Big demands and bigger ships
Hebrew Media Review

Big demands and bigger ships

The Israeli press gawks at the arrival of the USS Enterprise in the Persian Gulf as the White House talks tough on Iran

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

A Sea Hawk helicopter flies in front of the 5th Fleet's USS Enterprise. (photo credit: CC BY Official U.S. Navy Imagery, Flickr)
A Sea Hawk helicopter flies in front of the 5th Fleet's USS Enterprise. (photo credit: CC BY Official U.S. Navy Imagery, Flickr)

An Israeli joke goes, “Did you hear about the US carrier that made a port of call in Israel? It docked at Haifa, Tel Aviv, Ashdod and Ashkelon … at the same time.” Nothing in the Israeli navy’s arsenal comes close to a carrier in size, and they represent to Israelis the full might of the American military.

It comes as little surprise that the Israeli press is abuzz that a US aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise (an aircraft carrier of stellar proportions), the second to arrive in the region, sailed into the Persian Gulf on Monday — the same day that the US government took a tougher stance on Iran’s nuclear program. Photos of the fighter-bedecked behemoth festooned the lead articles of Israel HayomMaariv, Yedioth Ahronoth, and Haaretz alike, but the papers differ in covering the two parallel events.

Haaretz’s headline paraphrases White House spokesman Jay Carney, who said on Monday, “Time is not infinite” for Iran to talk about its unsanctioned nuclear program and “the window is closing” for pursuing a diplomatic solution. Carney voiced Washington’s demand that Iran halt its uranium enrichment operations altogether.

Regarding the Enterprise, Haaretz notes Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost of the 5th Fleet’s mention that the Enterprise will patrol the Gulf’s strategic oil routes that Iran has threatened to shut down in retaliation for economic sanctions.

At the same time, Haaretz covers Iran’s reactions to a far greater extent than the competition. It writes that Iranian officials expressed willingness to cut back on its uranium production and that Iran’s former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s foreign and economic policies and called for direct talks with the US.

Israel Hayom draws a parallel between the US’s “hardening of stance” vis-à-vis Iran in advance of the Istanbul talks, and the arrival of the Enterprise. Nonetheless, it quotes Derrick-Frost and Carney saying that the carrier’s deployment was routine and its primary mission is to assist operations in Afghanistan and combat Somalian piracy.

Yedioth Ahronoth, on the other hand, leaves more to the reader’s imagination. Beneath the picture of the Enterprise runs the headline “Price tag for refusal,” but it doesn’t mention the carrier’s deployment or Carney’s denial that it is connected to Iran.

Maariv quotes an American official saying that the US would prioritize naval power in case of a strike against Iran. Maariv says that the Enterprise’s arrival in the Persian Gulf is meant to demonstrate to the Iranians that “the time for games is dwindling.”

Maariv’s coverage of Iran on Tuesday, however, focuses more on the differing time frames for striking Iran set out by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. Netanyahu says fall is the deadline for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, while Obama insists Israel wait for its green light in November.

The Arm of Assad

The Israeli press engage in numerical one-upmanship regarding the death toll in Syria as the violence continued the day before a UN ceasefire was supposed to go into effect. Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth tally at least 100 people killed by Assad forces on Monday; Maariv cites 130 civilians; Haaretz puts that figure at 150.

Yedioth Ahronoth calls Bashar Assad’s forces’ cross-border excursion on Monday against a refugee camp, which left 17 dead, “The long arm of the Syrian army.” Israel Hayom employs word play and says “Assad crossed the line [or border].”

Maariv’s headline reads “Assad damns the ceasefire,” and it speculates that there is little chance that Assad will respect UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s ceasefire agreement.

Haaretz’s Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel write an op-ed in which they say “it is hard to believe that anyone in Syria or the world genuinely and honestly believes in the chances of the Annan initiative.” Everyone awaits the official announcement of the ceasefire initiative’s failure and the further escalation of bloodshed in Syria.

“The Syrian president understands that the international community is uninterested in physical action against him,” they write. “By his estimation, the Western dogs will continue to bark, but at least his procession will continue on.” Israeli intelligence, however, estimates that the Assad regime is crumbling and Syria risks soon becoming a failed state, with Hezbollah, al-Qaida, or any number of other actors taking the stage there.

Free Pollard, Free Palestine

President Shimon Peres beseeched President Barack Obama on Monday to grant clemency to the imprisoned and infirm Israeli spy, Jonathan Pollard.

Yedioth Ahronoth writes that the White House’s refusal to change its stance on Pollard was apparently written before Peres’s letter was delivered to Obama. It also prints snippets about five other Americans convicted of espionage and breaks down their crimes and sentences.

Israel Hayom is more cautious, saying that it wasn’t clear whether the Obama administration received the letter before or after the statement. It refers to Peres’s effort as a move “to make Passover a festival of freedom for the Israeli spy.” Nonetheless, it cites MK Uri Ariel, leader of the Israeli lobby for Pollard’s release, noting that the US has never granted clemency to an imprisoned spy.

The Israeli media also began coverage of the second annual “fly-tilla,” the expected arrival of leftist demonstrators en masse to Israel by plane this coming Sunday. Yedioth Ahronoth calls the anticipated participants “anti-Israel activists,” whereas Maariv and Israel Hayom prefer to call them “leftist” or “pro-Palestinian activists.”

Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovich is tasked with preventing the demonstrators’ entry to Israel on one of the busiest days of the year for Ben-Gurion International Airport.

“Israel will prevent this provocation, just like every state bans entry to those who are hostile towards it,” Haaretz quotes Aharonovich. Israel Hayom highlights him saying, “Provokers will be dealt with firmly and quickly, but we will not conduct chases in the airport halls.”

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