Is business the path to peace in the Middle East?

It is not yet six months since the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed a peace accord with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, but already there is a new occupant in the Oval Office and another election coming in Israel.

But the future of the “Abraham Accords” which normalised relationships between Israel and the two other countries for the first time in their history seems to be secure.

Not only have Morocco and Sudan signed similar accords, but millions of dollars of business deals have been signed between the players.

In December alone it is estimated that 60,000 Israeli tourists visited Dubai and that is not including the envoys of business people flowing back and forth.

“We have a lot in common,” says Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, and one of the founders of the UAE-Israel Business Council.

“The minute the peace was announced people were jumping to get to know each other. We started creating Whatsapp forums and Zoom meetings and it had its own pace and own momentum.”

Deals have been announced in industries including banking, football, cyber-security and food technology. Kosher restaurants and catering are now being advertised in Dubai, and two gyms have opened to teach Krav Maga, the Israeli-developed self-defence practice.

Some estimates say the accords will reap $4bn (£2.9bn) worth of business.

One of the first official business deals was signed between an Israeli arm of the water systems company Fluence and the Dubai-based conglomerate, the Al Shirawi Group.

Thani al-Shirawi, one of the company’s bosses, says the deal was “a match made in heaven”.

“We spoke the same language,” he told a special edition of the BBC’s Talking Business programme, assessing the economic impact of the deal.

“We had the same aspiration and we both wanted to grow. Israel had the technology – they are a few laps ahead when it comes to the water industry.”

The Israeli boss of Fluence, Yaron Bar-Tal, is equally enthusiastic, not just about the business deal but also about the wider peace.

“Business can be the path to peace and vice versa, peace is the path to business so both as an Israeli and as a businessman I feel proud having our products as the path to the peace there.”

But the deal has not been universally acclaimed.

The Palestinian response was swift, marches against the deal were seen immediately on the streets of Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority tweeted that there would be no solution until Israel ended its occupation.

Cyber-attacks against companies based in the United Arab Emirates also spiked by as much as 250% after the announcement.

William Brown, the Middle East lead for crisis and resilience at consultancy Control Risks, says it’s important to put that in context. “We are also living in a time when remote working has become the norm,” he says.

“It’s an over-simplification to say the spike has been in response to the deal, though it has obviously had an impact.”

Meanwhile, speculation that Saudi Arabia could be next to sign an accord with Israel because of its links with Bahrain are being played down.

“Under the current [Saudi] king I think it’s impossible,” says Adedayo Bolaji-Adio from the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“He aligns with the school of thought which is you have to solve the Palestinian issue before you can engage with Israel, so I think for the moment the deal is off the table,” she says.

“I can potentially see Oman signing a deal. I think the Omanis would like to see the reaction from the Arab world to these deals.”

For many years Israel has had peace deals with Egypt and Jordan but these were never very popular on the ground in those Arab states, unlike the more recent accords which have certainly been welcomed by the business communities in both countries.

For decades business has unofficially flowed between the UAE and Israel – now it’s out in the open.

How far the deals realign the power alliances as well as the economies in the region will be of enormous consequence in the next few years. It seems the business community has already given its verdict.

Additional reporting by Gidi Kleinman

Talking Business with Sameer Hashmi can be seen this weekend on the BBC News Channel and BBC World News.

Kim Kardashian files to divorce Kanye West – US media

Kim Kardashian has filed for divorce from rapper Kanye West, according to reports in US media.

The couple have been married for almost seven years and have four children together.

The news was broken by celebrity news website TMZ after months of rumours of marital difficulties.

Reports in US media suggest the reality star, 40, has requested joint legal and physical custody of their children. Neither have publicly commented.

The couple are among the most recognisable stars in the world and are both hugely successful in their own right.

Kim first found fame in 2007 as the star of an E! Television reality series about her family. Keeping up with the Kardashians has remained hugely popular since, with its 21st and final series due to air next year.

The reality star has found success in many other areas of business, from mobile apps to make-up, and Forbes estimates her personal wealth to be about $780m (£556m).

Kanye West has been one of the biggest names in rap music for over 15 years and has also found incredible success as a fashion designer.

The couple were friends for years before they got together. They had their first daughter, North, in 2013 with three more children – Saint, Chicago and Psalm – following after their 2014 marriage.

Taylor Swift: Im the fourth Haim sister

Taylor Swift has joked she is now officially “the fourth Haim sister”, after collaborating with the band on a remix of their track, Gasoline.

“Cancel the DNA test,” wrote the singer online. “I’m the 4th Haim sister and this song is the only proof I need”.

The song appears on the new expanded version of the Los Angeles band’s album, Women In Music Pt. III.

The Grammy-nominated siblings said it was their famous friend’s favourite on the original 2020 record.

They noted how the new version had allowed them to “reimagine” the track.

“Since we released wimpiii in June, Taylor had always told us that Gasoline was her favourite,” they posted on Instagram, around Friday’s release.

“So when we were thinking about ways to reimagine some of the tracks from the record, we immediately thought of her.

“She brought such amazing ideas and new imagery to the song and truly gave it a new life.”

Este, Danielle and Alana Haim then thanked the star – who recently re-versioned some of her own songs, as part of an attempt to regain control of her music – for lending her “incredible voice and spirit to a track”.

Fans have been sharing the new rendition of the slow-grooving, brooding and lust-filled number widely since it dropped overnight.

“Taylor Alison Swift, you singing ‘you needed ass’ has just revived me since my death by Love Story experience,” posted one fan, referring to the suggestive lyrics.

Another noted the current trend for fuel/car-driven metaphors in modern pop.

A third fan was so obsessed with the musical hook-up that she started seeing visions of the four US musicians in her food.

Haim, who teased the collab earlier in the week, previously featured on Swift’s track No Body, No Crime, from her own 2020 album, Evermore. Now she has returned the favour.

And while it’s all friendly at the moment, the artists will actually be rivals at next month’s Grammy Awards, with Women in Music Pt. III and Swift’s Folklore both up for the album of the year prize: a true test of their newfound official sisterhood.

It would almost be quicker to say which stars Swift hasn’t collaborated with…

She first duetted with another of her close songwriting buddies, Ed Sheeran, on the song Everything Has Changed, for her 2012 album Red.

The rather lovely folk-pop ballad found the pair singing about wanting to get to know a lover better.

Its loveliness was matched only by the video of two young lookalikes hanging out.

Swift and Sheeran would come together again years later on End Game, from her 2017 record, Reputation. This time around though, Sheeran flexed his rapping muscles while on an epic international bender with Swift, and US rapper/singer Future.

Another British singer, Zayn, of One Direction fame, joined her on the 2016 track, I Don’t Wanna Live Forever.

This one was made for the erotic romantic drama film Fifty Shades Darker, and found the singers indulging in a battle of the falsettos.

Prior to that, Swift got to work with one of her all-time musical heroes, Imogen Heap, on Clean.

The innovative UK singer-songwriter provided backing vocals and also co-wrote/produced the closing track on Swift’s 2014 album, 1989.

It remains one of her most experimental and electronic offerings to date.

And finally, while we could go on, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar appeared most memorably on the same album, helping Swift to best convey the Bad Blood she had with another unnamed singer.

We can’t say for sure who this one is about (although we could probably guess, right Swifties?) but it’s clearly not about Haim. They’ve got good blood.

The rather explosive visuals won the Grammy award for best music video.

MI6 chief apologises for past ban on LGBT staff

The chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6, has publicly apologised for its historic treatment of LGBT people.

Richard Moore said a security bar on LGBT staff until 1991 had been “wrong, unjust and discriminatory”.

In a video posted on Twitter 30 years after the ban was lifted, he said it had also been counter-productive.

MI6 “deprived ourselves of some of the best talent Britain could offer”, he said.

The MI6 chief has chosen LGBT History Month to offer both praise and contrition to those who were wronged by the ban.

Mr Moore, who is the only publicly identifiable member of MI6, said thousands of patriotic people were wrongly denied the chance to work in intelligence.

“The ban did mean that we, in the intelligence and diplomatic services, deprived ourselves of some of the best talent Britain could offer. Ready to serve but denied that opportunity,” he said.

Same-sex relationships were decriminalised in Britain in 1967, but it took a further 24 years before the ban on hiring LGBT staff across government was lifted.

Before then it was wrongly thought that they would be vulnerable to blackmail and subversion, Mr Moore said.

LGBT people who declared their sexual orientation at that time were asked to leave government service. Thousands more who wanted to join were prevented from doing so.

“Committed, talented, public-spirited people had their careers and lives blighted because it was argued that being LGBT+ was incompatible with being an intelligence professional,” Mr Moore said.

“Because of this policy, other loyal and patriotic people had their dreams of serving their country in MI6 shattered. This was wrong, unjust and discriminatory.”

The MI6 chief, who rarely makes any public statement, used his official Twitter account to broadcast his message.

In a separate video, Mr Moore thanked all LGBT staff for their contribution to Britain’s security as he appeared alongside the actor Sir Ian McKellen, who recalled some of the homophobic discrimination he had encountered in the 1980s.

Sir Ian suggested the lifting of the ban in 1991 put MI6 in the “vanguard” and helped change the way society thought about LGBT people.

“Having so boldly accepted there had been injustice in the past within its own organisation, it gave heart for people to think ‘well, perhaps you could spread that principle of honesty and equality to other areas of life’,” he said.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who has ministerial responsibility for MI6, also paid tribute to the courage of LGBT colleagues, past and present, saying the UK was safer because of their dedicated service.

Janet Scott inquest: Officer missed chances to save mum killed by ex

A probation officer missed opportunities which could have saved the life of a woman who was killed by a convicted murderer, a coroner has said.

Janet Scott was murdered by her ex-boyfriend Simon Mellors, who had been released from prison on licence after he murdered another former partner.

Mrs Scott’s inquest has heard Mellors obsessively stalked her – online and in person – before the murder.

The coroner said he therefore could have been sent back to prison.

“With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that a number of opportunities were missed by the offender manager [probation officer] during the critical period,” said Jonathan Straw, assistant coroner for Nottinghamshire, in his findings.

“This is when the imminent risk that Simon Mellors presented to Janet should have been both realised and acted upon.

“These missed opportunities have, on the balance of probabilities, made a significant contribution to Janet’s death.”

However, he said the “direct responsibility” for Mrs Scott’s death “sits solely and squarely with Simon Mellors”.

Mellors killed Mrs Scott on 29 January 2018 by driving his car into her in Nottingham city centre, after stabbing the 51-year-old mother-of-six at her home in Arnold.

He was charged with murder but killed himself in prison.

Mrs Scott did not know Mellors was a convicted murderer when she met him in a Nottingham pub on a night out with her sister in April 2017.

He had to tell her about the murder as a condition of his licence, after being released from prison in 2014. The inquest has heard that two previous girlfriends had split up with Mellors after finding out, but Mrs Scott stayed with him.

She eventually ended their relationship around the start of January 2018. Mr Straw said the “critical period” when opportunities were missed was between 12 January and 28 January.

During this time, Mellors continued to contact Mrs Scott and also turned up at the supermarket where she worked several times.

Mrs Scott had complained to Mellors’ probation officer Andrew Victor about this. Mr Victor told the inquest he had regarded this behaviour as harassment at the time, but now recognised it as stalking after receiving training.

The coroner said Mr Victor had “placed too much reliance on the effectiveness of his own personal authority to manage Simon Mellors’ risk”, and “was too accepting of the information and assurances given to him by Simon Mellors”.

Unbeknown to the probation officer, Mellors had searched for “men who murder two women in the UK” in the early hours of 21 January.

He had also been doing numerous internet searches for Mrs Scott and her husband Chris Scott, who she had rekindled her relationship with.

Mr Straw concluded Mrs Scott had been unlawfully killed by murder, and her medical cause of death was catastrophic multiple injuries.

Mrs Scott’s children, husband, sister and brother-in-law said they blame the probation service for failing to send Mellors back to prison.

In a statement read out before the coroner gave his findings, Chris Scott said: “I can only hope that my wife did not die in vain and lessons can be learned to stop such atrocities being repeated.”

One of her sons, Jonathan, also said he hopes lessons can be learned, describing his mother as “a sacrificial lamb to the idea that everybody deserves a second chance”.

“I’m of the opinion that the probation service is responsible for what happened to my mother,” he said.

“My mother’s senseless death cannot be for nothing.”

Mr Victor, who has been a probation officer since 1990, was suspended after Mrs Scott’s death and had a disciplinary hearing but the charges were not proved.

However, the Ministry of Justice told the BBC he is “no longer in a role supervising offenders in the community”.

Chief probation officer Sonia Flynn CBE also apologised to Mrs Scott’s family, saying: “This was a truly horrific crime and the decision-making was well below what I expect of an experienced probation officer, for which I sincerely apologise to Janet Scott’s family.

“Since that dreadful day in 2018, we have introduced specialist training on coercive control and stalking and recruited an extra 1,300 staff into the National Probation Service to help better protect the public.”

Mellors was released from prison around the same time probation was split in two and partly-privatised as part of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme.

As a result, the coroner said Mr Victor’s caseload was “significantly higher than it should have been” when he was managing Mellors.

The inquest heard Mr Victor had told his employer he was overwhelmed by his caseload and stressed, and that his mental health was suffering as a result.

The coroner said Mr Victor was therefore “limited in the time he was able to spend on each case and with each offender” and that this “inevitably impacted upon the quality of his decision-making”.

Mr Straw said he did not believe work pressures had contributed to Mr Victor’s failures during the “critical period” before Mrs Scott’s death, but it “undoubtedly impacted to a degree on earlier decisions and assessments regarding Simon Mellors”.

Boris Johnsons union adviser Oliver Lewis quits after two weeks

Boris Johnson’s main adviser on keeping the UK together has departed, saying his position was made “untenable” by others within Downing Street.

Oliver Lewis, an ally of the prime minister’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, was a key part of the campaign for the UK to leave the EU.

His departure comes as the Scottish National Party is calling for another referendum on independence.

Mr Lewis was confirmed in his role just two weeks ago.

He replaced Luke Graham, a former Conservative MP.

Downing Street declined to comment on staffing matters.

Following Mr Lewis’s departure, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, tweeted: “Disunity in the Union unit. Or maybe just despair at realising how threadbare the case for it is.”

The SNP’s Westminster deputy leader Kirsten Oswald claimed Mr Johnson’s “taxpayer-funded anti-independence campaign is completely falling apart”.

“As support for independence grows, the Tories are losing advisers like rats on a sinking ship,” she said.

“People in Scotland have a right to determine their own future in a post-pandemic referendum.”

Aside from the pandemic, protecting the union is one of Boris Johnson’s key challenges in the coming months.

The SNP will demand another referendum if they win the Holyrood election in May – while the impact of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland is still playing out.

Oliver Lewis was appointed head of the Union unit at the start of the month and was seen as an important player in Number 10 who had Mr Johnson’s ear.

So his departure a fortnight later shows all is not well in Downing Street. Far from it.

Sources say Mr Lewis was the victim of a(nother) power struggle – after personnel changes at the heart of government last week.

In particular, it seems Mr Lewis found it hard to work with another special adviser, Henry Newman, who was brought into the Number 10 operation last week.

Mr Newman is extremely close to the prime minister’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds.

Around Westminster, these power struggles are fascinating.

But the fear some around Mr Johnson have is that they keep happening – and it shows an operation where the ship is still not particularly steady.

In the words of one source: “Everything just needs to settle down in there.”

Mr Johnson has said another referendum on Scottish independence – following the last one in 2014 – should not happen, describing it as a “once-in-a-generation” vote.

Mr Lewis was research director of the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 EU membership referendum, writing its manifesto.

He joined the UK government as an adviser on Brexit policy before taking up his role defending the union.

Mars landing: Devon textiles firm created parachute fabric

A textiles company in Devon is responsible for creating a hi-tech fabric that allowed NASA’s latest rover to land safely on Mars.

The Perseverance Rover required a special canopy to slow the spacecraft as it was dropped on to the planet’s surface.

The lightweight material was produced in a factory in Tiverton, before being sewn together by engineers in the US.

Heathcoat Fabrics said it was “very, very proud of the achievement”.

Peter Hill, director of the company’s woven fabric department, said the successful landing had been a culmination of “15 years’ hard work”.

Heathcoat Fabrics was approached by NASA to create the “bespoke” fabric after exhibiting their work at industry events in the US.

The team needed to produce a material that could withstand extreme heat while being strong enough to carry the $2.7bn (£1.93bn) cargo safely.

This would allow the parachute to slow the spacecraft from its travelling speed of 20,000km/h (13,670mph) (16 times the speed of sound) for a “soft landing” on Mars.

The unique fabric was developed using a high-tenacity nylon yarn spun at high speed, before being washed, coloured and processed with a special finish to ensure its “rapid deployment”, Mr Hill said.

The material was then sewn into its parachute form in the US and tested in the world’s largest wind tunnel.

Mr Hill, who watched the event from his home, said he “kept it pretty cool until the last seven minutes” at which point he ended up “on his knees in front of the TV”.

“With all the testing we and NASA had done, we were confident the fabric for the parachute would work, but there are all sorts of things that can go wrong when you’re going all the way to Mars.”

The parachute would now stay on Mars until there are people there “to come and tidy up”, he added.

Technical director Richard Crane said: “It is an incredibly emotional moment, when you know that millions of people around the world are holding their breath, waiting for news of a successful touchdown, and that part of that success is down to the efforts of our fantastic team here in Tiverton.”

Boris Johnsons union adviser quits after two weeks

Boris Johnson’s main adviser on keeping the UK together has departed, saying his position was made “untenable” by others within Downing Street.

Oliver Lewis, an ally of the prime minister’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, was a key part of the campaign for the UK to leave the EU.

His departure comes as the Scottish National Party is calling for another referendum on independence.

Mr Lewis was confirmed in his role just two weeks ago.

He replaced Luke Graham, a former Conservative MP.

Following Mr Lewis’s departure, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who supports Scottish independence, tweeted: “Disunity in the Union unit. Or maybe just despair at realising how threadbare the case for it is.”

Yungblud honoured to have David Bowie cover played on Mars

“I’m from Doncaster, and I went to Mars last night.”

Yungblud was a little surprised when his manager called him to say NASA had been in touch.

“What, are you leaving me to become an astronaut?” the singer asked. “And he’s like: ‘No, you idiot, it’s about you.”

NASA were ringing to say they wanted to play Yungblud’s song, a cover of David Bowie’s Life On Mars, as NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars.

The one-tonne robot touched down on the red planet on Thursday.

The singer told Radio 1 Newsbeat that having his music involved made him “a little bit emotional”.

“It’s one thing being asked to cover one of your idol’s most influential songs – on Earth. But to do it in partnership with a landing on a different planet is just mad.

“If someone told you you were going to do that… when I was younger I would never expect that.”

NASA’s YouTube channel live-streamed the journey to the planet, and once the robot successfully landed, the song began to play.

Yungblud said it’s a “real privilege” to be part of something “so much bigger than the world”.

Being involved in the Mars journey was particularly special for Yungblud, who says he has always been interested in space.

He said: “To be honest, all my life I have felt a bit like an alien. Not a lot of people got me, and it got me down when I was younger.

“I found Bowie and I found Lady Gaga, and I found Oasis. I found these world-builders, and they literally helped me through. I felt like I belonged on a different planet.”

He says he was “honoured” to be part of something that’s “not really been done yet”.

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Bloody Sunday: Family launch soldier prosecution legal challenge

The family of a man shot dead on Bloody Sunday have lodged a legal challenge against a decision not to charge a former soldier with his murder.

Bernard McGuigan, known as Barney, was one of the 13 people killed when the Army opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in Londonderry in 1972.

His family are challenging the decision not to prosecute an ex-paratrooper known as Soldier F.

He has been charged with murder over two deaths, but not Mr McGuigan’s.

In 2019, the Public Prosecution Service determined Soldier F would be prosecuted for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney.

That decision was challenged by a number of victims’ families, but last year the PPS said there would be no further prosecutions.

The McGuigan family said they have issued judicial review proceeding after “an exhaustive process between our solicitor and the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) over the last two years”.

They said the PPS has now confirmed that an undertaking by the attorney general, which meant testimony given to the most recent inquiry into Bloody Sunday cannot be used in criminal investigations, did not apply to oral evidence given by Soldier F to the earlier Widgery Tribunal, held in 1972.

“While we welcome that formal confirmation at last, the PPS still contend, in effect, that F was acting “under orders” to give evidence at Widgery,” the family statement said.

Widely regarded as a whitewash, the 1972 Widgery Tribunal sat for three weeks, with the final report published on 18 April of that year.

Lord Widgery concluded that the soldiers had been fired on first and there was “no reason to suppose” that the soldiers would have opened fire otherwise.

But in 2010, the Saville Inquiry into the events on Bloody Sunday established the innocence of all those killed and wounded.

Lord Saville’s 5,000-page report stated none of the casualties posed a threat of causing death or serious injury and that soldiers had lost their self-control.

The McGuigan family statement added: “As far as we are concerned the evidential test is more than met in respect of the murder of our father in such callous well-known circumstances, witnessed by many including other soldiers.”

Mr McGuigan was a painter and decorator.

He was shot at the Rossville Flats area as he went to the aid of 31-year-old Patrick Doherty, who was also shot dead on the day.

The 41-year-old had been waving a handkerchief or towel when he was hit in the head by a bullet, killing him instantly.