The shocking news that the man who planted a bomb on a bus in Tel Aviv was a (kind of) homegrown terrorist, from the Arab burg of Taybeh, makes the front pages of three out of Israel’s four major Hebrew-language dailies.
“Caught,” screams out Yedioth Ahronoth’s main headline. (Their front page, by the way, is such a jumbled mess that it looks like Picasso was called in to sub as a page designer.)
Maariv reports that three people from the Palestinian village of Beit Likiya, near Ramallah, were also arrested in connection to the bombing. The story notes that the bomber, originally from Beit Likiya, and his helper tried to cross back into the West Bank and were caught somewhere close to the Maccabim checkpoint on Route 443 near Modiin, which is also pretty close to Beit Likiya.
Israel Hayom notes that Tel Aviv seems to still be on high alert, a day after the bombing, and after a ceasefire with Hamas was signed, with Border Police visible all over the place.
Now that the ceasefire is firmly in place and appears to be holding, the media have gone back into elections mode, with pundits waxing prophetic over how the stunted operation could help or hurt various politicians’ chances.
A Maariv poll shows Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman’s Likud-Beytenu alliance losing ground as voters unhappy with the prime minister’s perceived unwillingness to “finish the job” in Gaza turn rightward. The nationalist Jewish Home party is now projected to garner 9 seats, a nice jump over the 4-6 it had been expected to get before.
The poll also reveals that 49 percent of respondents wanted the operation to continue, while only 31% supported the ceasefire. However, only 29% of Israelis surveyed wanted a ground operation, while 41% were against it. Interestingly, there was a high percentage of respondents who professed to having no opinion. How often does that happen?
Parsing the results, analyst Shalom Yerushalmi writes that the Israeli public doesn’t really know what it wants. “The explanation is simple: A feeling of bitterness and vagueness has rightly taken over the public, which is demanding a solution but doesn’t want to deal with all the complicated considerations that drive the country’s leaders.” He adds that though much of the public is displeased, the small turnout at anti-ceasefire rallies shows that the operation will likely have little effect on the political landscape come elections on January 22.
Don’t mess with the PA
Among those considerations Netanyahu has to keep in mind these days is the non-terror track being managed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who plans to turn to the United Nations next week for recognition of Palestinian statehood. Haaretz reports that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while in Israel this past week for ceasefire talks, warned Netanyahu not to take any punitive actions against Ramallah in the wake of a UN bid. The story details that Abbas told UN chief Ban Ki-moon that he would dissolve the PA if Netanyahu protests the statehood bid. According to the story, the US is worried that any moves Netanyahu might make will only serve to further weaken Abbas, who already took a beating on the Palestinian street during Operation Pillar of Defense.
“Clinton told Netanyahu he should examine how to strengthen Abbas now, especially after the operation in Gaza, which brought about the strengthening of Hamas among the Palestinian public,” the story details. “Two senior Israeli officials and an American official, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject, said the American message to Israel was not to take any irreversible actions and to act wisely the day after the UN vote. The Obama administration thinks it is necessary to try and minimize the potential damage of the Palestinian move at the UN, said the US official. Extreme acts by Israel the day after will not help, they will only make the situation worse, he added.”
Haaretz’s op-ed page, in what is probably a first, offers praise to Netanyahu for calling the ceasefire, which it says came just in time, if not a few days too late.
“It’s possible that the achievements could have been gained via diplomatic means, and unfortunately that possibility was not examined, but in its undertaking of the operation, Netanyahu’s government discovered restraint. This restraint demonstrated strength. The army caused much less damage this time to fewer innocent civilians, and through this its international standing was hurt a lot less.”
The tisch that saved Sderot
Yedioth publishes what it says is the full, true tale of how the Iron Dome system came to be. The story, which contains little new information, details the various battles the system’s backers had to go through, including getting funding, beating out a laser-based rival system and garnering support from local and national authorities. Of interest in the story is the revelation of a fateful meeting that took place in January 2009, at the height of Operation Cast Lead, between the director of the Defense Ministry at the time, Pinchas Buchris, and 20 local authority heads, who had signed an anti-Iron Dome statement, in the less-than-posh dining room of a kibbutz in the south. According to Buchris, the meeting was needed to convince the leaders that Iron Dome was the way to go, despite the fact that he was busy at the time with a complicated ground offensive.
“I decided to reveal to them some of the secrets behind our decision on the matter, including that senior American officials didn’t trust any other system,” he said. “We presented them with the pluses and minuses of the laser versus Iron Dome and the mood changed.”