Zaghari-Ratcliffe sentenced to one more year in jail
BBC News reports on a leaked audio tape of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticising the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Zarif complains that the IRGC has undermined his diplomatic efforts, specifically mentioning their opposition to the JCPOA nuclear deal. The Financial Times writes that the “leaked recording of an interview with Zarif, who is also the Islamic republic’s chief nuclear negotiator, has revealed the extent of the divisions between the political and military elite in Tehran and the depth of the power wielded by the Revolutionary Guard”.
BBC News and The Independent report that dual British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to another year in prison after being found guilty of propaganda against Iran. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he didn’t think “it is right at all that Nazanin should be sentenced to any more time in jail,” adding that the UK would “redouble” efforts to free her. Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband, said the new sentencing is a direct result of the UK’s long-standing dispute with Iran over £400 million purchase of tanks. The shipment was stopped in 1979 following the revolution.
Charlie Peters writes for The Spectator about why the UK should not pay out to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. He argues: “Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment is specifically linked to the £400m that the clerical regime claims Britain owes Iran. But while Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight is almost unbearable – particularly for her young daughter Gabriella – those politicians suggesting Britain should stump up mustn’t lose sight of the reality of Iran’s regime.”
The Times and The Associated Press report that US warships fired warning shots at several Iranian vessels in the Gulf. An IRGC vessel came within 200ft of a US patrol ship, prompting the warning shots. This marked the second occasion this month that Iran has harassed US ships in the Gulf. A spokesperson for the US 5th Fleet said: “US naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defence.”
The Independent and The Times report that Saudi Arabia destroyed a bomb-laden drone boat entering the Fahd Port off the coast of the city of Yanbu in the Red Sea. A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said: “The booby-trapped boat was dealt and destroyed according to the rules of engagement.” Reuters reports that Yemen’s Houthi forces targeted a Saudi airbase with a military drone early this morning. The official Saudi SPA news agency said the drone was intercepted and destroyed.
Reuters reports that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Saudi Arabia was “more than 90 per cent in agreement with the Biden administration when it comes to Saudi and US interests, and we are working to strengthen these interests. The matters we disagree on represent less than 10% and we are working to find solutions and understandings … there is no doubt that the United States is a strategic partner.” These remarks come after the Biden administration withdrew its support for Saudi operations in Yemen and months after the US released an intelligence report implicating the Crown Prince in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
BBC News, The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent report on the claim from Human Rights Watch (HRW) that Israel is committing crimes of apartheid in the occupied territories and Israel itself. According to HRW, Israel has implemented a policy “to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians”. The Israeli government accused HRW of pursuing an “anti-Israel agenda” and called the report “preposterous and false”. Palestinian officials welcomed the report saying it exposed “Israel’s colonial occupation and its discriminatory and racist policies against the Palestinian people”.
The Telegraph reports that Israel will welcome vaccinated British tourists at the end of May. Israel’s tourism minister said the country was launching a charm offensive in London that would soon see billboard in Piccadilly Circus urging vaccinated Britons to travel to Israel. While there will initially be a limit to the number of foreign tourist groups allowed in the country, those restrictions are expected to be lifted in July.
Ilan Ben Zion writes for The Associated Press about the gentrification of Jaffa. He writes: “Jaffa, the historic port at the core of the greater Tel Aviv metropolis, is home to around 20,000 Arab residents, remnants of the Palestinian population that lived there before Israel’s establishment in 1948. The district has undergone extensive gentrification in recent decades with government encouragement. That trend has accelerated in the past several years as real estate prices have skyrocketed amid surging demand. As wealthy Israelis and foreigners move from other areas of Tel Aviv into Jaffa, its mostly working-class Arab residents have been pushed out. This has added ethnic tensions to an economic phenomenon familiar in other cities around the world.”
BBC News reports that the murder of Farah Hamza Akbar in Kuwait has sparked a demand for greater protection of women. Akbar was allegedly abducted in front of her daughter and niece, and despite pleas from her family to the authorities to protect her, she was murdered. The report notes “The incident has amplified already growing calls for greater protection for women from violence and harassment in Kuwait. Earlier this year, the social media campaign #Lan_ Asket (I will not be silent) was launched to spotlight the issue of harassment, prompting countless incidents from women.”
A video report from BBC News follows Shireen, a 23-year-old previously held captive by ISIS as she returns to Mosul for the first time since her release.
The Times reports that Lebanon has appealed to Saudi Arabia to lift a ban on imports of fruits and vegetables. The Saudi ban was imposed after drugs were found hidden inside food shipments. On Friday, Saudi Arabia said it uncovered 5.3 million amphetamine pills hidden in a shipment of pomegranates. The ban on Lebanese goods has further exacerbated the country’s dire economic situation.
In the Israeli media, all of the papers focus on the illegal Cabinet vote yesterday to appoint Ofir Akunis as the new justice minister. The Supreme Court in Israel ruled that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s view of the illegality of the vote was binding and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has until 11:00am to argue to the court why Akunis’s appointment should be upheld. A Likud official told Maariv: “The High Court of Justice’s order was out of line, to say the very least. They told us to pick a minister despite the disagreements and the agreement that paralyzes us. The government, complying with the court’s order, chose a minister that a majority of the cabinet and the Knesset want. Anyone who says the vote was out of order can challenge it in court. If the court strikes it down, we’ll honour it.” Netanyahu has asked for 48 additional hours to attempt to reach an agreement with Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, who refused to back Akunis’s nomination, as required by law, after the Cabinet voted 17-10 against his nomination.
Nahum Barnea argues in Yediot Ahronot: “The incident in the cabinet meeting yesterday wasn’t a political error; it wasn’t a misstep of the kind that political commentators like to point out with a smug smile. It was, as a legal official said yesterday, an attack on democracy. Without the regime’s compliance with the rules of the game there is no democracy. Netanyahu, like Trump in his moment of distress, has become a dangerous person. Netanyahu currently is living in a world of his own, detached from political and legal reality. The key to emerging from the current political chaos is held by other people: by Bennett, Saar, Lapid and the leaders of the other parties in the pro-change bloc. It is held by the Likud ministers, the attorney general and the Supreme Court justices.”
In Maariv, Ben Caspit says: “Netanyahu knew that the process by means of which he appointed Akunis was illegal. He is intimately familiar with the law that he passed. He also was fully aware of the fact that justice portfolio belongs to Blue and White and is reserved in its name by the same basic law. He knows that he is prohibited from involving himself in the appointment of a new justice minister because he is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He knows that he failed to sign the conflicts of interest arrangement that prohibits him from doing so. So why did he do all that? Because he wants war. That is the last option left to him.”
Israel Hayom puts yesterday’s Cabinet events into political context, saying, “The political damage that this incident caused from Netanyahu’s perspective at the current sensitive juncture in time appears to be damage to the climate [i.e. undermined a possible atmosphere of trust]. The previous trend had been reversed in recent days, and the former certainty that a left-wing government would be formed after Netanyahu’s mandate expired had been replaced with the sense that Netanyahu might nevertheless be able to turn things around and form a government. But that trend was reversed once again yesterday. The pro-change bloc received a boost, whereas the Likud’s efforts to form a government were dealt a blow. For the time being, that does not appear to be a development that cannot be changed and reversed.”
Kan Radio reports that Red Colour Alert sirens sounded this morning in the Kissufim area of the Gaza border region. The IDF said the alarms were tripped by two incoming rockets that failed to reach Israeli territory, falling inside the Gaza Strip. No injuries or property damage were reported. It is the first time rockets have been fired since the security cabinet on Monday signed off on a major military response if terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip continue to fire rockets into Israel, after dozens of rockets were launched from the enclave since Friday night.
Ynet reports that three Palestinian vehicles were set on fire late Tuesday in the West Bank in what appears to be a hate crime perpetrated by Jewish extremists. The alleged attack took place in the Palestinian village of Beit Iksa, northwest of Jerusalem, with “Jews, let’s win” and “TikTok” as well as Star of David spray-painted on the road where the cars were located. The reference to TikTok is about videos being circulated on the social network, showing Arab youths harassing ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem during Ramadan. Meanwhile, Kan Radio reports that eight people were arrested in Jerusalem last night for allegedly attacking Arabs in the downtown area. The people were arrested following reports that an Arab traffic policeman and an Arab pedestrian were sprayed with a tear-gas like substance.
i24 News reports that a new report by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency claims Iran was one of four countries – along with Syria, Pakistan and North Korea – that sought to expand its weapons of mass destruction capabilities in 2020. The agency said Iran attempted to build new business contacts with companies in highly developed states, such as Germany, to obtain their know-how. The German government had already warned of Iran’s procurement efforts in Germany, but did not shed more light on what specifically Tehran was shopping for in the report.