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Media Summary

UK facing new pressure to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia

BBC News and Reuters report on the UK’s decision to ban all flights from the UAE following a surge of coronavirus cases in the country, especially the South African variant. The decision to ban flights will come into force this afternoon. The papers note that flights between London and the UAE was the busiest international route, with an estimated 190,365 passengers flying in January and 84,500 passengers in November 2020. The Financial Times notes: “Dubai cemented its reputation as a party city over the festive period, drawing revellers from around the world. Barely a month later the Gulf emirate is paying a high price as coronavirus cases surge and doctors complain of a shortage of beds.”

The Telegraph reports on promising data from Israel surrounding the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. According to the health ministry, only 317 patients out of 715,425 – or 0.04 per cent – were diagnosed with coronavirus after being administered the second shot. Another study from an Israeli healthcare provider found that the vaccines were 92 per cent effective.

BBC News reports that Algeria is set to receive its first doses of the coronavirus vaccine. The Russian Sputnik V vaccine will arrive today, with the first shots due to be administered tomorrow. The report also notes that Algeria will soon also receive Chinese and Indian doses.

The Guardian and Reuters report on the announcement of the next US Iran envoy. President Joe Biden is expected to announce Robert Malley, a former high-ranking adviser in the Obama administration, as his Iran envoy. Malley played a big role during negotiations over the JCPOA nuclear deal. A State Department official said: “Secretary (of State) Blinken is building a dedicated team, drawing from clear-eyed experts with a diversity of views. Leading that team as our Special Envoy for Iran will be Rob Malley, who brings to the position a track record of success negotiating constraints on Iran’s nuclear program .”

The Times and The Guardian report on President Biden’s decision to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Biden issued a freeze on several arms deals set into motion by the Trump administration. The freeze also includes the sale of F-35s to the UAE. The move has renewed pressure on the UK to review its policy and freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia. While UK government officials said there were no plans to change its policy, there is speculation that the US will pressure the UK to follow its lead.

The Economist reports on Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’s call for elections. The paper notes that the elections do not represent a new direction for the PA but is rather “a gesture to the new president in Washington. Mr Abbas is eager to start anew with Joe Biden.”

Reuters reports that Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the main suspect behind the kidnapping and beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl. The decision to release him shocked Pearl’s family and prompted condemnation from the US with Secretary of State Antony Blinking saying the release was “an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan.”

The Associated Press reports on the challenges of ultra-Orthodox unrest in Israel. “As he seeks reelection, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned to a straightforward strategy: Count on the rock-solid support of his ultra-Orthodox political allies and stamp out the coronavirus pandemic with one of the world’s most aggressive vaccination campaigns. But with ultra-Orthodox communities openly flouting safety guidelines and violently clashing with police trying to enforce them, this marriage of convenience is turning into a burden. Netanyahu has watched his political partners undermine the country’s war against the virus and spark a public backlash that threatens him at the ballot box.”

All the Israeli media continue to focus on the political infighting amid the continued spread of the coronavirus. Maariv reports on another spat between Blue and White and the Likud prevented the cabinet from meeting yesterday to vote on whether to extend the lockdown, which will end on Sunday at midnight.  Blue and White are continuing to condition the extension by pass a bill that aims to impose harsher penalties on lockdown violators and to immediately close schools that have opened contrary to the regulations, particularly in the ultra-Orthodox sector. “There won’t be any cabinet meeting about extending the lockdown if it is not enforced equally for everyone,” said Blue and White officials. “Either everyone obeys the lockdown, or there won’t be a fake lockdown.” Opposing them, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein argued, “All the irresponsible talk about how the restrictions and the lockdown don’t need to be continued, and all the cheap political games about the medically required continuation of the lockdown—this is what ultimately precipitates serious infection and mortality rates.”

This morning Kan Radio News reports, that the Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin is investigating the possibility of convening the Knesset plenum on Sunday to bring the fines bill to a vote before the lockdown expires that day at midnight. Another possibility would be to convene the plenum early Monday morning just a few hours after the lockdown expires in order to reduce as much as possible the gap between the time when the current lockdown expires and the next one begins. According to Healthcare experts the lockdown should be extended by a week and that restrictions should be lifted only if the number of patients in serious condition starts to drop.  The Health Ministry this morning reported that 7,079 new coronavirus cases have been diagnosed in the past 24 hours. The death toll since the start of the pandemic rose to 4,671. There were 1,135 COVID-19 patients hospitalised in serious condition, with 321 connected to ventilators. In parallel, 208,000 vaccines were administered in the past 24 hours. Around 82,000 Israelis received the vaccine’s first dose and 125,000 the second jab. Overall, about 943,000 Israelis have already received both shots over a week ago, and are now considered protected.

Kan Radio News also reports that the cabinet of health experts said that inoculating the Palestinian population was a clear-cut need and it recommended actively extending aid to them in that sphere. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is examining with Israel the possibility of bringing vaccines into the territories from overseas soon. Palestinian sources told Kan News that the possibility of flying thousands of vaccine doses donated by Russian President Vladimir Putin into Ben Gurion Airport and transporting them to the territories in refrigerated trucks was under consideration. The PA also asked Israel to allow it to receive the Chinese vaccine soon, as well as vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

Haaretz reports on a group of cyber hackers, affiliated with Hezbollah, has penetrated internet and mobile phone networks, in a “global espionage” campaign. The report is based on the findings by an Israeli company, ClearSky Cyber Security. The paper notes, “the group known as Lebanese Cedar used software and techniques linked in the past to Iranian state hackers to breach over 250 servers of targets in the United States, Britain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Palestinian controlled areas of the West Bank… ClearSky suggests that servers in the United States and Britain were probably used to launch the attack, while servers in the Middle East and wider Arab world were more likely the target. The assault began late in 2019 and continued silently throughout 2020.”

In election news, Maariv publishes its latest poll; the Likud has 30 seats, Yesh Atid: 18, New Hope: 14, Yamina: 12, Joint List: 10, Shas: 8, United Torah Judaism: 8, Yisrael Beiteinu: 7, Meretz: 6, Blue and White: 4  and Labour Party: 4. Israel Hayom also run a poll that has Likud on 28 seats, Yesh Atid: 15, New Hope: 13, Joint List: 11, Yamina: 11, Shas: 9, United Torah Judaism: 7, Yisrael Beiteinu: 6, Meretz: 6, Labour Party: 5, Blue and White: 5, and the Economic Party (Yaron Zelekha): 4 seats.  They also ask, what will have the greatest impact on your vote? The responses, the economy: 32 per cent, Who the party’s leader is: 16 per cent, Issues concerning religion and state: 15 per cent, Diplomacy and security: 14 per cent, The handling of the coronavirus: 7 per cent, Don’t know/other response: 16 per cent.

In the commentary, Sima Kadmon in Yediot Ahronot writes, “The Prime Minister’s Bureau is in a frenzy. After persuading Smotrich to split from Yamina, based on the belief that this is the way to obtain 4-5 seats that will be in Netanyahu’s pocket (they don’t trust Bennett)—they tried to persuade him to forge a union with Otzma Yehudit headed by Itamar Ben Gvir and the Jewish Home headed by Hagit Moshe. Netanyahu so badly wants this union, which is designed to save three right-wing parties that are not crossing the electoral threshold, that he has promised Smotrich to refrain from attacking him during the campaign and not to try to steal votes away from the religious Zionist sector. But Smotrich, so it appears, is not willing to yield to the demands from Balfour Street. He does not want Ben Gvir as a partner, because in his view Ben Gvir paints him as overly extreme (apparently there is such a thing). Neither does he want Moshe, who has considerable demands as a person who offers shreds of one seat and thinks that people will be voting with two ballots. Smotrich wants to be chairperson of the Jewish Home. And so, in an almost suicidal move, he intends to run alone. Netanyahu will cast his full weight to persuade him not to do something that could determine whether [Netanyahu] will have a 61-seat government.  As an almost mirror image of this, we can see what is happening on the left between Huldai and Merav Michaeli.”