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Media Summary

Norway votes against Qatar World Cup boycott

BBC News and The Telegraph report that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has called on the US and the West to “wake up” to Iran’s “regime of brutal hangmen,” referencing the country’s newly elected president, Ebrahim Raisi. Bennett’s remarks come as Iran, the US and other parties to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal continue talks in Vienna about a return to the agreement. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister said they were “now closer than ever” to a deal but US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said there was “still a fair distance to travel”. The Times reports that Israel is “dusting” off plans to attack nuclear infrastructure in Iran following the election of President Raisi. Bennett stressed that Iran “must never be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction that will enable it to not kill thousands, but millions”.

Reuters reports that E3 (UK, France and Germany) diplomats have stressed to the Iranians that ongoing negotiations over the JCPOA nuclear deal “cannot be open ended”. The diplomats added that the most difficult issues still need to be resolved.

The Associated Press reports that Iran’s nuclear power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr had undergone a temporary emergency state shutdown. The plan went online in 2011 with help from Russia, and Iran is required to send spent fuel rods back to China as a non-proliferation measure.

Patrick Wintour notes in The Guardian that the election of Ebrahim Raisi has further complicated a path back to the JCPOA nuclear deal between Iran and the US. Wintour notes that: “The hardliner president-elect has caused alarm in some countries, though Iran and the US say agreement can still be found.”

Borzou Daragahi profiles Ebrahim Raisi for The Independent. He writes about how Raisi “was groomed by the country’s powerful security establishment” and went “from being a relatively unknown judge to being the top elected official”.

The Financial Times reports how Iraqi militants have kidnapped and killed many political activists with the intention of creating an atmosphere of fear ahead of Iraq’s parliamentary elections in October. The paper notes that “despite government promises to protect activists and punish attackers, analysts have said powerful paramilitary groups aim to discourage voting and intimidate the two-year-old grassroots protest movement that wants political change in the oil-rich country”.

The Independent reports that Norway’s football federation rejected a move to boycott the 2022 Qatar World Cup despite the country’s human rights record. A number of country’s top clubs and grassroots activists are pushing for a boycott of the tournament. Reuters reports that Qatar will only allow fully vaccinated spectators to attend the 2022 World Cup, due to begin in November next year. Officials have indicated their intention to make vaccinations available for attendees not already immunised, but the logistics are still a work in progress.

All the main Israeli media outlets lead with news that thousands of passengers arrived from high-risk countries and were not tested for Coronavirus.

Maariv reports that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convened a meeting with key ministries on Sunday in light of a resurgent rate of infection in Israel and decided to bar people from travelling to high-risk countries and to enforce quarantine on arrival. Israel will require all departing passengers to fill out a form and sign a declaration pledging not to visit Argentina, Russia, India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil. Travel to these countries is banned altogether, unless approved in advance by the exceptions’ committee. Last Friday 2,832 people who arrived in Israel from overseas left Ben Gurion Airport without being tested for the coronavirus because of the large volume of passengers who arrived.

Haaretz reports that Israel’s Health Ministry recommended on Sunday the country vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds, following outbreaks of the Delta variant in the country. Kan News reports that the Health Ministry recommends that people in high-risk groups wear masks indoors and that it is considering reinstating the obligation to wear masks, first in schools and then in buildings and at Ben Gurion Airport.

Commentating on the events over the weekend, Sarit Rosenblum in Yediot Ahronot writes: “Anyone following coronavirus-related developments in the last few days could not help but feel as if we were in a rerun of what happened at the start of the pandemic in Israel: once again, supposedly localised incidences of infection that quickly swelled; once again, recriminations between the ministries over who is to blame; and once again, Health Ministry announcements sending hundreds of people who were exposed into quarantine.”

Israel Hayom reports on Prime Minister Bennett’s announcement that his government’s policy on Gaza would be different: “In the Gaza Strip, on the other side of the border, [people] are going to have to get used to a different Israeli mindset — one of initiative, of staunchness, of innovation. Our position is clear. Our enemies will know the rules. We will not tolerate violence. We will not tolerate trickles [of rocket fire]. We will neither understand nor accept [the actions of] rogue organisations. Our patience is spent. The residents of the Gaza periphery are not second-class citizens. Anyone who lives in Sderot, Ashkelon, Kfar Azza or Alumim is entitled to live in quiet and security, just like all citizens of the State of Israel.”

Yediot Ahronot features an interview with Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, a former director of IDF intelligence and the co-author of a recent document urging the new government to engage with the Americans and the Europeans on the Iranian nuclear deal. “One of the things that motivated us was the absolute knowledge that there are very high-ranking officials in the three European countries and in the US who don’t understand Israel’s silence. How is it possible that an agreement is being drawn up, or at least a return to the 2015 agreement, on a subject that we say is the greatest threat to Israel’s security and our voice is unheard?”  Zeevi-Farkash also says: “The establishment of a new government grants us a unique opportunity to change all this. We have to formulate a strategic plan with a senior team that can act in all the various channels and try and influence. For example, try and fix the damage that Netanyahu caused in relations with the Democratic Party so that we can use its traditional friendship against the Iranian threat.”

Amos Harel in Haaretz also comments on the document. He writes that several senior officials in the defence establishment warned recently that Israel must try to exploit a remaining narrow window of opportunity before the accord is signed in order to go over some details with the American and European signatories, adding that it appears that Prime Minister Bennett is receptive to this criticism.

Maariv provides an update on the vaccines that Israel sent to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which were reportedly sent back but now seem to be accepted. On Friday Israel delivered some 100,000 Pfizer coronavirus vaccine doses to the PA. Some of those doses are due to expire at the end of June and the rest are scheduled to expire a month later, at the end of July. Several hours after the vaccines were delivered, PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced that the Palestinians did not intend to use the vaccines on the argument that they were unfit for use because of the imminent expiration date. In response, Israeli Health Ministry officials said that the vaccines were perfectly fine and had the same expiration dates as vaccine doses currently being administered to Israeli citizens. It has now become evident that contrary to the public Palestinian statements, the vaccines were not returned to Israel, and Palestinian Health Ministry officials said yesterday that they were prepared to accept them. The delivery of 100,000 vaccines was part of an agreement that was reached between Israel and the PA, in which Israel will deliver a total of 1.2 million vaccines.

Commenting on the new Israeli government, Yossi Verter in Haaretz writes about the relationship between Bennett and alternate Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. “At the same moment 13 months ago [the day after the swearing-in at the Knesset], Benjamin Netanyahu launched a disgraceful campaign of cheating, fraud and violating agreements, unparalleled in Israeli politics, against Defence Minister Benny Gantz. Five days after that swearing-in, the two leaders of the unity government weren’t even able to look each other in the eye. And it only got worse. Without slipping into naivete or over-romanticisation – Lapid and Bennett aren’t Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant – there is an extraordinary partnership here, between two basically decent people. Lapid’s election slogan was ‘We have come to make a change,’ and Bennett’s was ‘Something new is beginning.’ The renewed alliance between them is a combination of the two slogans into a single unifying idea.”