Death stalks the front pages of Israel’s dailies Thursday as the press covers the deadly bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israelis, the passing of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, and the assassination of three top Assad henchmen in Damascus.
The bombing on Wednesday afternoon at the Bulgarian Black Sea coast city of Burgas, a popular destination for Israeli tourists, killed 7 — five Israelis, the Bulgarian bus driver, and the apparent bomber — and wounded more than 30. Differing reports of how many injured are testament to the confusion that prevailed in Burgas after the bombing. Yedioth Ahronoth reports 32 wounded, 4 in critical condition, Maariv says 35, Haaretz says 33, and Israel Hayom plays it safer by saying more than 33.
Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page shows the shocked visage of an Israeli woman injured in the blast. “The target: Israelis” the paper has plastered across the photo. Its coverage of the attack includes eyewitness accounts from several of those injured.
“We were shocked because we knew it was a bus of Israelis. We immediately understood there were injured people, but after the explosion we still didn’t know if there were deaths. We hurried to escape from the area and spread out,” Shoshi Eiler told Yedioth Ahronoth.
Haaretz puts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that Iran perpetrated the attack in its underline. Amos Harel says that if Netanyahu’s intelligence is correct, then the man behind the attack is Islamic Revolutionary Guards leader General Qassem Suleimani.
Maariv’s Ofer Shelah largely reiterates Harel’s statements about Iran and the Revolutionary Guard Corps’s al-Quds Force, which Suleimani leads. He adds that “the Iranians are convinced that the upcoming American elections grant them immunity from attack, beneath which they seek to hurt Israel in a manner to provoke it.”
The paper also includes a crowded map showing current terror hotspots according to the Israeli government’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau. Below the map it features a question-and-answer section with the former bureau chief, Nitzan Nuriel, where he responds to inquiries such as: “Is every Israeli abroad a target?” or “If I am abroad right now, how should I behave?”
Israel Hayom calls the attack the “Inferno at the airport” and includes a human interest piece about one of the survivors. Gadi Siboni, 60, of Beit She’an, survived Wednesday’s bombing a decade after he survived the November 2002 bombing of the Likud party headquarters in his home town.
Assad on the ropes
A 45 kg bomb detonated at the National Security Council building in Damascus on Wednesday, killing President Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, defense minister Dawoud Abdallah Rajha, and deputy vice president Hassan Turkmani.
Haaretz calls the assassination of three senior members of the Syrian elite a “penetration of the inner sanctum” and “the most significant achievement of the Syrian opposition in their struggle to bring down Bashar Assad’s regime.” Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff mimic Defense Minister Ehud Barak in calling it “a turning point that brings the end of the regime closer.” Zvi Barel cautions, however, that the successful assassination does not leave Assad without a command structure.
This story is on the back page for Yedioth Ahronoth, less important than the Burgas bombing and Elyashiv’s death. It calls the assassination “The end of the murderers from Damascus” and features a brief piece on Assad’s remaining leaders. “With his brother Maher by his side, [Assad] will quickly replace his confidants with officers and thugs from his outer circle,” Smadar Peri writes.
Israel Hayom does things Facebook-style. It shows an old photo of Bashar Assad and his top officers and tags deceased defense minister Rajha and his replacement. In a related article it reports on the meeting of top Israeli security officials held to discuss the development. Israel Hayom quotes Barak’s concern that Hezbollah could try to acquire chemical weapons from Assad’s arsenal.
Rabbi Elyashiv laid to rest
Elyashiv, the 102-year-old chief Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox rabbi, died Wednesday evening after a six-month decline in his health. On any other news day, his passing and the hundreds of thousands of mourners who jammed the streets of Jerusalem for his funeral would have been front page news. Instead he is relegated to space farther back in most of the papers.
“The arbiter of the generation deceased,” reads Yedioth Ahronoth’s headline. The photo accompanying the article shows a tumultuous swarm of black and white-garbed men surrounding the rabbi’s body. The paper offers a brief obituary and the official eulogies of Israel’s political elite.
In Israel Hayom Yehuda Schlesinger writes that the ultra-Orthodox community lost its biggest leader — its [President Shimon] Peres, [President Barack] Obama or [former president Nicolas] Sarkozy (he didn’t follow the French elections?), he argues — at a critical juncture. Now more than ever, Schlesinger says, the ultra-Orthodox community needed strong leadership to guide it through the issue of enlistment and integration into Israeli society.
Maariv’s coverage includes a timeline of Elyashiv’s life, from birth in Lithuania to death in Jerusalem. It quotes Netanyahu’s eulogy of the late rabbi saying “he loved the Torah, and he loved Man.” Haaretz includes a short piece on the rift dividing Elyashiv’s successors in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem. Bnei Brak’s Lithuanian community is expected to follow the (relatively youthful) 98-year-old Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, while the Jerusalem branch will follow Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach.