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Media Summary

US seizes dozens of Iranian websites

BBC News, The Financial Times and The Guardian report that several Iranian and Iranian-linked news sites were offline on Tuesday. The US was behind the move and blocked sites accused of spreading misinformation. The US Department of Justice confirmed the seizure saying that the domains were owned by a US company that did not obtain proper licensing for operation. Three sites operated by Kata’ib Hezbollah, a designated terrorist group by the US State Department, were also shut down. A semi-official Iranian news agency claimed the move demonstrated that the US’s “calls for freedom of speech are lies”.

The Independent reports that President-elect Raisi has said he supports the ongoing negotiations regarding the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, but that he would not meet with US President Joe Biden. In comments made after his election win, Raisi said his government would “support the negotiations that guarantee our national interests”.

The Times reports that Iran’s President-elect Raisi presided over beatings, stoning and rape when he was a prosecutor in the 1980s. Speaking to former prisoners, the paper describes witness testimony to Raisi’s brutality. Iran’s President-elect also reportedly ordered the mass execution of prisoners by hanging or throwing them off cliffs. He is accused of killed at least 5,000 people under the order of Ayatollah Khomeini in the late 1980s.

The Associated Press reports that according to recent satellite images from Plant Labs Inc and Maxar Technologies, Iran likely conducted a failed launch of a satellite-carrying rocket. According to the report, a US official also confirmed the failed launch and indicated that Iran is likely preparing for another one soon.

Limor Simhony Philpott writes in The Spectator about “how Israel can block Iran’s nuclear dreams”. She argues that Israel’s new government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennet can be more effective in this goal compared to the previous government, writing: “The Israeli team will also want to make the point that a nuclear-armed Iran with long-range missiles poses a threat to Europe. Getting across this point may be easier for this government to achieve than for the last one. Previously, Netanyahu controlled all communications with foreign leaders, many of whom mistrusted him.”

The Telegraph reports that the Saudi hit squad that was sent to assassinate journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training in the US under a contract approved by the State Department. The paper cites a report in The New York Times that “the training was provided by Tier 1 Group, which is owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management and was defensive in nature and devised to protect Saudi leaders”. This follows a report from the US intelligence community that concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation to kill the journalist.

The Guardian reports that since the start of June 31 people have been killed in the Idlib area from attacks by pro-regime forces. A local aid agency also notes that 5,000 civilians have been forced to flee due to shelling from the Syrian regime.

Haaretz reports that Israel is unsure whether Iran is close to signing a new nuclear deal, or whether Ebrahim Raisi’s election as president reflects a radicalisation that will lead to the talks collapsing and Tehran proceeding rapidly toward building nuclear weapons. “The first indication should come on Thursday, when the understandings that enable the International Atomic Energy Agency to continue monitoring Iran’s nuclear facilities expire. If Iran agrees to extend those understandings – which it doesn’t currently seem willing to do – that will indicate a desire to reach a new nuclear deal,” Israeli officials said. On Sunday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, announced a time-out in the nuclear talks to enable consultations with the Iranian leadership. “We are now closer to an agreement than ever,” he said. “But it is not an easy task to close the distance currently between us and an agreement.”

Both Yedioth Ahronot and Haaretz publish pieces about the Likud party. Sima Kadmon spoke with several unnamed so-called “senior Likud officials,” who told her about a rising tide of anger within Likud ranks with Benjamin Netanyahu and his leadership. One official is quoted indirectly as saying Netanyahu isn’t going to make a comeback. He has a glass ceiling over his head. This government will hold office for years, and the Likud will plunge along with Netanyahu into the depths. Kadmon writes: “Nevertheless, the senior Likud official with whom I spoke was not prepared yet to make the above statements on-the-record. He knows that there is still a large majority within the Likud that continues to see Netanyahu as prime minister, as if he was never replaced in office (one privately-commissioned poll found that more than 62 per cent of Likud voters think that Netanyahu needs to stay, as opposed to the remaining third that thinks he should be replaced). The senior Likud official said that he would speak on-the-record soon. Everyone is going to come out of the closet. But there is a time for everything, he said. There is a group of Bibi-ists in the faction and they aren’t party to that kind of talk. But they are only a small group.” The Likud official is quoted as saying, “Slowly but surely, people are going to come to realise that he isn’t going to return [to power]. His age. The dramatic decline in [his] good judgment. The sub-standard bureau [that he ran]. Decision-making that increasingly moved to Balfour [i.e. decisions that were made by the Netanyahu family]. With every passing day, the new government will make new decisions. Appointments of new officials, cabinet meetings and security cabinet meetings—all of that will only highlight everything that was lacking here before. And once that happens, it will be far easier to replace him as chairman of the Likud.”

Yossi Verter in Haaretz also touches on Likud disillusionment with Netanyahu. Netanyahu “can continue sketching a virtual reality, hoping someone believes it. In practice, if there is one guarantee that no alternative government is formed in the current Knesset term (with a vote of no-confidence, for example), it’s Netanyahu’s continued hold on the Likud leadership. He’s the one making a faction of 29 lawmakers illegitimate. He’s the one preventing his colleagues from returning to power. Judging by their faces, they’re starting to digest this fact”.

Israel Hayom reports on the controversial event that took place at the Knesset yesterday titled, “After 54 years: From Occupation to Apartheid.” The event was hosted by MK Aida Touma-Sliman of the opposition Joint List party and MK Mossi Raz of Meretz, a party that is a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government. A shouting match erupted between far-right MKs and Arab and left-wing lawmakers. In Yedioth Ahronot Ben-Dror Yemini rails against the conference, especially the decision to have Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch address those present by means of video link from the CIGA conference in Istanbul. Yemini writes: “The majority of the Zionist left has always known how to draw a clear red line distinguishing between legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and any of its policies, and joining in the blood libel that is being spread by people who deny Israel’s very right to exist. But the noisy part of the left wing has changed for the worse. When MK Mossi Raz of Meretz joins MK Aida Touma-Sliman of the anti-Zionist Joint List, and both of them invite Shakir while he is in the middle of attending another anti-Semitic conference—Raz crossed that red line. Doing that does nothing to promote the cause of peace and reconciliation. It only advances hateful talk, rejectionism and anti-Semitism.”

Kan Radio reports that Justice Minister Gideon Saar tapped the acting state attorney, Amit Aisman, for the permanent role of state attorney yesterday. The position has gone unfilled for a year-and-a-half. Before becoming the deputy state attorney, Aisman served as the Haifa district attorney.