A running battle for public opinion
Hebrew media review

A running battle for public opinion

Netanyahu insists that Israel beat Hamas, but the Hebrew papers aren't entirely convinced; the northern border heats up

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference at his office in Jerusalem on August 27, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference at his office in Jerusalem on August 27, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If the Hebrew newspapers on Thursday and the seemingly triumphant Palestinian rallies in Gaza in past days are any indication, Hamas may have successfully trumped Israel in at least one area: convincing constituents of its victory. The morning after Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu’s half-hearted victory address — during which he insisted Israel had struck Hamas hard, but admitted long-term quiet could not be guaranteed — the Israeli press spotlights his speech, as well as a thoroughly skeptical public response to the end of the conflict.

The papers also highlight the increased violence in the Golan Heights, as Syrian rebels battle at Quneitra and errant fire Wednesday injures an IDF soldier.

In describing the press conference, Yedioth Ahronoth calls it a “battle for the hearts and minds” of the public. “The leaders who directed Operation Protective Edge were hard-pressed to convince the skeptics: Hamas was defeated, Israel won,” it reports.

Despite the public disappointment with the operation, Yedioth’s Yossi Yehoshua insists that the military is satisfied with the results, and is mystified by the dearth of public support.

“Anyone who walked around yesterday in the offices of the senior officers in the Defense Ministry headquarters could not avoid the great sense of disappointment which was evident on the faces of the generals,” he writes. “Not from the results of the war, but because they cannot understand the public feeling of missed opportunity and loss from the results of Operation Protective Edge. Senior officers look at what happened now in Gaza and are convinced: the IDF defeated Hamas. Not a tie, and not by a small 0-1 [margin]. Victory.

“And perhaps this is precisely the issue: a military victory in the field is no longer enough. The numbers: of those killed, of the rockets, of the tunnels demolished, don’t tell the whole story. Hamas managed to stop [day-to-day] life in Israel for 50 days, after which it sat at a negotiation table with Israel and raised all of its demands. This feeling, no intelligence assessment can change.”

Israel Hayom also highlights the challenge the prime minister faced in his press conference “on the backdrop of political criticism, and the sense of missed opportunity in the public.”

The paper’s Dan Margalit writes in a column that “the fight for public opinion and its attitude toward the operation is being fought between those who demonstrate strength and responsibility,” he writes, namely the prime minister, defense minister, and IDF chief of staff, and “those who are populistic and simplistic.”

“In the first stage, the ‘trio’ experiences a steep drop [in popularity] on public opinion surveys. Because there is no Israeli who doesn’t hope to topple the Hamas government in Gaza, to cut off the snake’s head, and all the other phrases that offer a total solution in one fell swoop. But after that, it will change,” he argues, depending on the long-term outcome of the operation.

Haaretz, meanwhile, features a poll in its front page story, which shows Netanyahu enjoying relatively high support (50%) “considering the prevailing public sense that Israel didn’t win the campaign, and criticism from the right and left on how the fighting ended.” It notes, however, that a poll from August 5 had the prime minister’s approval rate at 77%, showing that his popularity dramatically waned during the campaign.

However, Haaretz emphasizes, Netanyahu remains the only real candidate for prime minister, with 42% saying he was most suitable person for the role, as compared to 12% who backed opposition leader Isaac Herzog for prime minister, 11% for Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett respectively, and 4% for Finance Minister Yair Lapid.

“The unequivocal conclusion is that Operation Protective Edge did not create or shape an alternative candidate for prime minister, like Netanyahu following the Second Lebanon War, who was elected in 2009. The head of Labor and the opposition, Isaac Herzog, is not filling Netanyahu’s 2006 shoes. As of now, he did not benefit, politically or publicly, from his handling of the fighting,” it reports.

As the border with Syria heats up, the papers also grapple with the possibility of Islamic State jihadists knocking on Israel’s northern door. A senior officer tells Haaretz that it’s “not in our immediate line of vision,” but the jihadists maintain “a strong presence” that is felt “in the entire area.”

“Everything is changing here, is brewing, even between the rebels,” the officer says.

“The radicalism is felt: the Syrian side of the Golan is already painted in fifty shades of black,” he adds, in reference to the IS flag.

The Haaretz report says IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has ordered special training to deal with the new threat.

Smoke rises from the Syrian village of Quneitra, as seen from the Israeli Golan Heights, on August 27, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)
Smoke rises from the Syrian village of Quneitra, as seen from the Israeli Golan Heights, on August 27, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)

“Today there is almost no presence of the Syrian army along the border with Israel, a new situation which is difficult to process after over 65 years,” it reports.

Yedioth reports that the Israeli officer wounded by errant fire from Syria on Wednesday is a military doctor in the Golani brigade, who had just joined the northern position after spending weeks in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge. Lt. Shachar Daisy, 28, a resident of Ma’ale Adumim and father of two, had treated soldiers in the Shejaiya stronghold in the Gaza Strip, where numerous of his fellow Golani troops had been killed and wounded, it reports.

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