Media Summary

US advances sale of sophisticated drones to UAE

BBC News, Reuters, The Guardian and The Independent report that Israel’s demolition of the Bedouin village of Khirbet Humsah in the West Bank has displaced 73 Palestinians, including 41 children. According to a UN official, this was the largest demolition this year and impacted “some of the most vulnerable communities in the West Bank”. The UN called Israel’s actions a ‘grave breach’ of international law, while Israeli authorities maintained they removed structures that had been ‘built illegally in a firing zone.’

Reuters reports that the US State Department has notified Congress of its plans to sell 18 MQ-9B aerial drones to the UAE, in a deal estimated to be worth $2.9bn. This comes after last week’s news that the Trump administration plans to advance the sale of F-35 jets to the UAE. According to Reuters, ‘the armed MQ-9B drones will also be equipped with maritime radar and could be delivered in 2024’.

BBC News reports that Jordan recorded its highest daily death toll from COVID-19, as the Health Ministry announced 62 new deaths on Wednesday. The current death toll stands at 1,029 while the overall cases is now up to 91,234.

The Independent reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said anywhere between $20bn to $42bn Syrian assets was tied up in Lebanese banks, and this was the cause of Syria’s current economic crisis. According to the SANA state news agency, Assad said: “When the banks in Lebanon closed, we paid the price. This is the essence of the problem.” According to the UN, more than 80 per cent of the country’s population lives in poverty.

BBC News reports that the UN has expressed growing concern over the health of jailed Saudi women rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. The UN women’s rights committee urged the King of Saudi Arabia to immediately release al-Hathloul, requesting the Saudi government “to protect her rights to life, health, and liberty and security of person at all times, while fully respecting her freedoms of conscience and expression.”

BBC News and The Guardian report that Formula One (F1) is facing growing criticism over the announcement that Saudi Arabia will host an F1 race in 2021. The kingdom’s sports minister said hosting the race “perfectly reflects the transformational journey the country is on… Saudi Arabia was criticised for being closed off to the world, and now we’ve opened up, we’re criticised for sports-washing.” A representative for Amnesty International said that such an event will be used to ‘sports-wash’ the kingdom’s record on human rights abuses, adding that F1 should insist “that all race events are open to everyone without discrimination”. Human Rights Watch urged F1 to “explain how the company’s operations will improve human rights in Saudi Arabia”.

All the Israeli media report the coalition chairman, MK Miki Zohar, who also serves as the Likud faction chairman, was questioned yesterday by the police on suspicion of blackmailing Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. Zohar was questioned over statements he made in a radio interview three weeks ago, in which he reportedly threatened that if Mandelblit did not resign and cancel the indictment against Netanyahu, then there would be “an earthquake” and additional recordings of the attorney general would surface.    The papers quote, Zohar’s Facebook post after his release, “This is a sad day for our democracy. I was summoned for questioning by the police about Mandelblit. I was surprised, this is (an attempt) to question me so that I keep silent after I expressed a position in a radio interview. This is a surreal investigation of an elected official in general, and a right-wing elected official in particular. In recent years I have promoted uncompromising discourse on everything concerning the conduct of the State Attorney’s Office and the police. I did so without fear, in spite of all the warnings I got. ‘Watch out, they’ll try to frame you,’ I was warned. I answered: ‘I’ll always go with my truth, no matter the cost.’” He was supported by several senior Likud figures. Yediot Ahronot noted, “the most unusual response of all was Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s,” (the minister responsible for the police)  who said that he was ashamed of the police for questioning him. “I agree with you, Miki, my dear friend,” wrote Ohana. “On the matter of investigating public figures, I obviously cannot tell the police whom to question, but it is a mark of shame for the police, for the attorney general and for the State Attorney’s Office that [you were] questioned for an unsuccessful statement from a radio interview that was subsequently clarified. It’s just shameful.”

In the commentary  in Yediot Ahronot, Tova Tzimuki calls the decision a mistake by the State Attorney’s Office, stating that use of the criminal tool is unsuitable for dealing with Zohar’s statements and stressing, “Freedom of speech is sacred, and can be overridden only in the case of truly racist or inciting statements.”

Ynet noted the Health Ministry reported  560 new cases of coronavirus have been detected in the past 24 hours out of 32,102 coronavirus tests. There are currently 8,958 active coronavirus carriers in Israel.  There are 327 patients in serious condition and 147 patients are on ventilators  Meanwhile, Health Ministry officials said that they were afraid that reopening street side shops on Sunday would precipitate a third lockdown. The reproduction number has continued to climb and is now 0.92, which is very close to reversing the trend from morbidity stabilizing to morbidity spreading.  Health Ministry Director General Prof. Hezi Levy criticised the decision by the coronavirus cabinet and the government to allow street side shops to reopen, telling Kan News that this course of action violated the rule of waiting two weeks between the stages of lifting restrictions. Prof. Levy said that we still did not know what the ramifications of reopening school for first  through fourth graders would be and that reopening street side shops just a week later would make it impossible to distinguish between increases in morbidity caused by each stage. Haaretz carries a warning from health ministry officials that reopening businesses will make a third lockdown more likely.

According to Kan Radio News, Israel and Hamas have resumed indirect talks about a deal to return the missing civilians and the bodies of fallen soldiers. The talks resumed recently after an approximately two-month break. Palestinian sources said that the current round of talks was in its initial stage and that there had not been progress. Hamas wants to secure the release of hundreds of prisoners, including murderers with blood on their hands who have been given life sentences. Israel has refused to release murderers and is discussing a humanitarian deal rather than a large-scale prisoner release.

Maariv reports the Navy is preparing to receive the first of four Saar 6 naval vessels from Germany next week. They will be deployed primarily to protecting Israel’s off-shore natural gas installations. The ship weighs 2,000-tons and is equipped with high sophisticated defence systems, 90 per cent made in Israel, including two Iron Dome anti- missile systems and a Barak-8 battery to shoot down cruise and ballistic missiles.