that “no country will open or plan a diplomatic representative office in Jerusalem to serve a foreign political entity”. “The bill was drafted in light of the Bennett-Lapid government’s intention to cave to international pressure by means of establishing consulates that will provide service to Palestinians inside Jerusalem,” said Barkat. “Aside from the political danger, that decision also poses a security risk and will allow Palestinians to enter Jerusalem.” Maariv also notes that the Likud tabled another bill yesterday to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation to apply Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank, designed to discomfit the right-wing parties in the coalition government. The bill will be discussed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation at its next meeting on Sunday.
The Times of Israel quotes several US Congress members who visited Ramallah last week and met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. According to the report, the congressional delegation expressed their disapproval over payments to terrorists and their families, with one member describing the closed-door meeting as “tense at times, as it was clear that we didn’t see eye to eye on a number of issues”. The congress members said Abbas defended the policy as a necessary form of welfare, without which the families of attackers would be left penniless. When pressed whether the PA offers similar stipends to families after a parent dies of cancer, the Palestinian officials present said they were working to establish such a support system and were in the process of reforming their existing policy.
Israel Hayom reports on comments made by Housing and Construction Minister Zeev Elkin at an event to mark the 16th anniversary of the withdrawal from Gaza. Elkin said: “It is clear that disengagement was one huge failure. That is what I thought at the time — it’s clear that disengagement nourished Hamas, allowing it not only to take power in the Gaza Strip but ultimately sent the message that Israel will fold under pressure, just like what happened in Lebanon under Ehud Barak. Of course, this greatly strengthened Hamas.” Speaking about Israel’s current policy vis-à-vis Gaza, Elkin said, “The new government is currently taking a more aggressive stance in order to change the balance not only of minor annoyances, but as part of an overall trend.” He also commented on the threats that were made by United Arab List MK Mazen Ghanaim, who said that the government would collapse if Israel were to attack Gaza. “We must not allow the UAL’s threat to impact security cabinet’s decisions. At no stage during the security cabinet’s deliberations did the phrase ‘hang on, what about Mazen Ghanaim…’