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Media Summary

Trump ‘saved’ MBS from Congressional scrutiny over Khashoggi assassination

BBC News, The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent and The Financial Times report that a massive fire broke out at a warehouse in the port of Beirut on Thursday. The blaze broke out in a warehouse used to store food and cooking oil. While of the cause of the fire is unknown, no injuries were reported and officials said most of the flames were extinguished by the evening. Firefighters and army helicopters were involved in extinguishing the fire. Videos shared across social media showed a plume of dark smoke over Beirut, leading to panic among residents traumatised by the deadly 4 August blast. Yesterday’s fire comes five weeks after that blast which decimated much of the city centre and led to 200 deaths and thousands more injured.

The Telegraph and Reuters report that a huge blast was seen at a Jordanian military munitions depot early Friday morning. The blast went off in the city of Zarqa, 15 miles east of Amman. A government spokesman said the warehouse contained “unstable mortar bombs belonging to the armed forces” and that “so far no injuries have been recorded”.

The Telegraph reports that US President Donald Trump told journalist Bob Woodward that he protected Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) from congressional scrutiny after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. US intelligence concluded that MBS personally ordered the killing of Khashoggi. Woodward’s new book, Rage, details conversations with Trump in which said: “I saved his ass, I was able to get Congress to leave him alone, I was able to get them to stop.”

Reuters reports that President Trump told a White House press conference that another country could soon normalise relations with Israel, specifically mentioning Saudi Arabia. Speaking to journalists on Thursday, Trump said: “Next week at the White House we’ll be having a signing between the UAE and Israel, and we could have another county added into that. And I will tell you that countries are lining up that want to go into it. The big ones are going to be coming in. I spoke to the king of Saudi Arabia, so we’re talking. We just started the dialogue. And you’ll have them come in.”

The Economist analyses the complications caused by the proposed sale of F-35s to the UAE following the country’s normalisation with Israel. The US’s legal requirement to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge has ensured that while America’s Arab allies are able to buy arms, they are blocked from purchasing advanced weapons systems. Unlike other weapons, the US has only sold the F-35 to close allies. The F-35’s unique shape and radar absorbent materials allow it to evade detection. This, along with other advanced weapons said to be included in the deal, are raising concerns among the Israeli security establishment about whether they may be used against Israel in a conflict.

Israeli Hayom quotes President Trump who said he believed the Palestinians, who have denounced his Middle East peace initiative as too favourable to Israel, would ultimately “get back into the fold” and open a dialogue. “I’m frankly surprised they haven’t been to the table earlier,” said Trump, who added the United States would consider lifting a freeze on aid to the Palestinians if a deal can be reached with them.

Haaretz covers presidential candidate Joe Biden speaking at a virtual event organised by J Street, which endorsed his presidential campaign earlier this year. Biden emphasised his support for Israel and for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That solution is “the only way to ensure Israel’s long-term security while sustaining its Jewish and democratic identity. It’s also the only way to ensure Palestinians have a state of their own.” Biden added, “Israel should stop expanding West Bank settlements, stop talk of annexation… “Annexation is off the table now, which is a good thing.” He added that Netanyahu “knows my position” on the subject. Biden said, “I will reengage the Palestinians,” he said, including the restoration of civilian aid. Biden said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been “yielding to the far-right of his party to maintain support,” but he also criticised the current Palestinian leadership, saying that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has “not stepped up when given opportunities.” On Iran, Biden said, “Trump has put Israel in danger by tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, and replaced it with nothing… Iran is closer to a [nuclear] weapon than when we left office in 2017. And instead of Iran being isolated, we are the ones being isolated.” He warned that Iran was “much closer to a breakout” today than four years ago.  Biden said that if elected president, he is willing to re-enter the nuclear deal, “if Iran returns to compliance.”  The paper notes Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, said in a virtual briefing to Jewish supporters two weeks ago that a Biden-Harris administration would never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

Kan Radio News notes Syrian media outlets reported that last night Israel attacked in the area of Aleppo in northern Syria. A Syrian military official told state media outlets that the Syrian air defences had been activated and that most of the missiles were intercepted. It is not known at this time whether there was any damage or casualties. Some of the reports said that the attack focused on the area of Safira, where the Scientific Studies and Research Center is located that is used to develop advanced weapons and which was attacked in the past, according to foreign sources, by Israel.

Yediot Ahronot reports that the IDF is looking to “change the equation” with Hezbollah on the Lebanese border. A senior officer told the paper that if Hezbollah carries out on its threat against soldiers, there will be no escape from a powerful response – even at the cost of days of fighting on the border. The IDF is preparing for the possibility of Hezbollah operating on the northern border again, but now senior officers claim that if there are casualties, as Nasrallah promised, it will be necessary to respond with substantial force. Despite domestic pressures following the Beirut disaster, Hezbollah continues to try to locate IDF soldiers exposed and carry out an attack. Meanwhile, an IDF spokesperson confirmed a military drone was downed inside South Lebanon yesterday. The military claimed there was no risk of critical information or technology being compromised as a result of the crash.   Earlier the Lebanese army said the drone was downed near the Israeli – Lebanon border but offered no further information.

Israel Hayom includes an interview with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who arranged a series of secret meetings between senior Israeli and UAE officials that laid the groundwork for formalising relations. The paper reveals, the meetings began in 2015 and were held in London, Nicosia and Abu Dhabi, “Initially, those meetings were also attended by Blair, but in time, as Blair put it, that relationship took on a life of its own. Those talks helped to re-establish trust between the two countries after five years of a breakdown in communication in the aftermath of the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh assassination… The increasingly improved relations ultimately paved the way to a telephone conversation between Prime Minister Netanyahu and UAE Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed and two meetings that were held in 2018.”

Channel 13 News reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sara are expected to fly to next week’s signing ceremony with the UAE on a private plane, separate for the rest of the Israeli delegation.   Netanyahu’s sons, Yair and Avner, may also join them on the private plane. The report was confirmed by the Prime Minister’s Office, but the decision is yet to be finalised. The Prime Minister’s Office said in response: “Due to concerns that the prime minister will contract the coronavirus on the flight, which will carry more than 70 people, the prime minister was advised by professionals to fly on a separate plane that the State of Israel uses from time to time.”