Disintegration — literal, social, and political — weighs heavily in Friday’s Hebrew papers, as the press tackles a series of incidents marking an imminent or recent collapse: two former senior military officers are brought down with corruption allegations; a Palestinian report outlines the implications of the toppling of the PA; the defense minister’s remarks on US policy threaten to erode diplomatic relations; and in an incident of a physical crumbling – harsh weather conditions lead the IDF to discover a tunnel in Gaza.
Yedioth Ahronoth leads with the detection of the tunnel in the coastal enclave, and with the Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades — the military wing of Hamas – downplaying the significance of the discovery on Thursday.
“The Zionist enemy announced this evening in the media that it had achieved a great feat, and uncovered a new tunnel belonging to the Palestinian resistance, east of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip,” a spokesman for the brigade said at a press conference.
“This tunnel is not new, as the enemy claims, but rather [is] an old tunnel that was uncovered after it collapsed as a result of the storm a few months ago, and [at that time] our forces repaired it. But after the second storm a few days ago, it collapsed again, and became irreparable, and the [Israeli] army discovered it three days ago,” he said.
Israel Hayom reports that this is the fourth tunnel to be discovered in the coastal enclave by the IDF in the past year-and-a-half.
The arrest of two former senior IDF officers – ex-spokesman Avi Benayahu and Col. (res.) Erez Weiner, a former top aide to then-IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi – also takes top billing on Friday. After spending the night in prison and subsequently being released to house arrest, the papers speculate about the interrogations, and the growing evidence against the two.
The two are implicated in the Harpaz affair, and have been leveled with allegations of corruption; illegally collecting and distributing materials aimed at defaming IDF officials and senior politicians; and of conspiring to stymie the nomination of Brig. Gen. Yoav Galant to succeed Ashkenazi as chief of the IDF General Staff.
Israel Hayom quotes an unnamed police official, who says the two did not cooperate with the questioning, offering half-answers and false information. “This is a Sisyphean investigation,” he says. “The two officers, without question, disrupted the investigation.”
The two were released to house arrest for five days, and are barred from leaving the country and contacting one another.
Over 60,000 tapped conversations were gathered by the military police and transferred to the Israel Police, the paper reports. “Not all of the [evidence] we have is known to them at this point,” police said. “They will be exposed to the evidence gradually, over the next few days.”
Yedioth Ahronoth reports that as Benayahu was escorted to prison, he mockingly asked “Will I receive a cell next to [the jailed Palestinian terror convict and Tanzim leader] Marwan Barghouti?”
“This man standing before you has difficulty accepting that he is a threat to the public,” Benayahu told the judge with the extension of his arrest. “I have dedicated much of my adult life to the safety of the public. I am a law-abiding man. I am not a criminal, nor the son of a criminal.”
Yedioth Ahronoth writes that Ashkenazi and his wife, Ronit, are likely to be interrogated as well.
Meanwhile, Haaretz, unlike the other two papers, focuses its coverage on the aftermath of Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s comments on US policy with regard to Iran, and his follow-up apology.
In an editorial entitled “Hollow apology,” the paper writes: “Ya’alon’s apologies are devoid of content. They focus on manners and etiquette rather than on the essence. The defense minister doesn’t trust the United States and has no respect for the American administration.”
“There is great danger in the combination of the Israeli dread that ‘the West has abandoned us for Iranian lies’ and the feeling that Israel is strong and can dictate its will to other powers in the region. In the past Israel has gone to war in similar situations. It must not slide once more into a crisis, because of its leadership’s distorted evaluation of the situation,” it writes.
In an op-ed for the paper, columnist Yossi Verter says the defense minister’s remarks make Israel looks like a “ridiculous political entity out of a Peter Sellers movie.”
Verter writes that while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighs firing deputy defense minister and fellow Likud member Danny Danon for undermining political efforts — and rightfully so — “if there is someone Netanyahu has to put in his place, it is Ya’alon.”
The paper also highlights a 250-page report recently published by the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Survey Research exploring the possibility of the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority – its political ramifications and the chances of it occurring.
The report outlines the bleak and anarchic scenarios likely to follow, including severe impairment of its economy and nearly all of its central institutions including healthcare and the judiciary; increased social fractures; waves of crime; and the strengthening of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“Our position is that now is the perfect time to prepare ourselves,” Director Dr. Khalil Shikaki tells Haaretz. “We mustn’t wait until everything collapses.”
“The participants seriously discussed the scenarios, with the understanding that this is not merely a theoretical idea. They spoke with great concern. There were those that were disappointed that the PA didn’t initiate the discussion, but rather a civilian organization,” he adds.