The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — In an audio recording released by a maritime security risk firm, a British naval officer can be heard saying that the transit of a British-flagged vessel through the Strait of Hormuz must not be impaired under international law, just before it is seized by Iranian forces.
The same recording has an Iranian naval officer telling the Stena Impero to change course, saying: “You obey, you will be safe.”
The audio released Sunday by Dryad Global shows how the British navy was unable to prevent the ship’s seizure by Iranian forces on Friday.
Iranian officials say the move came in response to Britain’s role in seizing an Iranian supertanker loaded with some 2 million barrels of crude weeks earlier.
Friday’s incident comes amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran says the fate of a British-flagged tanker it is refusing to hand back after seizing it in the Gulf depends on the cooperation of its crew with an investigation.
A senior official also says the entire crew of the Stena Impero oil tanker was in good health.
The vessel was impounded with its 23 crew members aboard at the port of Bandar Abbas after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized it in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday.
Its crew is made up of 18 Indians, including the captain, three Russians, a Latvian and a Filipino.
“All of them are in full health, they are on the vessel and the vessel is… anchored in a safe place,” says Allah-Morad Afifipoor, director-general of the Hormozgan province port and maritime authority.
“We are ready to meet their needs. But we have to carry out investigations with regards the vessel,” he tells Press TV. “The investigation depends on the cooperation by the crew members on the vessel, and also our access to the evidence required for us to look into the matter.”
Britain called the seizure “dangerous” and summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires on Saturday, urging Iran to de-escalate tensions and release the tanker.
LONDON — British Treasury chief Philip Hammond says he will quit if — as widely expected — Boris Johnson becomes prime minister this week.
Hammond said Sunday that Johnson’s vow to take the U.K. out of the European Union on October 31 with or without a divorce deal is “not something that I could ever sign up to.”
He is the third minister within a week to quit or say they will resign in order to try to block a no-deal Brexit. Economists say leaving the EU without a deal would cause Britain economic turmoil.
Johnson is the strong favorite to win a two-person runoff to lead the Conservative Party and the country. The winner is being announced Tuesday, with the victor taking over from Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday.
Union of Right-Wing Parties leader Rafi Peretz will meet with the faction’s No. 2 Bezalel Smotrich this afternoon ahead of Ayelet Shaked’s expected announcement that she’ll head the New Right party in upcoming elections.
Shaked’s decision comes as Peretz resists calls to give her the top spot in URWP, even though polls indicate it would do better at the ballot box with her as leader.
Anonymous associates of Peretz tell the Ynet news site that Shaked and the New Right’s Naftali Bennett “intend to launch a blitz and force us on a [joint] list under their conditions.”
“We won’t allow this to happen. Shaked won’t get the top place,” the sources say.
Germany’s foreign minister is warning Iran that its seizure of commercial vessels in a key Persian Gulf shipping lane is contributing to an “escalation spiral” that could lead to war.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says in comments to Bild newspaper’s Sunday edition that the seizure of a British tanker Friday and the temporary detention of another has made the situation in the Gulf “a lot more serious and dangerous than it has been.”
He says “there can be no winners, only losers, in a possible uncontrolled military escalation” and calls on Iran’s leaders to fulfill “their responsibilities and not continue with this escalation spiral.”
Maas says European efforts are focused on keeping diplomatic channels open with “voices of reason” despite the challenges involved.
He says: “This is about preventing war.”
Ahead of Ayelet Shaked’s expected announcement this evening she’ll lead the New Right in upcoming elections, the party’s current leader Naftali Bennett issues a call for all right-wing factions to get together.
“The country is more important than personal advancement and the country right now needs a united right,” Bennett writes on his Twitter account.
The tweet appears aimed at the Union of Right-Wing Parties, an alliance of two national-religious factions that has resisted calls for it to be led by Shaked.
The Kan public broadcaster meanwhile reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with URWP leader Rafi Peretz this evening and push him to again team up with Itamar Ben Gvir of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party.
According to Kan, Ben Gvir recently talked with Shaked about teaming up with New Right in the event that the party doesn’t join forces with URWP.
Israel’s national under-20 basketball team is looking to win the FIBA European Championships for a second year in a row when it faces off against Spain this evening.
The youth squad has now been in the finals for three consecutive years, with 2018 marking the first time it ever won the championship.
The Israeli team secured its spot in this year’s championship with its 81-70 victory over France on Saturday. Deni Avdija, who is leading Israel in scoring this tournament, put in a game high 26 points for the blue and whites.
Spain, who is undefeated so far, beat Germany 80-62 to punch its ticket to the title game.
The Israeli squad may get a boost in tonight’s game from the home crowd, as the tournament is being held in Tel Aviv.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hits out once again at the “B team” following his country’s seizure of a UK-flagged vessel in the Strait of Hormuz, accusing US National Security Adviser John Bolton of seeking to bring Britain into a conflict with Iran.
Make no mistake:
Only prudence and foresight can thwart such ploys.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) July 21, 2019
Union of Right-Wing Parties leader Rafi Peretz responds to Naftali Bennett of the New Right’s call for national religious factions to unite ahead of September’s Knesset elections.
“I am happy to see the people of the New Right reach an agreement among themselves,” Peretz writes on Twitter, referring to Ayelet Shaked’s expected announcement this evening that she’ll head the New Right rather than Bennett.
“Now the time has come for a true union on the right. Ayelet and Naftali, you are already invited to negotiations on a union this evening,” Peretz adds.
CAIRO — Lufthansa has resumed flying to Cairo following a one-day suspension due to safety concerns.
The German airline’s website shows LH582 took off from Frankfurt after an almost two-hour delay and was expected to arrive in Egypt’s capital later Sunday.
On Saturday, British Airways announced the suspension of its flights to and from Cairo for seven days for unspecified reasons related to security.
British Airways attributed its cancellations to what it called its constant review of security arrangements at all airports, calling them “a precaution to allow for further assessment.” Lufthansa said it was suspending its flights as a precaution, mentioning “safety” but not “security” as its concern.
Company spokespeople would not elaborate on what motivated the suspensions.
The Foreign Ministry announces it will host six journalists from Arab countries in Israel this week, including from Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
The journalists will tour Jerusalem, northern Israel, Tel Aviv and other sites in the country, as well as meet with Knesset members, ministry officials and academics.
The ministry says the purpose of the visit was to expose the journalists to the “Israeli positions” on unspecified diplomatic issues and to Israeli society.
A statement from the ministry doesn’t specify who the journalists are and what countries they come from, but stresses it’ll be the first such delegation to include journalists from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, neither of which has diplomatic ties with Israel.
WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump renews attacks on four Democratic congresswomen he launched xenophobic tweets against last week, demanding they apologize “for the horrible (hateful) things they have said.”
“I don’t believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country,” Trump tweets of ethnic-minority first-term Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley.
“They should apologize to America (and Israel) for the horrible (hateful) things they have said. They are destroying the Democrat Party, but are weak & insecure people who can never destroy our great Nation!” the president tweets.
The comments come a week after Trump sparked a firestorm of outrage when he attacked the left-leaning lawmakers with a series of tweets, saying they should “go back” to their countries of origin.
The group — three of whom were born in the United States — are of Puerto Rican, Palestinian, Somali and African-American descent.
In a rare move, Trump was rebuked by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Tuesday for “racist comments” against the women, who are known as “the squad.”
The following day chants of “Send her back!” broke out at the president’s “Make America Great Again” rally in Greenville, North Carolina, when he again attacked the women.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing Education Minister Rafi Peretz not to step aside as leader of the Union of Right-Wing Parties for Ayelet Shaked, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
Shaked, a former justice minister, is expected to announce this evening she’ll take over as leader of the New Right party from Naftali Bennett ahead of Knesset elections in September. Ahead of the announcement, Peretz called on Shaked and Bennett to hold negotiations on allying with URWP to form a joint bloc of national-religious factions.
According to Kan, Netanyahu spoke by phone with Peretz three times today in an effort to prevent URWP from uniting with the New Right.
The report says Netanyahu tried to convince Peretz that allying with Shaked would not cause the party to win more seats in September’s election, even though polls have indicated it would.
The prime minister is instead pushing Peretz to again team up with Itamar Ben Gvir of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, a merger Netanyahu brokered before elections in April.
Separately, the Ynet news site reported that Netanyahu’s wife Sara recently told Peretz’s wife Michal that her husband should not cede the top spot in a right-wing alliance to Shaked.
Sara Netanyahu is reported to have a deep disdain for Shaked, who along with Bennett worked for Netanyahu when he was opposition leader.
Prime Minister Netanyahu says he’ll extend Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer’s term for another year, after a TV report said the envoy would complete his tenure in September.
“We’ll extend Ron Dermer’s term by at least a year. He is a fantastic ambassador,” Netanyahu said in a Facebook live video.
According to a Channel 12 report yesterday, the Civil Service Commissioner rejected Netanyahu’s request to extend Dermer’s term.
Before his appointment as ambassador in 2013, Dermer was one of the prime minister’s closest advisers. He is considered to have close ties with the White House and was once a Republican Party operative.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s wife Sara is denying a report that she recently told Rafi Peretz’s wife that her husband shouldn’t step aside for Ayelet Shaked as leader in a theoretical alliance of right-wing parties.
“Sara Netanyahu and Rafi Peretz’s wife met briefly and accidentally at a large wedding,” the Ynet news site quotes a letter put out on Sara Netanyahu’s behalf as saying.
“The two briefly embraced while surrounded by a large crowd and agreed to meet later. The claim about the details of the conversation that supposedly took place is a falsehood and fabrication.”
Amid reports that he is pushing the Union of Right-Wing Parties not to form a joint electoral list with the New Right, Prime Minister Netanyahu claims he is not currently involved in merger talks on the right but if need be he will.
“Following the [Facebook] live broadcast I was approached by a few people on the right who are saying: You have to intervene in what is happening on the right because otherwise we’ll throw another 5-6 seats in the trash and again return to elections,” a statement from Netanyahu’s Likud party quotes him saying.
“So I’m saying: I won’t intervene for the moment but if there is a need — I will.”
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, New Jersey — A top adviser to US President Donald Trump is claiming a “huge difference” between Trump’s criticism of America during the 2016 campaign and current criticism of the US by four liberal Democratic congresswomen of color who Trump has been feuding with.
White House adviser Stephen Miller tells “Fox News Sunday” that Trump’s past words were part of his campaign of putting America first.
Miller says comments by first-term congresswomen Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan are part of an “ideology that runs down America.”
The lawmakers say they’re fighting to help make America better.
Trump carried the feud into a second week Sunday, tweeting “I don’t believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country.”
Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid issues harsh criticism of Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US, after Prime Minister Netanyahu said he is extending the envoy’s term for another year, despite reported opposition from the Civil Service Commissioner.
“There has never been an ambassador who caused more damage to Israel-US ties than Ron Dermer,” Lapid tweets.
He also issues a statement saying few in Washington besides Republicans want anything to do with Dermer, a former Republican operative.
“This man made it so the Democratic Party doesn’t want to talk with them, US Jews don’t want to talk him. Besides the Republicans, no one wants to talk with him,” he adds.
Lapid calls on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit not to allow Dermer’s term to be extended, noting the current government is a caretaker one, and says the ambassador will be out of a job if Blue and White defeats Netanyahu’s Likud in September’s Knesset elections.
He also accuses Netanyahu of destroying Israel’s ties with the Democrats and US Jews, while saying the prime minister no longer understands the United States.
“We’ll get along with Trump no less than you,” Lapid writes on Twitter.
Senior US officials are set to travel to the region next week to further discuss the administration’s forthcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, a senior US official tells The Times of Israel.
The US delegation includes President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, US special peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, Kushner’s senior aid Avi Berkowitz, and Brian Hook, the administration’s point man on Iran.
They are set to travel to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, the senior official says.
“The purpose of the visit is to follow up on the Bahrain workshop,” the officials says, referring to last month’s “Peace to Prosperity” summit in Manama, during which the administration presented the economic part of its two-pronged peace proposal.
“We would like to finalize the plan’s economic portion, including to discuss the potential placement of the investments,” the official said, referring to the $50 billion investement packaged for the Palestinians and the wider region proposed by the plan.
The delegation’s trip is to be understood as the conclusion of the first stage of the peace plan’s unveiling, but not yet as the overture to the presentation of the political part, the official stresses.
— Raphael Ahren
Naftali Bennett officially confirms he is handing over the reins of the New Right party to Ayelet Shaked.
“After the elections, I took full responsibility for the results. I am doing this now,” he says during a press conference in Ramat Gan.
He calls on other right-wing parties to join an alliance that will be headed by Shaked.
Speaking at a press conference in Ramat Gan, former justice minister Ayelet Shaked announces that she will be the new chairwoman of the New Right party, taking over for Naftali Bennett after the fledgling faction failed to cross the electoral threshold in April.
Introducing Shaked, Bennett says that the new party leader will seek to unite all parties to the right of the Likud and he calls on all of them to merge under Shaked’s rule.
“In the upcoming election, there had been no party led by a woman. Now there is,” she says.
— Jacob Magid
A pair of television polls aired this evening said an alliance of the New Right and Union of Right-Wing Parties headed by Ayelet Shaked would get 12-13 seats, if September’s Knesset elections were held today.
If New Right and URWP ran separately, they would pick six and five seats respectively, according to a Channel 12 survey, but together under Shaked would get 13.
That two-seat gain came at the expense of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud, which the survey had being overtaken by Blue and White as the largest party if New Right and URWP unite.
A poll by the Kan public broadcaster says New Right would get eight seats and URWP four if they ran separately, the same as the 12 seats they would get if they ran together.
However, like the Channel 12 poll, the Kan survey had Blue and White beating out Likud as the largest party if the Shaked-led alliance is indeed formed.
In both polls, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu is again forecast to be kingmaker, with neither right-wing or left-wing parties able to form a ruling coalition without his faction.
UNITED NATIONS — A top British representative to the United Nations declares in a letter to the Security Council that Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker amounted to “illegal interference,” and he rejects Tehran’s version of events.
Iranian authorities impounded the Stena Impero with 23 crew members aboard, after patrol boats of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized it Friday, in the highly sensitive Strait of Hormuz.
Iranian officials said the tanker had turned off its transponder after hitting an Iranian fishing boat and was detained after failing to respond to distress calls.
But in a letter dated Saturday, British charge d’affaires Jonathan Allen rejects each of the Iranian claims.
In the letter to Security Council president Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, Allen says the Stena Impero’s transponder was switched on, that the ship was approached in Omani waters, and that it was “exercising the lawful right of transit passage in an international strait.”
As to the claim that the tanker had collided with an Iranian fishing boat, Allen says: “There is no evidence of this. Even if it had occurred, the ship’s location within Omani territorial waters means that Iran would not have been permitted to intercept the Stena Impero.”
Allen’s letter says British officials “do not seek confrontation with Iran. But it is unacceptable and highly escalatory to threaten shipping going about its legitimate business through internationally recognized transit corridors.”
He calls on Iran to release the tanker while diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation continue.
“Our priority,” he says, “is to de-escalate.”
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