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Media Summary

US imposes new sanctions on Syria

BBC News, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, The Economist, The Financial Times and The Associated Press all report on Israel upcoming March election. All the papers note that after the government failed to reach an agreement over its budget, the Knesset automatically dissolved leading to the country’s fourth election in less two years.

BBC News and Reuters report on the historic Israeli flight to Morocco yesterday. The papers note that the flight, operated by El Al airlines, was the first direct flight by a commercial airline from Tel Aviv to Rabat. Both countries anticipate a surge in tourism given the significant population of Israelis of Moroccan descent.

The Times reports that a US submarine armed with a 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile surfaced in the Persian Gulf. The submarine was ordered to surface as a show of strength amid ongoing tensions with Iran. This marked the first time in eight years that an Ohio-class guided-missile submarine was seen in the Gulf. The paper notes that the US Department of Defencse does not usually make public the location of its submarine fleet, further emphasizing the importance of this event.

The Financial Times reports that the Emirati government is offering all of its citizens the Chinese developed coronavirus vaccine for free. The UAE authorized emergency use of the vaccine back in September. The paper notes that “while other countries are vaccinating according to age and vulnerability, the UAE has expanded access to all adults across the population of 1m nationals and more than 8m foreign residents.”

The Guardian reports that US President Donald Trump has pardoned four US contractors who fired machine guns and grenade launchers on a crowed of unarmed individuals in Nisour Square, Iraq, which killed 14 civilians. The four contractors, employed by Blackwater, were given lengthy prison sentences. At the time of their sentencing, the US attorney’s office said in a statement: “The sheer amount of unnecessary human loss and suffering attributable to the defendants’ criminal conduct on September 16, 2007, is staggering.”

Reuters reports that the United States has imposed new sanctions on Syria. The new sanctions target the country’s central bank, two individuals and nine business entities. The State Department also designated Asma al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s wife, accusing her of “impeding efforts for a political resolution to the war.”

The Guardian and Reuters report that the European Court of Human rights ruled that Turkey must immediately release Selahattin Demirtas, a prominent Kurdish politician. The court said that the justification for his prison term was “a cover for limiting pluralism and debate” adding that his detention goes “against the very core concept of a democratic society.” Demirtas is the former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP) who has been jailed since 2016, after being indicted for terrorism-related offences over comments made in a 2013 speech.

James Rothwell writes in The Telegraph about the devastation Bethlehem is facing this upcoming holiday season as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The city, known as the birthplace of Jesus relies heavily on tourism. Rothwell notes that “Like every other Christmas celebration around the world, coronavirus has wrought havoc on the West Bank town of Bethlehem, especially on its once-lucrative tourism industry.”

Kan Radio News reports that the government will discuss the Health Ministry’s recommendation for a complete lockdown. The new measures would see a complete halt to commerce, a shutdown of the school system and would prohibit people from travelling more than a kilometer from their homes. The Health Ministry recommends the lockdown last for three to four weeks, the time it will take daily infections to reduce to 1,000. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz agree on the need for a national lockdown, but disagree on when it should commence. Ynet notes that Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Israel is in the grips of a “third coronavirus infection wave” and that there is no other choice but to go into another nationwide lockdown.

Israel Hayom reports that a military intelligence briefing warned that the average number of new coronavirus cases per week will continue to rise at an alarming rate if the government does not impose a lockdown. The reports notes that Israel could have over 10,000 new cases a day by mid-January without any further restrictions. Additionally, the past three weeks have also seen a notable rise in the number of hospitalised COVID patients listed in serious condition.

Haaretz reports that the IDF is bolstering its forces in the West Bank following the murder of an Israeli woman earlier this week, which police suspect to be a terrorist attack. Security officials worry this will lead to more attacks, including retaliatory violence by settlers. A statement released by the IDF said that it will increase its troop presence in the West Bank in order “to protect communities and roads in the area.” The statement also noted that all combat soldier were ordered to stay on their bases.

Kan Radio News reports that Morocco’s Foreign Minister, Nasser Bourita, announced that Israel and Morocco will open bilateral trade missions within two weeks. Bourita made the announcement to a delegation visiting Rabat from Israel. The report also notes that Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat held talks with King Mohammed VI and extended an invitation from Prime Minister Netanyahu to visit Israel.

Haaretz reports that prior to the arrival of the join Israeli-American delegation to Rabat yesterday, Morocco signaled that it is not interested in a normalisation deal part of the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords, saying it already had overt diplomatic relations with Israel. The paper also notes that Morocco told Israel in recent days that it does not intent to hold a public ceremony for their agreements, as the Emirates and Bahrain did. During the delegations visit to Rabat, Israel and Morocco signed a number of agreements on water, finance, investment and civil avaiation.

Ynet reports that negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime border reached a stalemate. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced regret over the impasse in talks, which began in October. The talks were supposed to clear the way for both countries to pursue offshore oil and gas exploration. In a statement, Pompeo said: “Regrettably, despite goodwill on both sides, the parties remain far apart. The United States remains ready to mediate constructive discussions and urges both sides to negotiate based on the respective maritime claims both have previously deposited at the United Nations.”

In the commentary in Yediot Ahronot Nahum Barnea writes, “The worst of all Israeli governments ended its tenure at midnight last night. The 800,000 out-of-work Israelis who are registered with the Employment Service won’t be joining the funeral cortege. The businesses that have collapsed and the businesses that are going to collapse in the upcoming lockdown, the dreams that have been shattered, the students who wither at home, the elderly who were cut off from their families, the services that weren’t provided because no budget was approved—none of them will be attending either. Never before has the disparity between the troubles facing the Israeli street and political establishment’s agenda been so vast. Netanyahu frequently compares Israel’s handling of the coronavirus crises with other countries’ track records. He cherry-picks the statistics that are convenient for him and, when there aren’t any, he invents them. There is one fact that he makes certain never to mention: Israel is the only country in the world that has been operating under coronavirus conditions without an approved state budget. The repercussions are patently clear: the Israeli government hasn’t been able to deal properly with the economic crisis and won’t be able to prepare properly for the exit from that crisis. The reason is also perfectly clear: the two state budgets, for 2020 and 2021, were kept on ice as a vaccine shot against the alternating premiership arrangement.”

In Ma’ariv, Ben Caspit writes “This is the second time that Netanyahu has been forced into an election. The first time was in 1999, when he lost his majority in the Knesset and was then defeated by Ehud Barak.  That has never happened to the new Netanyahu. He went into the 2009 election with a predetermined outcome (he reached coalition agreements well in advance); the 2013 elections were held on their allotted date (he ran in concert with Lieberman); he dragged Israel into a new election in 2015 at a time that was convenient for him (because of the Israel Hayom bill) and he dragged us all into the three elections that were held in 2019-2020.  No longer. The forcer has now been forced. The man who liked to sew up his coalitions in advance now finds himself with only the ultra-Orthodox as partners, and even that partnership is conditional. They will forget every last oath and promise as soon as they see that the other side can form a government. The other side, incidentally, isn’t the “left,” as Netanyahu said yesterday. That card has already been squandered. The public isn’t stupid; it knows that Gideon Saar, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett aren’t part of the “left” and that even Yair Lapid isn’t truly part of what might be described as the classic left. Netanyahu has only himself and perhaps some of his inner circle to blame for that.”

Ma’ariv reports that according to a Kan Television News segment, an Israeli Navy submarine passed through the Suez Canal last Sunday heading in the direction of the Persian Gulf. The submarine passed through the canal with Egyptian authorization. The news reports cited an Arab intelligence official claiming the move was an Israeli message to Iran, while the IDF Spokesperson’s office refused to comment.

Yediot Ahronot’s Ben-Dror Yemini comments on the ongoing reports of a prisoner release, writing that Israel “cannot afford another one-sided campaign, as was the case with Gilad Shalit… We owe an accounting to ourselves, and this includes remembering and reminding others that Israelis were murdered by the people who were released in the deal. I wrote in my Friday column that ten people were murdered. I received angry responses, saying that more had been murdered… it is imperative that we warn against another disgraceful deal now. Now is the time to say that it is precisely because we sanctify life that no terrorists should be released, especially when it is clear from the outset that they will shed more blood.”