Media Summary

Israel to introduce fourth vaccine dose

BBC News, The Financial Times and The Telegraph report that Israel is set to become the first country to roll out a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine after heath experts recommended it for healthcare workers and over-60s. The fourth shot will give greater protection against the Omicron variant. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said: “This is wonderful news that will assist us in getting through the omicron wave that is engulfing the world.”

The Guardian writes Iran has implied that Saudi Arabia blocked efforts to save the life of Iran’s ambassador to Yemen after he contracted COVID-19. The diplomat was not repatriated immediately for urgent medical care, and Iran’s foreign minister said he “was evacuated in poor condition due to delayed cooperation from certain countries”. Saudi Arabia responded by saying they helped get the ambassador out of Yemen before he died, according to Reuters. Saudi Arabia facilitated the evacuation on humanitarian grounds within 48 hours of being informed of his condition. It also provided permits and logistical support for his evacuation.

The Associated Press reports that old batteries in Gaza, which almost every household relies on, are now posing health and environmental risks. The inability to safely dispose the batteries is ushering in a new crisis. The report notes: “Gaza’s Environment Authority estimates that there are 25,000 tons of old batteries piled up at several locations across the tiny and overcrowded coastal territory. There are no recycling facilities in Gaza and a punishing blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt prevents shipping the batteries abroad for safe disposal. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, used batteries create a number of risks to public health and the environment. Different types of batteries contain potentially dangerous types of metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium, while some can catch fire. Such risks are especially acute in Gaza, where the health care system has been ravaged by years of conflict and lack of funds and where the environment is already in dire condition. Nearly all of Gaza’s water is undrinkable due to high saline levels caused by overextraction.”

In the Israeli media, Kan Radio reports that the Health Ministry’s advisory committee has recommended a fourth coronavirus vaccine dose be administered to all people over the age of 60, people with compromised immune systems and healthcare workers. The committee recommended that the extra booster shot be given to people who qualify four months after receiving the third vaccine dose. The committee also recommended shortening the waiting period between the second and third vaccine doses to three months. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett asked to begin immediate preparations for administering a fourth vaccine dose, saying: “We need to make sure that we are trailblazers in this new wave of infection, just as we were in the previous wave of infection.” Another 340 people have tested positive for the Omicron variant in Israel. Health Ministry officials said it was their assessment that infection with the Omicron variant currently accounted for between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of all coronavirus infections in Israel. They anticipate that the Omicron variant will be the dominant variant in Israel within two weeks’ time.

All the media note that the coronavirus cabinet decided yesterday not to impose any new restrictions on public gatherings. “We’ll know in a week-and-a-half just how serious this virus is,” said Prime Minister Bennett, who urged ministers top start imposing restrictions now. “The choice is between light restrictions now or severe ones later.” However, many ministers disagreed with the analysis presented by the prime minister and senior Health Ministry officials. Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said: “To date, 12 people in the entire world have died from Omicron. I do not see that Omicron is having a greater impact than the flu. I don’t think that at this stage it would be appropriate to take steps to impose limits on gatherings. This would put us in a world of compensation, and I don’t want to go there.”

Maariv follows the latest attack in the West Bank yesterday when a Palestinian vehicle rammed into a military vehicle near the settlement Einav. Several IDF soldiers were sitting in the car but suffered no fatalities, and the soldiers opened fire on the driver and killed him. Two soldiers from the Golani Brigade sustained very light injuries and did not require any medical attention. Both vehicles caught fire. The assailant’s body was recovered from the Palestinian vehicle.

Yediot Ahronot publishes excerpts from a feature interview with incoming IAF commander Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, who will replace current commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin in April 2022. Bar spoke about tensions between Jerusalem and Washington, saying, “The United States is more than just a friend, and they want to help create deep and genuine cooperation.” Speaking on the US refusal to push up the delivery date of refuelling aircraft that would be critical to an IAF strike against Iran, Bar said: “I don’t know what the reason is for the refusal, but I still haven’t exhausted the option of moving up the receipt of at least two refuelling planes.” In the event of a war with Iran, Bar predicted that Hezbollah would attack Israel “the moment that Israel attacks Iran,” but added the following stern warning: “In the third Lebanon war there will be firepower that is hard to describe. We’re not talking about ramping up the volume on the same radio … Hezbollah, humbly speaking, can’t imagine our fire power.” Bar also implicitly denied a recent New York Times report as if the IDF were currently incapable of carrying out an effective air strike against the Iranian nuclear program, responding with a simple “yes” to the question of whether the IAF could strike “tomorrow”.

Channel 13 News reports that US President Joe Biden is ignoring requests to take phone calls from Prime Minister Bennett. At least one attempt was made three weeks ago to hold a telephone conversation between the prime minister and the president — and that request has gone unanswered. The article says the prime minister would like to speak with President Biden to discuss the nuclear talks in Vienna. The Prime Minister’s Bureau issued the following statement: “No formal request was made to arrange a conversation between the prime minister and the president of the United States. Once a request is made, we are confident that it will be approved.”

Yediot Ahronot reports that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is currently in Israel and spoke last night with President Herzog. Today he is expected to meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. He is also due to visit Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Sullivan’s visit will focus on the Iranian issue but are also expected to touch on a variety of other regional and international issues. A senior White House official said ahead of Sullivan’s visit that time was running out for negotiations to return to the JCPOA, and that the US is concerned about Iran’s progress on the nuclear programme.