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Media Summary

Israeli data shows Pfizer jab reduces COVID-19 transmission by 89 per cent

The BBC, Guardian, Reuters and The Times reports on the interim agreement signed yesterday between Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, to extend UN inspectors’ access to its nuclear sites for three months. The agreement comes just before Iranian law on Tuesday requires the government to stop allowing the inspection at short-notice of declared or undeclared nuclear sites. However, the agreement will give IAEA officials less access and end their right to make snap inspections.

The Financial Times notes that new data from the Israeli Health Ministry suggests the COVID-19 vaccine made by BioNTech and Pfizer has been highly effective at preventing infection in Israel. The real world data showed that the vaccine was 89 per cent effective at preventing infection of any kind and 94 per cent effective against symptomatic infection. The initial clinical trial run by BioNTech and Pfizer found the vaccine was 95 per cent effective in preventing disease, but the real world data provides more insight.

The Independent writes that Israel’s vaccination drive has reached almost half of the country’s population, and parts of the economy have begun to reopen on Sunday – but only to those who are vaccinated, or are presumed to have immunity and can prove it with a “green pass”.

The Times reports that a new book by John Warrick claims that one of Syria’s top chemical weapons scientists secretly worked for the CIA for 14 years, passing details of the country’s clandestine programme to develop sarin gas and other deadly nerve agents. The revelations about the CIA spy at the heart of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction programme appear in Red Line and says that “the chemist”, known to the CIA, began his undercover mission in 1988 and survived without detection until 2001 when Syria’s intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, discovered that there was a mole working for the Americans.

The Guardian notes that Oxfam has accused the British government of prolonging the war in Yemen by allowing the export of air-to-air refuelling equipment that it fears could be used to help the Saudi air force conduct indiscriminate bombing in the country. The charity said technology that was licensed to Riyadh last summer when arms restrictions were lifted, alongside £1.4bn of other sales, can be used to help war planes fly longer missions at a time when the conflict is intensifying.

From playing a prominent role in the revolution against Colonel Gaddafi, Libyan women have been increasingly sidelined in attempts to get the country back to any form of stability, according to a new report in the Independent.

Reuters reports on White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan’s comments yesterday that the US had begun to communicate with Iran over the country’s detention of American citizens, calling the matter a “complete and utter outrage”. Iran has arrested dozens of dual nationals, including several Americans, in recent years, mostly on espionage charges.

In the Israel media, the papers report that 17 local authorities intend to open schools two days a week for seventh through to tenth grade, contrary to the instructions of the coronavirus cabinet that they only reopen on 9 March. The mayors of the local authorities, which include members of the Forum of Independent Cities, such as Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Haifa, Netanya, Herzliya, Ashdod and Petah Tikvah, made their decision last night. The association of secondary school principals said that it supported the announcement by the local authorities. In contrast, the Association of Secondary School Teachers in Israel said that in-person classes for seventh through tenth grade could not resume so long as the Education Ministry did not state otherwise.

Yediot Ahronot publishes a commentary by Ben-Dror Yemini who writes: “It could be that the mayors of the ‘forum of 15’ are right. After all, if most of the economy has reopened, there is no point in keeping seventh- to tenth-graders learning on Zoom… it could also be that the rabbis are right, who think that the yeshivas must remain open. But that is precisely the problem. With so many people deciding for themselves, we are losing governability… The question is not who is right… good reasons are not a reason for taking the law into one’s own hands… and if, God forbid, they reopen in violation of the government’s rules, this will constitute an independent policy, this will be anarchy. We have enough places in Israel where the central government has lost its grip. We have to fight to have greater governability, not to have more chaos.”

Kan Radio reports that the Health Ministry is considering imposing a night-time lockdown or traffic restrictions during the Purim holiday out of fear of mass gatherings. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein convened a meeting about the risk of COVID-19 cases rising over the holiday, but no recommendations have been formulated yet. Cabinet officials, including from Blue and White, reportedly support imposing restrictions on Purim. Defence Minister Benny Gantz believes that such measures are necessary to safeguard public health.

Maariv follows the decision by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee yesterday to extend the COVID-19 regulation mandating that people must quarantine in hotels after returning from overseas, which was set to expire last night at midnight, by only 24 hours. The committee chairman, MK Yaakov Asher questioned the effectiveness of the quarantine hotels and first announced that the committee would not vote on the quarantine protocols. However, Health Ministry Director of Public Health Services Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis asked to have the protocols extended by 24-48 hours in order to allow the cabinet to find other solutions. One is examining for returnees to wear an electronic monitoring device upon returning to Israel.

Yediot Ahronot reports that Deputy Minister Fateen Mulla (Likud) recently held talks with officials from the PLO Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society to discuss how to encourage Arab Israelis to vote for the Likud, or at least to refrain from voting for the Joint List. According to Palestinians sources in Ramallah, the talks were based on the assumption that Palestinian officials prefer Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom they know, over Gideon Saar or Naftali Bennett. However, the Likud issued a statement, which said: “Utter nonsense. Everyone knows that the Palestinian Authority would rather have Lapid as prime minister instead of Netanyahu, thanks to whom this was the safest year in terms of security since the country was founded.” Deputy Minister Mulla said the talks were “low-level talks” and that “we’re trying to do what’s good for the people of Israel and the Middle East”.

A report in Yediot Ahronot says the ultra-Orthodox Shas party has opened an election headquarters and a permanent branch in the West Bank. Minister of Religious Affairs Yaakov Avitan, who is in charge of the new headquarters, yesterday declared at the ceremony: “Shas is the natural home of the settlers. Anyone who cares about the Land of Israel and the Torah of Israel knows that they will find a warm home here.” Shas are hoping to attract settlers in the West Bank by highlighting what it has done for them, such as the establishment of the settlement Amichai by Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri in his capacity as interior minister. Shas is planning to establish branches in other regional councils.

Yediot Ahronot also follows the internal rift in the Labour Party over old statements made by Ibtisam Mara’ana, who is seventh on the party’s list. Gil Beilin, who is in tenth place on the Labour party list, has called on Mara’ana to drop out on the grounds that she is causing the party damage. He wrote in a letter to Mara’ana: “If you care about the Labor Party, you should make the decision that only you can make: withdraw your candidacy from the list so as not to hurt the party’s chances in the elections. It was hard for me to learn of the statements that you made and I can understand the many people who told me that they were leaving the party.” Mara’ana posted her response last night: “Does an Arab woman scare you? Deal with it.”