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Media Summary

Israel and EU to sign natural gas export deal

The BBC, Reuters, Guardian, Financial Times and Independent report on President Biden’s upcoming trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Biden is expected to meet Mohammed bin Salman (for the first time as President) during his visit to Jeddah despite a 2020 pledge to render the Saudi Crown Prince a ‘pariah’ for ordering the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Kashoggi. However, rising fuel prices have helped convince the Biden administration that this is not a good time to freeze the Saudis out.

Reuters follows comments by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Biden’s confirmed trip to Israel next month. The visit will help “integrate Israel into the Middle East,” Bennett’s office said in a statement.

The US defence contractor L3Harris is in talks to take over NSO Group’s surveillance technology, the Guardian reports, in a possible deal that would give an American company control over one of the world’s most sophisticated and controversial hacking tools. Multiple sources told the paper that discussions were centred on a sale of the Israeli company’s core technology – or code – as well as a possible transfer of NSO personnel to L3Harris. But any agreement still faces significant hurdles, including requiring the blessing of the US and Israeli governments, which have not yet given the green light to a deal.

The BBC reports on European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s trip to Israel and the West Bank. President Leyen announced that 2021 funds could be “disbursed rapidly” after she met Palestinian Authority officials. Months of delays had contributed to what the Palestinian Authority said was its worst financial crisis. The hold-up was caused by concerns that Palestinian textbooks glorified violence and promoted anti-Semitism. In Israel, she promised in a speech at a university to put “the fight against anti-Semitism and fostering Jewish life in Europe at the core of the European Commission’s agenda”.

The Financial Times also notes the EU is pushing ahead with efforts to boost its energy co-operation with Israel as it battles Russian energy “blackmail”. Von der Leyen said the EU was continuing preparations on two “major” infrastructure projects designed to bolster energy links with Israel: a gas and hydrogen pipeline in the eastern Mediterranean; and an underwater power cable linking Israel to Cyprus and Greece.

The Times notes that a virulently antisemitic medieval sculpture will be left on the façade of a German church after one of the country’s highest courts ruled against a Jewish plaintiff who claimed it defamed his religion. The Judensau (Jew-sow) relief depicts two hook-nosed caricatures of Jewish men suckling on the teats of a pig, while a rabbi lifts its tail and investigates its hind quarters. It was built into the southeast corner of the city church in Wittenberg, the hometown of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, in about 1290.

Reuters writes that the US said on Tuesday it awaits a constructive response from Iran on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal that excludes “extraneous” issues, a possible reference to Iran’s demand that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) be dropped from a U.S. terrorism list. “We await a constructive response from the Iranians, a response that leaves behind issues that are extraneous to the JCPOA,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

An Iranian ex-policeman threatened with deportation to Rwanda from the UK under a controversial plan has spoken of his relief after his ticket was cancelled, reports the BBC. The former commander had faced being flown to the African nation on Tuesday. He had said he feared being found and killed by Iranian agents there. The man had previously given testimony in the UK to an investigation into alleged Iranian atrocities in 2019.

The Guardian reports that Australia did not sign up to a US-led statement about Israel and the Palestinian territories, instead raising deep concerns about “human rights abuses and the lack of progress towards a just and enduring two-state solution”. Former foreign minister Gareth Evans says Albanese government’s decision to outline its own position sends ‘very clear message’.

In the Israeli media, Prime Minister Bennett spoke publicly yesterday for the first time about alleged Iranian plans to attack Israeli tourists in Turkey. Yediot Ahronot quotes the Prime Minister: “The State of Israel’s security apparatuses are doing everything to foil those terror attacks and to neutralise in advance their dispatchers and their dispatchers’ dispatchers. We won’t hesitate to use the State of Israel’s power anywhere in the world to protect our citizens.” However, while some Israeli tourists in Turkey have begun to take precautions, others have defiantly argued that they have nothing to be worried about. Over the last month several incidents were recorded in which Israelis were just moments away from being assassinated in Istanbul. Israeli authorities warned them in real time and sent people to whisk them away to the airport. The prevailing assessment is that at least one other terror cell that is comprised of Iranian and Turkish operatives is on the loose. A manhunt is underway to intercept that cell. Meanwhile, Maariv reports on a story about a group of Israelis tourists who were whisked off the streets of Istanbul directly to the airport because an IRGC Quds Force team was believed to be lying in wait for them back at their hotel.

Army Radio reports Israel will sign an agreement to export natural gas to the EU via Egypt this morning. Because of the shortage of natural gas created by the war between Russia and Ukraine, Israel will sign an agreement to export natural gas to the EU. The event will be attended by EC President Ursula von der Leyen, during which Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources Karin Elharar will sign the agreement that will, for the first time, make it possible to export a significant quantity of natural gas.

Israel Hayom reports that pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Bennett to agree to step down and to allow Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu to form an alternate government in the current Knesset. According to Matti Tuchfeld’s report, Bennett’s long-time ally, Ayelet Shaked, has also begun to urge him to consider that option. “If the government falls apart soon, Bennett’s first preference is to hold elections, but not at any price. If he cannot be prime minister of the transitional government or if he is not confident that running together with New Hope in a merged list will propel them past the electoral threshold, the option of forming a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu, in which he would serve as defence minister, will once again become a viable option from his perspective. As far as Shaked is concerned, this option is preferable to elections.”

Maariv follows revelations by Check Point Software Technologies who yesterday shared the findings of a comprehensive review in which the cybersecurity company found that Iranians had hacked several prominent Israelis’ email accounts over the course of a six-month period. The targets of the email hack were Israeli politicians, high-ranking civil servants, academics and high-profile businesspersons. Check Point’s findings were first turned over to the security forces, once the company found that one of the emails that had been hacked belonged to Amos Yadlin, a former director of military intelligence. Last December, Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister, received emails in Hebrew that supposedly had been sent to her by Amos Yadlin, in which he asked her to read an article that he had written about security developments in 2021.

The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel joined a 47-country bloc that denounced China’s forced imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council on Tuesday. It’s the second year in a row that Israeli has signed onto such a statement. Last year, the initiative to highlight China’s human rights abuses was led by Canada, with the support of the US and many European countries. This year it was spearheaded by the Netherlands. Israel, however, declined to sign a similar statement read out in the fall at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

All the papers note that A.B. Yehoshua, one of Israel’s most renowned writers, died yesterday at the age of 86. He will be laid to rest at 5pm this afternoon in the cemetery in Kibbutz Ein Carmel. He wrote dozens of novels, short stories, plays and articles and was famous in Israel and all over the world. President Herzog eulogised him and said that Jerusalem, Haifa and the State of Israel and the Jewish people had been his life.

Kan Radio notes that senior Health Ministry officials believe the rise in the number of people testing positive for Covid is only the tip of the iceberg. They said the true number becoming infected every day was between 15,000 and 20,000. They cited the current testing policy as the reason for the low official count, noting that many people test themselves at home and are under no obligation to take a test that is officially recorded. According to official data, more than 7,000 people tested positive on Monday. The number of people who got vaccinated yesterday was twice as many as had been recorded in the recent several days.