Media Summary

UK to resume arm sales to Saudi Arabia

The BBC reports that UN investigators have accused Syrian and pro-regime forces and their jihadist opponents of flagrant violations to the laws of war during the battle for Idlib province. Civilians endured “unfathomable suffering” when the Syrian military launched a campaign late last year to retake the area, according to the UN report. Almost one million Syrians have been displaced by the fighting in the province, many of whom were forced to live in dire conditions in overcrowded camps or open fields. Now, the investigators warn, “a perfect storm is in the making” as the war-torn country faces both the coronavirus pandemic and an economic crisis.

The Guardian reports on Israel’s top public health official quitting her job in protest over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as authorities imposed new measures to combat a rise in infections after the country opened its economy. Professor Siegal Sadetzki announced her resignation with a lengthy critique of how the government had “lost its bearings”.

The UK is to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite concerns they could be used against civilians in Yemen, in violation of international humanitarian law, according to reports in The Financial Times,  The Guardian,  The Telegraph and the BBC. The UK was forced to review its policy after the Court of Appeal ruled in June 2019 that its decision-making process was unlawful as no attempt had been made to assess whether serious breaches had occurred in Yemen. International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement that the UK had now analysed individual allegations of abuses, using new methodology, to determine whether there had been a “historic pattern of breaches,” and deemed that Saudi Arabia “has a genuine intent and the capacity to comply with international humanitarian law”. According to the Government’s export licencing data, since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed around £5.3bn worth of arms to the Saudi regime.

The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Financial Times and the BBC report on the death of Iraqi expert and former security advisor Hisham al-Hashemi. He was shot outside his home in Baghdad on Monday night. Hashemi was well known in Iraq, where he regularly appeared on TV to share his close knowledge of jihadist groups. He was also open to international journalists and diplomats, discussing Iraq’s ethnic and religious politics and security tactics. According to The Times, Hashemi once moved in Islamist circles. At one time he was in contact with former ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but he repudiated Islamists and led calls for an end to sectarianism. The Guardian says Hashemi’s death marks a critical moment for the new Iraqi Prime Minister, who had worked close with Hashemi in the past.

Richard Spencer and Jane Flanagan write in The Times on the showdown between Egypt and Ethiopia over water supply and the Nile. They write that in the coming weeks Ethiopia will start filling the reservoir behind its Grand Renaissance Dam, the biggest in Africa and half a century in the making. On the one hand, the project promises to connect millions of Ethiopians to the electricity grid for the first time, and embodies a defining national endeavour. On the other hand, Egypt regards the damming of the Nile as an existential threat, fearing that its water supplies will be depleted, in part through evaporation from the reservoir and as a result is demanding a binding legal agreement on how Ethiopia operates the dam, to prevent it simply turning off the flow in any future dispute. The Financial Times also reports on the rising tensions on the Nile, saying that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are engaged in last-ditch talks to resolve a dispute the dam on the river, after Egypt called on the UN Security Council to put more pressure on Ethiopia to come to a deal.

The Independent writes that Lebanon has been forced to shut many operating rooms in its main coronavirus hospital, the Rafic Hariri University Hospital, due to lengthy power cuts by caused by the country’s spiralling economic crisis. Dr Firass Abiad, director general of the hospital, told The Independent that Lebanon’s largest public healthcare facility was “barely making ends meet” and running out of fuel to power generators that are struggling to cover power outages that now stretch 15 hours.

All the Israeli media concentrate on the new social distancing restrictions imposed by the government due to the coronavirus surge. Yesterday, restaurants, bars and nightclubs were closed, along with gyms, swimming pools and public entertainment events,  this morning event halls were closed nationwide.  Five people died of the coronavirus in hospitals across Israel yesterday, bringing the death toll up to 342. More than 1,100 people tested positive yesterday, and the number of people who are in serious now stands at 86.  The city of Beitar Illit is the latest to have become a hotspot with 100 new cases in the space of a week, it will be placed under a seven-day lockdown beginning today. Beitar Illit Mayor Meir Rubinstein has criticised the decision, warning that doing so would only serve to worsen the coronavirus outbreak in the city.

As a result of the new wave of infections, the Health Ministry’s director of public health, Prof. Siegal Sadetzki, has offered her resignation. However, Health Ministry Director General Prof. Hezi Levy has called on Sadetzki to withdraw her resignation, telling Kan Radio that Sadetzki was not to blame for the country’s failure to prepare adequately for the second wave of the coronavirus, adding that Israel’s success in the first wave stemmed from professional positions that she advanced.

Kan Radio News reports that the Finance Ministry is expected to publish a new financial aid programme that will focus on increasing unemployment benefits to people made redundant due to the coronavirus and which will be paid for a year from today. The programme also allows for regular monthly payments to the self-employed for the coming year as well as financial aid to businesses that have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met yesterday with Finance Minister Yisrael Katz and top Finance Ministry officials to discuss the plan. There are currently close to 850,000 people in Israel who are unemployed.

Writing in Yediot Ahronot, Ronen Bergman analyses the string of explosions and other incidents that have occurred in Iran over the past two weeks. Israel is suspected of being behind some of them. “Judging from the way things are perceived on the Iranian side, two truths have become eminently clear. The first is that the war between Iran and Israel is fully underway. Except this isn’t a war that is being fought with tanks going to battle and skies filled with planes; rather, as recent reports indicate, it is being fought out by covert means, mainly by the secret intelligence and operational units on both sides,” Bergman writes. “The second truth is that this war isn’t so secret anymore … if Israel did carry out that alleged operation, that qualifies as a new stage in the secret war that isn’t quite so secret anymore, and it is safe to assume that Israel had been in contact with the United States about it.”

All the Israeli media cover Prime Minister Netanyahu holding a Zoom meeting with numerous business -owners yesterday, which deteriorated into a shouting match. Ma’arivs Ben Caspit looks over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus and the ensuing crises, arguing that he is more concerned with avoiding blame than anything else. “Netanyahu will always prepare a scapegoat for himself, someone else to blame, someone he can pin with the responsibility. When I saw the footage of his ‘shouting match’ with the leaders of the self-employed yesterday, I recalled a similar image from the time after the Carmel fires … yesterday he ‘banged on the table’ (which barely made an impression) and blamed the bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry. ‘The bureaucracy’ is the new ‘New Israel Fund.’ It’s all the bureaucrats’ fault, not mine.”

In Yediot Ahronot, Yuval Karni follows a similar line to Ben Caspit, writing that “Netanyahu doesn’t like to share credit. Senior Likud officials, ministers and people who have worked with him over the past three decades all report an identical pattern of behaviour: taking credit for successes, and finding people to blame for failures. Granted, this is a natural human trait. The problem with Netanyahu is that he has elevated that trait to an art form. You don’t have to be a left-winger or anti-Bibi to hear those kinds of character assessments.” Karni adds: “Israel enjoyed a successful decade of economic growth and prosperity. Some of those achievements are justifiably attributable to Netanyahu. But along with the sense of success and his image as a once-in-a-generation leader who is second to none, Netanyahu refused to nurture and make any room for another talented leader, successor or politician who might be at his side at all times.”