Seven ships burn in Iranian port
BBC News, The Independent and The Times report on a fire which damaged seven cargo ships in the Iranian port city of Bushehr. The cause of the blaze remains unclear, but it is the latest is a series of fires and explosions in Iran which have damaged key military and nuclear sites. The fire in the port was accompanied by another significant blaze in Iran, at an aluminum smelting plant in the southern city of Lamerd. A local organisation told the IRNA News Agency that the ship fire had been contained and no casualties had been reported. Iranian officials have said privately that they suspected some of the fires and explosions in recent weeks were part of a US and Israeli military campaign against Iran.
Jon Gambrell writes in The Associated Press about the growing risks after explosions hit Iran’s nuclear programme. While Iranian officially initially downplayed the scope of the 2 July blast at the Natanz nuclear compound, they likely recognised the scope of the damage to its civilian nuclear activities, raising the risk of further confrontation in the months ahead.
Reuters reports that Iranian security forces fired tear gas to disperse demonstrations in the southwest city of Behbahan. Videos posted on social media showed protesters shouting slogans against top officials and showed a heavy presence of security forces in several other cities, including Tehran and Isfahan.
BBC News, The Independent and The Guardian report on the Court of Appeal ruling that 20-year-old Shamima Begum should be allowed to return to the UK to fight the decision to remove her British citizenship. Begum fled to Syria to join ISIS in 2015 and in February 2019 the Home Office announced its intention to strip her of her citizenship. Judges rules that she could not participate in a “fair and effective appeal” while in the custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Sajid Javid, who was Home Secretary at the time when her citizenship was stripped, raised concerns over the ruling by saying that “allowing her, and indeed other terrorists, back into the UK to pursue an appeal would create a national security risk that cannot be fully mitigated even with the diversion of significant resources”.
BBC News reports that British-born Tauqir Sharif has been put on trial by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the jihadist alliance that dominates the opposition held area in north-western Syria. Sharif was charged with funding “projects that incite division”. In 2017 the UK stripped Sharif of his British citizenship.
Simon Jenkins writes in The Guardian about the BBC documentary Once Upon a Time in Iraq, which he says finally gives the Iraq war proper scrutiny, calling it “the most searing anti-war documentary I have ever seen”.
Mehul Srivastava writes in The Financial Times about the numerous delays impacting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans for West Bank annexation. Two weeks after Netanyahu’s self imposed 1 July deadline for annexation, Israel’s right-wing fears that the narrow window for the move is closing.
The Israeli media notes with concern the possibility that International Criminal Court (ICC) will soon make its final decision on whether or not to investigate Israel on charges of war crimes. According to Israel Hayom, officials in Israel believe the panel of judges will accept the position of chief ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, whereby the court has the authority to investigate Israelis and indict them and could announce its decision over the next 24 hours. The court can pursue two types of charges: against Israeli soldiers and officers for alleged war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank; and against allegedly illegal settlement construction. The paper notes, “In Israel, officials are preparing to counter the ICC’s ruling with both overt and covert tools. Upon the establishment of the national unity government, Minister Zeev Elkin was put in charge of the ICC issue. Elkin is spearheading an inter-ministerial task force that for years now has been orchestrating Israeli activity to counter the ICC. The task force consists of representatives from the Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministry, the National Security Council, the Strategic Affairs Ministry, the defence establishment and others. In recent months, in light of the expectation that the ICC will seek to investigate Israel, the task force has been laying the groundwork for the new situation. Israeli officials describe these actions as both defensive and offensive in nature, and will be set in motion if and when the ICC decides to launch investigations.” Prime Minister Netanyahu has said in the past that Bensouda’s decision “has turned the International Criminal Court into a political tool to delegitimise the State of Israel. The prosecutor has completely ignored the legal arguments we presented to her.” Haaretz reports that Israel is drawing up a secret list of military and intelligence officials who might be subject to arrest abroad. The list now includes “between 200 and 300 officials, some of whom have not been informed. The great secrecy surrounding the issue stems from a fear that the mere disclosure of the list’s existence could endanger the people on it. The assessment is that the court is likely to view a list of names as an official Israeli admission of these officials’ involvement in the incidents under investigation.”
Yediot Ahronot includes a report that Russian hackers are trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine and treatment research from academic and pharmaceutical institutions around the world. The report is based on the UK’s National Cyber Security Center (NCSC). A coordinated statement from UK, US and Canada attributed the attacks to group APT29, also known as ‘Cozy Bear’, which they said was almost certainly operating as part of Russian intelligence services. NCSC Director of Operations, Paul Chichester is quoted saying, “We condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic.” Meanwhile, Russia has dismissed the allegations.
Commenting on the government grants for every Israeli adult, Ben Caspit in Ma’ariv writes, “The real Benjamin Netanyahu would have torn to shreds the hostage Bibi who decided yesterday to shower six billion shekels that we don’t have on the heads of hundreds of thousands of families that don’t need the money—instead of using it in a focused and effective way to jumpstart the economy…. That isn’t a rescue plan, it’s a bombshell. Israel is soon going to find itself facing a half-trillion shekel cumulative deficit. Our children and their great-grandchildren are going to have to pay that back with compound interest. But hey, the demonstration next Saturday night might get called off! Israel is home to more than 120,000 millionaires. And not just millionaires: the middle and upper-middle class is going to get a decent part of those billions as well. That is a disgraceful injustice; it sabotages our chances of extricating ourselves from this crisis. This is handing out bribes to the masses, plus fraud and breach of trust. Nothing short of that.”