Israel launches new spy satellite
The BBC, Guardian and The Times lead with comments from Iran’s nuclear energy body that the fire at the Natanz enrichment site has caused “significant damage”. The fire hit a centrifuge assembly workshop. Some Iranian officials have blamed possible cyber-sabotage. Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, said on Sunday that security officials were not talking about what caused the Natanz fire “because of security reasons”. Natanz is Iran’s largest uranium enrichment facility. The Times speculates that Saudi Arabia, perhaps even cooperating with the Israelis, could have been behind the fire.
The Associated Press reports that Israel’s Defence Ministry has announced the successful launch of a new spy satellite early on Monday, giving the country what officials said was an additional tool in keeping tabs on its many threats across the region. The “Ofek 16” joins a fleet of Israeli spy satellites that have been launched over the past two decades. While officials did not identify specific threats, Iran, which Israel accuses of trying to develop nuclear weapons, is first among them.
The Associated Press reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 28-year-old son has emerged as a driving force in a counterattack against critics and the state institutions prosecuting the long-time Israeli leader. Yair Netanyahu has attacked the Israeli media, judiciary and law enforcement for conducting what he has called a leftist, ideological crusade to topple his father. He’s called for the attorney general to be investigated for his “crimes,” compared the police chief to fictional mob boss Tony Soprano and described investigators as the Stasi, Gestapo and “the political police of the Israeli junta”.
Lebanon is on the verge of economic collapse, according to reports in the Financial Times and The Telegraph. Lebanese hospitals have been hit by power cuts of up to 14 hours, bailout talks have stalled and the country has been experiencing regular demonstrations and political turmoil since October, when its currency began a downward slide that has seen it lose more than 80 per cent of its value against the US dollar. Lebanon, a nation of approximately six million, holds more than $92bn of public debt. The country defaulted on its loans for the first time in March as the central bank’s reserves dwindled.
The Guardian reports that Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, was heckled and denounced as a lair as he spoke in parliament on Sunday. Zarif was speaking to the newly elected and conservative-dominated parliament for the first time and had to wait for the speaker to restore order as he was accused of selling the country out by negotiating with the US over the JCPOA nuclear deal in 2015. Zarif said: “You can say whatever you want, but the martyr [IRCG Quds Force commander] Suleimani and I had weekly meetings. We coordinated with each other every week. In regional talks, whatever we did we coordinated with each other. Those who know Suleimani … and the Iraqi, Lebanese and Palestinian resistance, they know, and not you.”
The Independent notes that the trial of Jamal Khashoggi began on Friday in Istanbul. During the session, Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz testified for the first time in an open court against his alleged killers, though they are safely at home in Saudi Arabia. Witnesses also provided new details about what might have happened to Khashoggi. The defendants, including propagandist Saud al-Qahtani and former intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri, are being tried in absentia, as Saudi Arabia has refused to abide by Interpol warrants for the extradition of the men and harshly rejected the jurisdiction of the Turkish court. Riyadh has repeatedly demanded Turkey turn over any evidence it has collected in the case.
The Financial Times reports that the United Arab Emirates has announced a sweeping government restructuring, merging ministries and departments as the Gulf state chases economic revival in the wake of coronavirus lockdowns.
All the Israeli media address the spike in coronavirus deaths and the new restrictions being discussed at the Cabinet. Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch warned the Knesset Coronavirus Committee yesterday that this second wave is worse than the first and he presented a dismal scenario of 300-400 seriously ill patients by the end of the month. Professor Eli Wachsman, who heads the team advising Prime Minister Netanyahu, went so far as to say in an interview with Channel 12, “We’ve lost control of the virus. We have no information on 90 per cent of those who have been infected.” Health Ministry data show that from midnight on Saturday until 22:30 Sunday, there were 720 new cases of infection. The number of active cases is 11,700, of which 86 patients are in a serious condition and 27 are on ventilators. The number of people who have died from the virus stands at 331.
Ma’ariv and Kan Radio News report that the cabinet will convene today for an emergency discussion, in order to decide on additional steps in the battle against the coronavirus, including a reduction in the number of diners at restaurants, a reduction in the number of people on the beach, and a return to the capsule methods for school during vacation. Yesterday, the Coronavirus Committee, headed by MK Yifat Shasha Biton, approved orders that will limit as of this morning the number of attendees at weddings, bar- and bat-mitzvahs, and brises (circumcision ceremonies) in halls, gardens, bars, pubs, and clubs to only 50 people. Today the government will discuss limiting the number of diners at restaurants, after the discussion yesterday ended without a decision.
In Yediot Ahronot, Prof. Doron Gazit from Hebrew University warns: “All the indices indicate that the situation is getting worse. A steady rise in the number of sick has turned into a veritable deluge … in view of the fact that the daily number of sick is so high, and since a percentage of them will be very sick, it is urgent to immediately reduce infection — otherwise it will be impossible to avoid taking very strict steps, even a lockdown … the key word in a pandemic is adaptation. Adapting to the different life imposed on us because of the pandemic and still having a full life insofar as possible. The changes are temporary, but the need to be strict about maintaining them is essential to save lives. The bottom line is: we are at the 90th minute. The next two weeks are critical and could spell the difference between rampant morbidity that will lead to severe preventive measures that will strangle the economy, or the start of eradicating an outbreak of the pandemic.”
Kan Radio News reports that the Israeli Air Force attacked Hamas targets in the northern Gaza Strip last night in response to the three rockets that were fired at Israel. The IDF Spokesperson’s Office said that an underground Hamas infrastructure had been attacked. The rocket fire did not cause injuries or damage. The Iron Dome system intercepted one rocket and the two others fell in uninhabited areas in the Sdot Negev Regional Council.
In Yediot Ahronot, Alex Fishman writes: “What has been happening in the last few weeks in a variety of sites in Iran very much resembles the series of air strikes that were attributed to Israel against Iranian targets in Syria over the past few months. When the Iranians are weakened in Syria, that is the time to push them out, to hit their military institutions and to break the model of pro-Iranian militias in Syria. Now, when Iran is suffering from a huge socio-economic crisis, that is the time to try to destabilise the regime, to encourage domestic resistance, to compel Iran to invest money in defence and in rebuilding infrastructure at the expense of its military projects.”
The Israeli media report that Israel has successfully launched a new spy satellite into space this morning. The “Ofek 16” is an electro-optical satellite with advanced capabilities. Once it goes into orbit around the earth, the satellite will undergo a series of tests to ensure its intactness and the level of its performance.