Netanyahu takes aim at graft probes ahead of Israel polls

Netanyahu takes aim at graft probes ahead of Israel polls
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 6, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 07 January 2019

Netanyahu takes aim at graft probes ahead of Israel polls

Netanyahu takes aim at graft probes ahead of Israel polls
  • Netanyahu has spoken out against the possibility that the attorney general will announce his decision on whether to indict him before April 9 elections
  • The prime minister, facing possible indictment in three separate probes, says he has no intention of resigning if called in for such a hearing before the vote

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in recent days taken aim at what seems to be his main opponent ahead of upcoming elections: corruption investigations that may lead to his indictment.
In a widely criticized social media video at the weekend and elsewhere, Netanyahu has spoken out against the possibility that the attorney general will announce his decision on whether to indict him before April 9 elections.
Polls show the premier is likely to win despite the investigations hanging over him, but a move to indict him pending a hearing could shake up the campaign.
With that in mind, he has publicly urged the attorney general to postpone his announcement, leading to criticism that his comments are out of bounds.
After his video on Saturday, former supreme court justice Eliyahu Matza compared Netanyahu’s rhetoric to that of a crime boss.
In the video, Netanyahu stands before a map of the Middle East, smiling as if recounting a joke, and refers to amputation as punishment in certain countries.
He says that a man who has his arm cut off following a conviction for stealing cannot get it back after winning on appeal — hinting that polls influenced by a hearing in the graft cases against him could similary not be undone.
“You don’t start a hearing before the elections if you can’t conclude it before the elections,” he says.
The pre-indictment hearing is a key step in Israel’s judicial process.
If Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announces his intention to indict him, Netanyahu gets a final chance to defend himself in a hearing before the charges are filed.
The prime minister, facing possible indictment in three separate probes, says he has no intention of resigning if called in for such a hearing before the vote.
Netanyahu pushed for polls in April — seven months before they are due — because he would like to combat potential charges with a fresh electoral mandate, according to many analysts.
That strategy would allow Netanyahu, who denies all allegations against him, to argue that the investigations are the result of a political plot by his enemies to force him from office against voters’ will.
For that reason, Netanyahu’s argument that the attorney general must wait until after April 9 does not hold water, said Reuven Hazan of Hebrew University’s political science department.
“It’s a completely ludicrous argument because Netanyahu called the early elections in order to try to avoid a decision in the midst of an election campaign,” he said.
“So if Netanyahu is allowed to throw Israel into an election campaign in order to try to circumvent the attorney general, then the attorney general adhering to the legal rules of the game is not something that Netanyahu can throw back at him.”
The pressure on the attorney general is immense.
He has remained largely silent, saying only that his office is working to conclude the investigations as quickly as possible.
Graffiti was recently sprayed in northern Israel calling Mandelblit a “collaborator,” and his father’s grave was also vandalized, though it was unclear if the incidents were connected, according to Israeli media.
Netanyahu’s political allies have ramped up arguments in support of him, while opposition figures — and at least one minister in his current government — insist he must step down if indicted.
A prime minister is not legally required to resign if charged — only after convicted with appeals exhausted.
Winning would put Netanyahu on track to surpass founding father David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
Yair Lapid, head of centrist opposition party Yesh Atid, distributed his own video mocking Netanyahu.
“The prime minister of Israel thinks we’re in Saudi Arabia,” Lapid said, arguing he should not run if indicted.
While Netanyahu may win no matter what the attorney general decides, future coalition partners will face the choice of whether to stick with him as the case takes its course.
Netanyahu supporters may also have to reconsider if “overwhelming evidence” against the premier makes it difficult for him to remain in office, Hazan said.
“They will begin to realize that once there is an indictment and the legal process begins, if there is overwhelming evidence, then this will be the last time that he is elected,” he said.
Under that scenario, Hazan said, “he’s going down — the question is when and the question is will that impact their vote now knowing that they’re not getting another full tenure with Netanyahu at the helm.”


Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks
Updated 2 min 14 sec ago

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks
TEHRAN: Tehran warned Wednesday that Washington's seizure of 33 websites run by Iran-linked media was "not constructive" for ongoing talks on bringing the United States back into a landmark nuclear deal.
The US Justice Department said it had seized 33 Iranian government-controlled media websites, as well as three of the Iraqi group Kataeb Hezbollah, which it said were hosted on US-owned domains in violation of sanctions.
Iran's state broadcaster accused the US of repressing freedom of expression, while the president's office questioned the timing of the move as talks on bringing Washington back into the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and major powers are reportedly making headway.
"We are using all international and legal means to... condemn... this mistaken policy of the United States," the director of the president's office, Mahmoud Vaezi, told reporters.
"It appears not constructive when talks for a deal on the nuclear issue are under way."
The 2015 deal saw Iran accept curbs on its nuclear activities in return for an easing of sanctions, but in 2018 then US president Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the agreement and ramped up sanctions, prompting Iran to pull back from its own commitments.
Trump's successor Joe Biden has signalled his readiness to return to the deal and state parties -- also including Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- have been negotiating its revival in Vienna since early April.
EU negotiator Enrique Mora said on Sunday that those involved in the talks were "closer" to saving the Iran nuclear deal but that sticking points remain.
The US action also comes just after Iranians chose ultraconservative cleric Ibrahim Raisi as president in an election the US State Department characterised as neither free nor fair.
Visitors to leading Iranian media sites like Press TV and Al-Alam, the country's main English- and Arabic-language broadcasters, as well as the Al-Masirah TV channel of Yemen's Huthis, were met with single-page statements declaring the website "has been seized by the United States government" accompanied by the seals of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Commerce Department.
The 33 websites were held by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU), itself controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force (IRGC).
Both the IRTVU and IRGC have been placed on the US sanctions blacklist, making it illegal for Americans, US companies, and foreign or non-American companies with US subsidiaries to have business with them or their subsidiaries.
Kataeb Hezbollah, the Iraqi group which owned three sites that were seized, is a hardline military faction with close ties to Tehran that Washington has formally designated a terror group.
Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the immediate parent of Al-Alam, reported that other web domains, including Palestine-Al Youm, a Palestinian-directed broadcaster, and an Arabic-language religious and cultural channel were among those seized.
Bahrain's LuaLua TV, a channel run by opposition groups with offices in London and Beirut, was also frozen by the United States, according to an AFP correspondent in the region.
IRIB accused the US of repressing freedom of expression and joining forces with Israel and Saudi Arabia "to block pro-resistance media outlets exposing the crimes of US allies in the region."
TV stations such as Press TV and Al-Alam switched to .ir domains and their websites remained accessible. They are also still present on social media, mainly Twitter, and their broadcasts have continued uninterrupted.
On the website of their political wing, the Huthis branded the action "American piracy and copyright confiscation".
"The government of the United States of America is banning the Al-Masirah website without any justification or even prior notice," they said.
Al-Masirah quickly established a new website, using its name but swapping the .net domain for .com.
Meanwhile LuaLua and Al-Masirah continued to broadcast new programs, AFP journalists said.
IRTVU was designated for sanctions last year for "brazen attempts to sow discord among the voting populace by spreading disinformation online and executing malign influence operations aimed at misleading US voters," the Justice Department said.
"IRTVU and others like it, disguised as news organisations or media outlets, targeted the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations," it said in a statement.
US officials meanwhile have tied Kataeb Hezbollah to rocket and other attacks on sites in Iraq where American soldiers and diplomats reside, and say the group is supported by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
The Justice Department did not identify the US company or companies which owned the domains that hosted the websites, or explain how they had been able to host them contrary to sanctions.

Germany hosts conference to push for progress in Libya

Germany hosts conference to push for progress in Libya
Updated 48 min 5 sec ago

Germany hosts conference to push for progress in Libya

Germany hosts conference to push for progress in Libya
  • The meeting is held at the foreign ministry in Berlin
  • German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that much has been achieved in the past two years

BERLIN: Germany and the United Nations are bringing together representatives of Libya with powers that have interests in the country at a conference Wednesday which aims for progress toward securing elections in the North African nation and the removal of foreign fighters.
The meeting at the foreign ministry in Berlin, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken among those expected to attend, follows up on a January 2020 conference where leaders agreed to respect an arms embargo and to push the country’s warring parties to reach a full cease-fire. Germany has tried to act as an intermediary.
Countries that have been involved in the process include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Italy, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Ahead of the conference, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that much has been achieved in the past two years. An October cease-fire agreement that included a demand that all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on elections that are due to be held on Dec. 24 and a transitional government that took office in February.
But “many challenges still lie ahead of us,” said Maas, who met Libya’s transitional prime minister and foreign minister on Tuesday evening. “For the further stabilization of the country, it is crucial that elections take place as planned and that foreign fighters and mercenaries really do leave Libya.”
He added that Wednesday’s conference launches a new phase “in which we no longer only talk about Libya, but in which we are now speaking with Libyan men and women about the future of their country.”
Libya descended into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The oil-rich country was long divided between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
In April 2019, eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar and his forces launched an offensive to try to capture Tripoli. Haftar’s 14-month campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the UN-backed government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.


Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another
Updated 23 June 2021

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another
  • Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. and Maxar Technologies show preparations at the spaceport on June 6
  • As with other failed launches, Iranian state media did not acknowledged it took place

DUBAI: Iran likely conducted a failed launch of a satellite-carrying rocket in recent days and now appears to be preparing to try again, the country’s latest effort to advance its space program amid tensions with the West over its tattered nuclear deal.
Satellite images, a US official and a rocket expert all confirmed the failed launch, earlier this month, at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s Semnan province. The attempt comes as Iran’s space program has suffered a series of high-profile losses, while its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard runs its own parallel program that launched a satellite into orbit last year.
As with other failed launches, Iranian state media did not acknowledged it took place. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. and Maxar Technologies show preparations at the spaceport on June 6. Those images include what appears to be fuel tanks alongside a massive white gantry that houses a rocket, while scientists fuel it and prepare for launch. Before the launch, workers tow the gantry away to expose the rocket.
The number of fuel tanks, based on their size, appear to have been enough to fill the first and second stages of an Iranian Simorgh rocket, said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. The Simorgh is a satellite-carrying rocket that has been launched from that same area of the spaceport, he said.
Later satellite images on June 17 showed a decrease in activity at the site. Lewis said analysts believe Iran launched the rocket at some point in that window.
“Nothing had blown up. There wasn’t a giant stain — like they had dumped the fuel — and the vehicles had kind of just moved around,” he said. “The overall level of activity at the site was much lower. So to our mind, that looked like a launch.”
CNN, which first reported on the failed launch, quoted Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Uriah Orland saying that “US Space Command is aware of the Iranian rocket launch failure which occurred early June 12.” Orland did not elaborate. The Pentagon and US Space Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday from The Associated Press.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Iran would have picked June 12 for a launch as Tehran typically schedules such launches for national commemorations. However, it did come in the run-up to Iran’s presidential election last week, in which the Islamic Republic had hoped to boost turnout.
On Sunday, a new satellite image from Planet Labs showed renewed activity at the site. The image shows a mobile platform previously used to secure a Simorgh rocket at the gantry, a support vehicle seen at previous launches and a new line of fuel containers lined up at the site. Lewis said the equipment suggests that another launch is imminent.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. The program has seen recent troubles, however. A failed launch this month would be the fourth in a row for the Simorgh program. A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
A rocket explosion in August 2019 drew even the attention of then-President Donald Trump, who later tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure. The successive failures raised suspicion of outside interference in Iran’s program, something Trump himself hinted at by tweeting at the time that the US “was not involved in the catastrophic accident.” But Lewis said such failures are common, especially when trying to put objects carefully into orbit around the Earth.
Meanwhile, the Guard in April 2020 revealed its own secret space program by successfully launching a satellite into orbit. The head of the US Space Command later dismissed the satellite as “a tumbling webcam in space” that wouldn’t provide Iran vital intelligence — though it showed Tehran’s ability to successfully get into orbit.
The launch comes after the landslide election of Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s hard-line judiciary chief tied to the mass execution of thousands in 1988. The vote saw the lowest turnout in a presidential election since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Raisi will take over from Iran’s outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who guided Tehran into its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018, setting in motion months of tensions in the wider Mideast that continue today. Diplomats in Vienna now are negotiating a way for both Iran and the US to re-enter the deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its nuclear enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The US has alleged such satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution and called on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Iran abandoned an organized military nuclear program in 2003.
The Simorgh, however, is far too large and too slow to fuel to be a good carrier for a nuclear-tipped weapon, Lewis said.
“It’s a butter knife,” he added. “Could you stab someone with a butter knife? Yeah, but that’s not really the tool.”


90 detained Egyptians in Libya released

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released
A doctor from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) checks a rescued migrant's identity before administering a Coronavirus test, in Ben Guerdane, southern Tunisia, Saturday June 12, 2021. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2021

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released
  • Mohamed Tharwat Selim said the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli succeeded in resolving the matter in coordination with relevant Libyan authorities

CAIRO: Ninety Egyptians who had been detained at the headquarters of illegal immigration in Tripoli since last Friday have been released, said the head of Egypt’s Diplomatic Mission in Libya’s capital.
Mohamed Tharwat Selim said the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli succeeded in resolving the matter in coordination with relevant Libyan authorities.
He thanked the Libyan interior minister, officials and local authorities for their efforts, which Selim said reflect the close relations between the two countries. He added that most of those released were from Minya Governorate.


Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues

Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi receives Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ahead of their meeting in Cairo on Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2021

Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues

Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues
  • El-Sisi reiterated Egypt’s solidarity with Greece, especially regarding the principles of noninterference in internal affairs

CAIRO: Egypt will stand in solidarity with Greece against any threat to its sovereignty, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said.

The Egyptian president was speaking at a joint press conference with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis following talks between the two leaders in Cairo.
El-Sisi reiterated Egypt’s firm position in the eastern Mediterranean, especially regarding the principles of noninterference in internal affairs, stressing solidarity with Greece.
“Relations with Greece are a model for cooperation and integration at the regional level, as Egypt and Greece share distinguished friendship ties,” he said, adding that Egypt’s position in the eastern Mediterranean region is consistent, and respects the sovereignty and territorial waters of countries.
He also stressed the necessity of disbanding militias in Libya, saying that Egypt and Greece agreed on the need to start an effective political movement in the country following the exit of all foreign forces and mercenaries.
El-Sisi and Mitsotakis also discussed supporting the Libyans in conducting elections on the scheduled date of Dec. 24.

FASTFACT

The two leaders agreed on the need to enhance tripartite cooperation between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, and to achieve maximum benefit from that cooperation. El-Sisi and Mitsotakis also discussed supporting Libyans in conducting elections on the scheduled date of Dec. 24.

The two leaders agreed on the need to enhance tripartite cooperation between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, and to achieve maximum benefit from that cooperation. They stressed the importance of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, which would open up prospects for cooperation and investment between the countries of the region in the field of energy and gas.
The two sides stressed the importance of reaching a fair and balanced legal agreement on filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam being built by Ethiopia in a manner that achieves the interests of the downstream countries and maintains regional stability.
Extensive talks were held between Egypt and Greece, co-chaired by Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and his Greek counterpart.
Madbouly voiced his hopes of strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries, especially in the field of energy, electrical interconnection across the island of Crete, and working with the Greek government to export natural gas surplus to Europe.
He referred to recent efforts made by the Egyptian government to provide a healthy and safe environment for tourists, in order to restore the incoming tourism movement, calling on the Greek side to strengthen tourism cooperation between the two countries.
Mohamed Shaker, minister of electricity and renewable energy indicated that he is working in coordination with the Ministry of Petroleum to finalize the study of the proposed memorandum of understanding for cooperation with Greece in this regard.
Tarek El Molla, minister of petroleum and mineral resources, expressed his aspiration to sign a long-term cooperation agreement in the field of gas, and expressed his readiness to receive all the details of the Greek side’s needs in this regard.