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Media Summary

US report on Khashoggi assassination expected to implicate Saudi Crown Prince

BBC News and The Guardian reports on US President Joe Biden’s call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. The call came ahead of the release of the US report on the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. While the White House statement about the call did not mention Khashoggi by name or the soon to be published report, it read that Biden “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law”.

The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Times report that the soon to be published report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi will implicate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Officials familiar with the report say that the Crown Prince approved and likely ordered the assassination. Documents alleged that the private planes carrying the hit squad dispatched to murder Khashoggi in Turkey were owned by the Crown Prince. The Financial Times notes that the revelations from the report will test US-Saudi relations, with President Biden considering actions targeting the Crown Prince over his involvement in the killing.

BBC News, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian and The Financial Times all report on the overnight US airstrikes targeting Iranian-backed militias in Syria. President Biden approved the strike in response to the attacks which targeted US personnel in Iraq a few weeks ago. A statement from the Pentagon said the US strike hit “multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups.” It is believed the site was used as part of a weapons smuggling operation by the militias. This was the first military action undertaken by the Biden administration. It was thought to be limited in scope, and therefore limiting the risk of escalation. The Associated Press reports that according to an Iraqi militia official the strike killed one person and injured several others. US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin told reports he was “confident” the Shia militants hit in the strike were behind the attacks targeting US personnel in Iraq.

Richard Spencer writes for The Times about US President Biden’s goals in the Middle East. He writes: “Biden, like President Obama before him, wants to end the quagmire that America’s immersion in Middle East politics so often seems to be. Both believe that if Saudi Arabia and Iran can ‘balance’ their interests then US presidents in future will be able to devote themselves to domestic economic policies and the rivalry with Russia and China.”

The Telegraph and The Independent report on a letter written by Princess Latifa to British police in 2019. In her letter, Princess Latifa urged British authorities to open an investigation into the alleged kidnapping and torture of her sister, Princess Shamsa. The letter claims that Princess Shamsa suffered “physical abuse at the hands of family members”. Twenty years ago, the High Court in London ruled that Princess Shamsa was abducted in Cambridge on the order of her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum – ruler of Dubai. While the letter was written two years ago, it was only passed to authorities this week.

The Telegraph reports that Margaret Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary urged the former Prime Minister “not to launch a smear campaign against Saddam when Iraqi forces invaded neighbouring Kuwait, warning that such a tactic would call into question why British firms had repeatedly sold munitions to Iraq”. This came after Thatcher compared Hussein to Adolf Hitler and described him as “a selfish, despotic dictator” in private. There was also concern that a propaganda campaign against the Iraqi dictator would risk the lives of British citizens captured by Iraqi forces.

The Economist reports on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appeal to Arab voters ahead of the country’s election next month. While just last year Netanyahu called the Joint Arab List “supporters of terrorist,” he has struck a new tone in the lead up to the March 23 election: “He has been visiting Arab towns, where he takes credit for a highly successful roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines. His party, Likud, has placed an Arab Muslim on its list of candidates. The prime minister says he enjoys it when Arabs call him ‘Abu Yair’ (father of Yair), reflecting their practice of referring to someone as the parent of their eldest son. ‘It brings tears to my eyes,’ he says.”

Yediot Ahronot leads with a message from Prince Hassan Ben Talal, King Abdullah II’s uncle and a senior member of the Jordanian royal family. He relates to the prospects of peace between Israelis and Palestinians and says “together, we can reach comprehensive peace by the end of the decade,” while clarifying that the condition for progress is the establishment of a Palestinian state and the division of Jerusalem. According to the paper, “Prince Hassan is careful to keep his door open to Israelis. These are mostly people he has known since the beginning of the peace process in which he was deeply involved alongside King Hussein. Recently, there was a discreet meeting between him and a group of Israelis in key positions. Recently, the prince had another conversation, on Zoom, with five other well-known Israelis in the kingdom … on the one hand, he will not deviate from the official state line. On the other hand, he is constantly trying to appeal to the Israeli public over the heads of statesmen in Jerusalem.”  According to Prince Hassan, “Today, as normalisation goes beyond bilateral agreements, deals based on economic interests and defence alliances with common enemies, we have an extraordinary opportunity to break through the deadlock and embark on a new path aimed at achieving comprehensive peace in the Middle East by the end of this decade.”

Israel Hayom includes an extensive interview with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Relating to the coronavirus Netanyahu says, “We’ll be done with the vaccinations in March, the beginning of April. That’s for the adult population. Then, vaccines for children will start arriving.” Netanyahu believes that Israel will be able to emerge from the COVID crisis as a leading nation and will benefit from contracts with pharmaceutical companies to produce their vaccines locally. “We are living in an age of pandemics. I took care that Israel would lead the world – not only in terms of acquiring – to the next vaccine. The intent is to make Israel a vital link in the global vaccine supply chain,” he says.  On the upcoming election Netanyahu says, “I think that the upcoming election is about who will be the next prime minister – Yair Lapid or I. Ask any citizen who stood up to the pressure from American administrations, and there were a few that wanted to push us back to the 1967 borders and put us in grave danger. Lapid said that the solution, as far as he was concerned, was to uproot 100,000 Jews and make concessions and withdrawals that would put our security at risk. So the opposite – the Americans are able to respect our strong stance, both on the political matter and the Iranian issue.” He was also asked about his attitude to the Arab public.  Netanyahu said: “This is the nation-state of the Jewish people, but there have to be equal opportunities for every citizen … the big difference is that today, the Arab public’s eyes have been opened. I told them: don’t vote for the Joint Arab List because it doesn’t represent you. It radicalises the discourse. It drags you to an impasse of clashing with Zionism, of supporting terrorism. To the narrative of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. We set up nine police stations in the Arab sector. There used to be one. I was in Acre, a model of co-existence and containing crime. This week we were also in Jawarish, in Ramle. For six months, there was nothing there. Today, there is a minister and a police commissioner who are battling crime tooth and nail so that kids will be able to go out into the streets without fear of being shot. And they see the four peace agreements and the fact that the Joint Arab List opposed them. It created a change. It’s not just that we’re changing the relations between Arabs and Jews outside Israel, we’re changing the relations in Israel.”

With the election less than a month away, all the papers cover the latest political developments. Maariv quotes the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman, who wrote on Facebook: “There is no future with Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ). I have been hearing more and more MKs from Yesh Atid saying again that they view the Shas and UTJ hacks as partners in the next coalition. There are some things that do not go together. As long as Deri and Gafni are in the government, civil marriage and divorce will be impossible. As long as Shas and UTJ are part of the coalition, there will be no core curriculum studies in all schools, there will be no compulsory draft law for all and there will be no public transport and stores on the Sabbath. The most dangerous thing in public life is to live in an illusion and to delude the voters.” The paper quotes a response from MK Meir Cohen, the Yesh Atid faction chairman: “I suggest that all of the candidates who are promising that they will replace the government that they have a bit of humility. They will not decide who will lead the bloc, the voters will decide. You can’t hope to be prime minister with ten seats (referring to Yamina), and what is important at this time is to display maturity and to adhere to the important goal — to replace the government. Leave your egos for faction meetings.”

In Yediot Ahronot Sima Kadmon comments on this week’s most “dramatic” development, the statements by both Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and New Hope’s Gideon Saar that they would not join a government led by Yair Lapid. She wonders why Bennett, after refusing to disqualify anyone up until now, was suddenly disqualifying Lapid. She argues, “As Bennett sees it, the target is not Lapid. He said what he did to counter Netanyahu’s campaign, who said that Bennett and ‘Gideon’ were planning to form a government with Lapid at its head …. due to Netanyahu’s pressure on him, Bennett has created a reality in which Lapid will not be able to form a government.”

Haaretz reports that “the so-called UK variant of coronavirus has contributed significantly to the rise in the number of serious cases of the disease, according to newly published research by the Clalit Health Maintenance Organisation.  The study, conducted among some 50,000 non-vaccinated people who contracted the coronavirus in January and February 2021, shows a rise of 70 per cent patients that became seriously ill compared to data on 60,000 people infected in previous months. This suggests that the UK strain, B.1.1.7, has properties that differentiate it from the ‘original’ COVID-19. So far, the most prominent difference is that it is more infectious. But it also appears that the illness it causes is much more violent than the original strain.”