Media Summary

Saudi Arabia allows vaccinated citizens and residents to participate in Haj

BBC News and The Telegraph report that activists, journalists, and lawyers were targeted by a phone spying software developed by the Israeli surveillance company NSO. The software is intended for use against criminals and terrorists. NSO said they only sell the programme to military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies of countries with good human rights records, but the latest findings indicate the software was also sold to authoritarian regimes. The software, known as Pegasus, hacks the target’s phone, reads their messages and tracks their location.

Joshua Nevett in BBC News speaks to three self-exiled Iranian athletes who have endured threats for speaking out about why the Iranian government perceives sport as a threat and are “urging Olympic organisers to investigate their country over allegations of abuse”.

The Associated Press report that amid an ongoing water shortage in Iran, police opened fire against protestors. A government official acknowledged that one person was killed in the unrest, but blamed it on the protestors, not the police.

BBC News reports that Egyptian activist Esraa Abdel Fattah has been released from prison after spending close to two years in jail. She played a prominent role in the 2011 protests and was one of the first Egyptian activists to use social media to organise anti-government demonstrations. She was taken into custody in October 2019 for collaborating with a terrorist group and “spreading false news,” claims she denies. While in prison she was reportedly tortured and went on a hunger strike in protest.

The Financial Times reports on how the Egyptian government and military cracked down on one of the country’s leading businessmen. Safwan Thabet ran the country’s biggest dairy producers, but the future of his company is in doubt after he was arrested over accusations of financing and belonging to a terrorist group. The paper argues that the event epitomises the unpredictability in the country’s private sector, especially as the companies contend with the ever-growing footprint of Egypt’s military, the country’s most powerful institute.

The Guardian reports on the all-Female militias in Syria, writing about why more Kurdish women are taking up arms. The paper notes that approximately 1,000 women have enlisted in the Kurdish-led Women’s Protection Units over the last two years and that “many joined in anger over by Turkey’s incursions, but stayed because they discovered that without the constraints of traditional gender roles at home, another life was possible”.

The Times reports that the commander of Lebanon’s army has warned of growing turmoil in the country. Speaking to soldiers the commander said, “I know that you will not allow anyone to invade our land, and you will not allow these circumstances to make you lose your belonging to your homeland.” However, the country’s economic collapse has the army worried that members of the military may abandon their posts in search for work elsewhere.

Reuters reports that the annual haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia took place with 60,000 vaccinated Muslim pilgrims participating. Saudi Arabia barred worshippers from abroad and limited access to the haj, which typically sees 2.5 million people participating.

In the Israeli media, all the papers write about the government’s continued deliberation on what proposals should be adopted to stop the spread of the Delta variant. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convened a meeting, with Maariv quoting him as saying: Our goal is to establish sensible directives coupled with aggressive and effective enforcement against violators. Anyone who violates the directives is placing his own health and the rest of Israel’s citizens at risk. We won’t allow that. The Delta mutation has surged around the world. The implementation of the directives on the ground is a critical component to defeating the mutation.” A range of decisions were made, including to prosecute people who violate quarantine requirements; to prioritise enforcement at public events and parties; shortening the due date for paying fines that are issued for violating the coronavirus directives; to introduce the use of additional technological means to help track the movements of people who are supposed to be in quarantine; and to have the police dedicate additional personnel to enforce the coronavirus directives.

Kan Radio News reports that the Health Ministry and Transport Ministry have drafted a new programme for travellers using Ben Gurion Airport. All people leaving will have to take a COVID-19 test before their departure as well as one before they return. Upon their return, they will have to take two more tests, one upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport and the second at home. Everyone entering Israel will have to quarantine for four or five days, regardless of which countries they have visited. Vaccinated Israelis returning from overseas will also have to quarantine. The proposed measures come after Health Ministry data shows that 10 per cent of virus cases in recent weeks have been individuals arriving from abroad. This morning Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said that no one had any intention of shutting down the airport. He added that at the current stage of things the government has no intention of either restricting the number of people at events or of taking measures that might impact the economy.

Israel Hayom writes on the latest developments over Israel-Hamas ceasefire talks. High-ranking officials in Cairo say that Israel is disappointed with the Egyptian mediators who are talking to Hamas about the MIAs and hostages, and that Israel says that the Egyptian mediators are not putting enough pressure on Hamas on the matter of prisoner exchange deal and even share Hamas’s view that the truce arrangement and Gaza’s reconstruction should be separate from a prisoner exchange deal. An Egyptian official told Israel Hayom: “Israel is trying by various means to pressure Hamas and Egypt to make progress in the talks. Israel’s attempt to send a message that Turkey is willing to mediate on a prisoner exchange deal strengthens Hamas’s argument that these are two separate issues — a long-term truce arrangement and a prisoner exchange deal. At the moment, the indirect talks between the sides aren’t going anywhere.”

The reports in the international media about the role Israeli cyber company NSO has allegedly played in facilitating surveillance of journalists, activists and political opponents of authoritarian regimes is covered in Yediot Ahronot. Ben-Dror Yemini writes: “High-tech is the pride of Israel. We’re the start-up nation. High-tech is the engine that drives the Israeli economy. The problem is that there’s no good without bad. And NSO’s misdeeds appear to reflect the dark side of Israeli high-tech.” Yemini goes on to write: “The gloves need to be removed in the fight against terrorism. Human rights and privacy aren’t protected with excessive zealousness in that line of business. As long as spyware is used to expose people who are involved with terrorism, NSO and any other company that prevents even a single terror attack deserve praise. The problem is that the moment a country buys the program, it can turn any dissident into a target … things that have happened and may still be happening in some countries are liable to begin to happen in other countries, including Israel itself. We need to keep a watchful eye.” NSO denies the reports about journalists being surveilled, and claims to have the means to stop any improper surveillance use made of its spyware by any country.

Times of Israel notes that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid sent a request on Sunday to Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo and Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit asking for a further delay of the impending demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. Lapid wrote that the new government “has not yet had time to examine the issue in depth independently” and therefore requested more time “to examine the necessary conditions for the evacuation of the outpost and to conduct a significant and in-depth inquiry of all the legal and international consequences of the move”. In the past, Prime Minister Bennett’s Yamina, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope had criticised Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu over his failure to carry out the demolition, which the High Court approved in 2018.

Israel Hayom publishes a commentary about the Jewish visited to the Temple Mount on Tisha B’Av yesterday, which failed to produce any widespread violence but created tensions between the UAL and other members of the coalition. Nadav Shragai writes: “The people who tried to ‘sell’ to the public the new UAL with its ‘civilian’ agenda, yesterday received the old UAL. The United Arab List lives in two parallel universes — the one in which it prioritizes the needs of the Arab citizens of Israel, and the other, in which it comes across often as Hamas’s sister party and is entirely dedicated to the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda. The UAL’s warning yesterday about ‘settlers and MKs breaking into el-Aqsa Mosque,’ appeared as if it had been written by Yahya Sinwar and his cohorts in their Gaza hideouts.”