Trump to withdraw all US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan before leaving office
The BBC writes that Iran has denied a New York Times report that a leader of al-Qaeda was killed in its capital Tehran in August by Israeli agents. Iran’s foreign ministry said: “From time to time, Washington and Tel Aviv try to tie Iran to such groups by lying and leaking false information to the media in order to avoid responsibility for the criminal activities of this group and other terrorist groups in the region.” The Times writes that an Israeli assassination squad known as the “Tip of the Spear” was responsible for killing the deputy leader of al-Qaeda in Iran earlier this year, at the behest of President Trump’s administration.
The Telegraph reports that despite crippling US sanctions on the Syrian regime, “it’s business as usual for those close to President Bashar Al Assad.” The wealthy class have largely avoided the hardships and shortages afflicting ordinary Syrians, an activist in Damascus told the paper. The Financial Times notes, however, that the country’s economic collapse has been aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, Lebanese banking crisis and international isolation.
The Times notes that President Trump is expected to order the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. However, former US defence officials have expressed concern that Christopher Miller, appointed a week ago as acting defence secretary, is under pressure to wrap up in Afghanistan and Iraq before Joe Biden becomes president on January 20. A February peace deal between the US and the Taliban stipulated that all American and coalition troops would be withdrawn by 1 May 2021. Under White House plans revealed last month by Robert O’Brien, the national security adviser, the 4,500 troops in Afghanistan were set to be reduced to 2,500 by early next year. There are currently 3,000 US troops also in Iraq.
The Independent reports on the new tenders issued for the Givat Hamatos settlement in East Jerusalem. The paper says the tenders for 1,200 new homes “is a further setback to dwindling hopes of an internationally backed partition deal that would enable the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel”. Construction could then begin within months.
Simon Tisdall writes in The Guardian that President Trump’s “absurdly lopsided” Middle East peace plan has given Israel virtual carte blanche to expand settlements and seize Palestinian land. He adds that as the power struggle rages in Washington, analysts warn, Netanyahu may continue to arbitrarily create new “facts on the ground” – with Trump’s blessing.
Reuters reports that Syria’s top diplomat and long-time foreign minister Walid al-Moalem, a staunch defender of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters that sparked a decade old conflict, died on Monday, the government said.
Maariv reports that yesterday’s seven-hour coronavirus meeting ended without any decision by ministers to lift some of the lockdown measures in keeping with the exit strategy. Instead, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would finalise an agreement with Alternate Prime Minister and Defence Minister Benny Gantz today, and that he would then put their joint decision to a vote in the coronavirus cabinet. The meeting is described as “stormy” by the report. Shortly before the meeting was adjourned it had seemed that the ministers were about to vote in favour of allowing children in the fifth and sixth grades to go back to school.
Yediot Ahronot writes: “Judging by the way the coronavirus cabinet meeting was conducted yesterday, we can probably say with all due regret that Israel is on its way to a third lockdown. A responsible and judicious meeting, was how Prime Minister Netanyahu described it. But that isn’t what the Israeli public — which wants to see decisions get made, a clear path forward and someone keeping a firm grip on the steering wheel—saw. The Israeli public saw a tiresome meeting that was filled with endless idle talk and which failed to produce even a single bottom line.”
Kan Radio News reports this morning that disagreement between the Health Ministry and the Finance Ministry is preventing funds from being made available to buy equipment and to advance plans for handling the coronavirus crisis. Health Ministry officials said that the Finance Ministry has completely stopped the transfer of budgets and that this has made it difficult to prepare for a possible third wave. Finance Ministry officials said that the Health Ministry has received NIS 16 billion (£3.6bn) to cope with the coronavirus to date. The disagreement, among other things, is over the Finance Ministry’s demand to sell thousands of ventilators and medications that were purchased in the first wave and were not utilized, before it turns over any more funding.
Israel Hayom writes that Israeli defence officials are inclined to believe that the two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip yesterday was caused by a malfunction with a Hamas launching pad. Israel took all that in account when it chose to make do yesterday with a brief and measured response to the rocket fire. However, the report notes that by doing so, Israel sent Hamas the wrong message that it is cautious of an escalation and wants to end every incident quickly. “It may be true that on the strategic level, Israel does not want the situation to escalate and would prefer quiet (rightfully so), but it ought to be made clear to Hamas that not only one side raises and lowers the flames as it sees fit, and that Israel can also go crazy when its red lines are crossed.”
Yediot Ahronot’s military affairs correspondent, Yossi Yehoshua, makes a similar point about the IDF’s muted retaliation for the rocket fire, but also addresses other tactical and strategic failures that this incident brought to light. Yehoshua writes: “The Iron Dome batteries missed both targets — even though they were long range rockets, and two interceptors were fired at each one. The interceptors failed to hit them, and the shrapnel fell in the area of the Bat Yam promenade … it also turns out that the batteries were not synchronized and that the Red Colour alert was not sounded in all the communities over which the Home Front Command is responsible. As a result, for a long time, hundreds of thousands of residents of central Israel, who were awake or were awakened from the sounds of explosions, did not know whether a rocket had fallen near their home or the meaning of the explosions in the sky. Another failure was in relaying an accurate picture of the situation to the IDF Spokesperson’s Office, which was left without reliable information to pass on to the citizens. Its delay in issuing a statement only increased public anxiety.”
Haaretz and Yediot Ahronot also report that the Israel Land Authority yesterday issued a tender for the construction of 1,257 new housing units in Givat Hamatos, an area that lies between Har Homa and Gilo and has become a hotspot of controversy in recent years. The plan, which was first approved in 2014, has been delayed for the past six years due to international criticism. There are currently two construction plans for Givat Hamatos. The first is for 500 housing units that are to be built on private property that is owned by Palestinian residents of Beit Safafa. A large part of those housing units has already been built. A second plan is for the construction of 2,610 housing units. The tender that was issued yesterday is for 1,257 housing units that are to be built in the context of the above second plan. All those housing units are slated to be built on state land. The Palestinians claim that any construction in that area will create a wedge that severs the Arab neighbourhoods in the city from one another and will prevent future Palestinian territorial contiguity — particularly with the nearby Beit Safafa neighbourhood.