Despite a delay in action, the Syria crisis (can you call something a crisis after two years of war and over 100,000 dead?) leads Israeli papers Monday morning, with how the US reaction, or lack thereof, affects Israel mostly taking center stage.
Israel Hayom takes the cake in the reading-really-far-into-things category, with the headline “Seeing Syria but thinking Iran” accompanied by a picture of Obama (seen above), leg up on his table, discussing the matter with House Majority Leader John Boehner on the phone.
But what the paper finds most interesting is the fact that Obama’s hand seems to be in the shape of a gun, meaning that of course he is ready to pull the trigger.
What he’s ready to pull it on, though, we can’t be sure, since, as the paper notes, his hesitancy on Syria has led to questions over how he will treat his Iran red lines. “Obama asked that the world (and Israel) agree not to let Iran develop nuclear weapons,” Dan Margalit writes in the paper. “The American president suggested to Israel a compromise that he would keep an eye on the region, but what has come of his promises? Even if he does in another 10 or 12 days order a toothless attack on Assad — he will only have partially repaired the damage.”
Haaretz leads off with the news that Obama called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before announcing his decision, surmising that it was likely to keep Israel from publicly criticizing the move.
The paper devotes only one inside page to the Syria hubbub, including a translated New York Times article, but a large ad on page 7 of the paper succinctly sums up the zeitgeist with a picture of Obama and the simple phrase “Don’t have any teeth?” The ad, natch, is for tooth transplants.
However, Arab affairs columnist Zvi Barel says that even with American dithering, Assad is quickly being abandoned by his closest friends.
“The use of chemical weapons has rocked Russia’s steadfast position against the United States. Even though Moscow continues to claim it was not the Syrian regime that used the chemical weapons, the Kremlin will have to deal with the evidence presented to it — most likely during the G-20 summit this week,” he writes. “Nor can declarations coming from Tehran be particularly encouraging for Assad: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani denounced the use of chemical weapons — but avoided placing the responsibility on any of the sides. Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani justified the American attack and even the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made do with a warning that an attack on Syria would be a disaster, but he did not promise direct military support for Damascus.”
Maariv reports that Obama’s turn to Congress isn’t so much kicking the can down the road as buying himself time to try to come to a diplomatic solution between the US, Russia and Syria that would see Assad give up his chemical weapons. While the news is blasted at top of the front page, it is buried inside the last graf of the news story, possibly telegraphing that Maariv wants to sell papers with a sexy headline but doesn’t actually put much stock in the info.
The paper cites senior diplomats in a number of countries for the trilateral diplomatic efforts. “If there is an agreement on the future of Syrian chemical weapons, it will be part of a framework of wider understands for a peace summit to create a transitional Syrian government,” the paper writes. “It’s very possible that unlike their previous position, the Americans will agree to representatives of the Syrian regime taking part in the summit.”
Yedioth Ahronoth has the only real Syria scoop of the day, though it has less to do with chemical weapons and more to do with a first peek inside the Israel Defense Force’s field hospital set up in the Golan Heights to deal with injuries from the Syrian war. The story, a preview of a wider one to appear on Wednesday as part of the blowout Rosh Hashanah holiday edition, is the first to come out of the installation, which has been off limits to journalists since being put up several months ago.
“Most of the injured are seriously wounded from the war,” Brig. Gen. Itzik Kreiss, who runs the center, tells the paper. “For us it doesn’t matter if they are rebels, military or civilian — he’s injured and thus we take care of him.” While the center has clear humanitarian objectives, Kreiss also tells the paper that it helps with selling Israel as a nice place filled with nice people as well, both to the world and to Syrians. “They grew up seeing us as monsters,” he says. “But suddenly they see that there are people on the other side.”
In non-Syria news, Maariv reports on the buffer zone being created by Egypt along the Gaza border. The paper quotes security sources in reporting that the country has already made the decision to create a “Philadelphi route,” referring to a narrow strip of land in Gaza between Egypt and the enclave that was patrolled by Israel in years past to keep the two sides apart.
The paper’s Amir Rappaport is up in arms over the move, not because he feels for the people whose homes are being destroyed to create the buffer zone, but because Egypt is doing with impunity and without any outcry what Israel has come under harsh criticism for: blocking off Gaza. “The Egyptians are widening the area dividing the two parts of Rafah by ‘shaving off’ houses,” he writes. “Lucky for them, what is forbidden to Israel is allowed for them.”
In Haaretz, Oudeh Basharat writes that despite fighting in Syria and elsewhere, Arabs and the world should take heart that the people of the Middle East are finally throwing off the yoke of Islamic fundamentalism. Which is a fine and dandy thesis if you ignore the democratic victories of Islamist parties in many countries following Arab Spring revolutions.
“Today the Arab world is conducting an internal battle that is no less important than the struggle for national liberation,” he writes. “The Arabs are fighting a tenacious battle to be freed from religious extremism, which offers them only one option: turning back the clock several centuries. This battle is first and foremost a battle for hearts and minds, so that the public will be strengthened and able to stand firm against the religion profiteers.…The Arabs, who were wiped almost completely off the map a century ago, are today, with their own hands, fashioning their path into the modern era. Despite the terrible tragedy in Syria, the news coming from the public squares of the Arab world should infuse optimism into every democrat in the world.”