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Media Summary

Second drone attack over Riyadh in four days

The BBC’s Ramita Navai and the News Arabic team investigate the death of Hisham al-Hashimi, a security adviser to Iraq’s prime minister who was murdered outside his home in Baghdad last July, the killings of several activists and the growing power of Shia militias in a year that saw the US reduce its military presence in Iraq.

The Times covers the second suspected drone attack in less than four days over the capital Riyadh. Iran-backed militias in Iraq are feared to have opened a new front against Saudi Arabia after a new militia issued a statement of responsibility. If verified, the report notes, pro-Iran militants in Iraq are trying to threaten America’s most important but also most vulnerable security partner in the Gulf as a way of putting pressure on the incoming Biden administration.

The Independent notes that the Biden administration on Tuesday announced that the US will restore aid to the Palestinians as part of a UN programme and re-open its diplomatic mission, reversing key foreign policies of the Trump administration. The US’s acting ambassador to the UN, Richard Mills, outlined the US’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a UN Security Council open debate on the situation in the Middle East.

The Financial Times investigates how Israel, a country with barely 9m citizens, persuades companies courting markets with hundreds of millions of potential customers to fill its orders first of the COVID-19 vaccine. The answer, the paper says, lies in 17 conversations between Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, and Yuli Edelstein, the health minister.

The Telegraph reports that Iranian-American national Emad Shargi has been sentenced by Iran to 10 years in prison on spying charges, despite his family alleging he never had a trial or an opportunity to defend himself. Iran’s judiciary acknowledged the sentence without naming him or saying how many years in prison he’d face.

The Guardian covers the overcrowding in Egypt’s prisons due to the targeting of political dissidents. Egypt’s prisons hold at least twice the number of people they were built for, with prisoners of conscience targeted by security forces and denied healthcare, according to Amnesty International.

The Independent covers a new paper by B’Tselem that concluded Israel was not a democracy and its actions met the bar of apartheid after considering “the accumulation of policies and laws that Israel devised to entrench its control over Palestinians”. Ohad Zemet, a spokesperson of the Israeli embassy in London, dismissed the paper as “false claims” and “nothing more than a propaganda tool”.

The Times reports that Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial centre in Israel, has unveiled a new story about the survival of Mira Erlich as part of a digital exhibition on the homes that took in young Holocaust survivors to mark international Holocaust Remembrance Day. Historians have pieced together how she came into the care of Lena Küchler, a Polish woman who set up two homes for traumatised Jewish children with lung disease in the clean air of Rabka and Zakopane, in the Tatra mountains.

The Telegraph is the latest UK paper to cover Israel’s vaccination drive as it has expanded its programme to 16 to 18-year-olds so they can safely take important exams. The paper notes the Israeli model is likely to raise questions as to whether the UK should adopt a similar policy to prevent older pupils from falling behind in their studies.

All the Israeli media cover the latest attempted stabbing attack at Gitit Avishar junction, near Ariel in the West Bank, yesterday. A British born Corporal Lian Harush along with her commander, were attacked by a Palestinian man who tried to stab her. She pushed back with her rifle and managed to repel several attempts to stab her, at which point her commander opened fire and killing the attacker. Corporal Harush serves as a lone soldier, with no other immediate family in Israel. She serves as part of Home Front Command’s Search and Rescue Unit, which is currently on routine security activity in the West Bank. Channel 12 News explained how the IDF have learnt from dozens of similar attacks and have started to prepare regular soldiers deployed to the West Bank with augmented training from special forces units to deal with close combat situations.

Maariv reports that the Health Ministry will ask the government to extend the lockdown if the number of seriously ill patients does not significantly drop next week. The decision to extend the lockdown regulations will move to the Knesset after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Benny Gantz failed to agree on a cabinet motion. Gantz is conditioning his support on extending the lockdown with Knesset legislation of a bill that would increase fines from NIS 5,000 to NIS 10,000 for schools and other institutions that violate the coronavirus regulations. Blue and White officials said the current lockdown has absolutely no significance because parts of the population have ignored the directives. The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is expected to meet again today to discuss the fines bill after committee members could not agree on a Likud compromise in which only a police officer ranking deputy commander and higher would have the authority to issue the fine, and all schools that were found to be would be given a warning of between 24 and 48 hours to close before being fined.

In Yediot Ahronot, Health Ministry data this morning reported that 7,737 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed from 83,367 tests conducted on Tuesday, putting the national contagion rate at 9.6 per cent. Out of 76,708 patients currently positive with the virus, 1,141 are in serious condition, of whom 311 are connected to ventilators. The death toll since the start of the pandemic rose to 4,513. In addition, over 2.7 million Israelis have already received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine and about 1.3 million have received the second booster shot. These figures constitute 30 per cent and 15 per cent of Israel’s population, respectively. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee yesterday that Israel has not seen a single serious case of COVID-19 among the those who have received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

A commentary piece in Maariv by Ben Caspit covers the violence protests that erupted in ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods over the last few days over increased police enforcement of the coronavirus regulations. Caspit critiques the ultra-Orthodox leadership and not to the members of Haredi society, writing: “The Haredim are our brothers. The flesh of our flesh. Their tragedy is our tragedy. They live and breathe the State of Israel, they value the State of Israel and they are involved in the State of Israel’s life. The silent majority among them knows that the current arrangement cannot last forever. The larger they grow in number and in relative size, the more evident it is going to become to them that the fragile balance that allows this country to function is going to have to be recalibrated. They are going to have to play a larger role in the workforce; they are going to have to study core curriculum subjects; and, yes, they are going to have to increase their IDF draft rate. They, the Haredim, are aware of that truth. Their problem is their leadership, which has continued to cling with all its might to the 18th century. They have their leadership, and we have ours. Our leadership utterly debases itself before them for reasons that every Israeli is familiar with: Netanyahu needs the 16 Haredi votes in the Knesset to press on with his attempted flight from trial.”

A new poll commissioned by Channel 12 News shows that Netanyahu does not have a majority to form a new right-wing government despite several scenarios of different mergers between political parties. In the current make-up of parties running for the Knesset, the Likud would win 29 seats, Yesh Atid 16, New Hope 15, Yamina 14, Joint List 10, Shas 8, UTJ 8, Yisrael Beiteinu 7, Meretz 5, Blue and White 4 and Labor 4. The pro-Netanyahu bloc would win 45 seats and, if Yamina comes on board, would rise to 59 seats. The anti-Netanyahu bloc gets 61 seats. If the Joint List is swapped out for Yamina that provides for a 65-seat coalition. Were the Religious Party, Jewish Home and Jewish Power to merge, it would win 5 seats, but the pro-Netanyahu bloc (including Yamina) only gets 60 seats, 1 short of a majority. The poll also found that 61 per cent of Israelis prefer to see the next government without the ultra-Orthodox parties. Even a majority of self-defined right-wing voters said they would prefer to see the Haredim kept out of the next government.

Kan Radio News reports that Yesh Atid will not join forces with another party for the upcoming elections. Yair Lapid made the decision following consultations with advisers and analysing polling data. Also, the four parties that make up the Joint List are yet to agree on terms that would allow the parties to run on a joint slate in the upcoming election. Talks last night ended without agreement and will continue today. Meanwhile, Amir Peretz announced yesterday that he would resign from the Labor Party and continue to serve as Minister of Industry and the Economy on behalf of the Blue and White Party.

Israel Hayom reports that Israel’s diplomatic mission to Morocco reopened on Tuesday in the capital of Rabat, as Ambassador David Govrin arrived in the country. The mission was shuttered some 20 years ago as the ties between the two countries were suspended, with Israel retaining the building that hosted the liaison office. Also yesterday, the Israeli consulate opened in Dubai. Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi welcomed the development, saying that it wrapped up the first phase of establishing Israel’s diplomatic footprint in the region under the US-brokered Abraham Accords.