The resumption of southern hostilities for the first time in over a year prompts major coverage in Israeli papers Thursday morning. Yedioth Ahronoth leads off with a dramatic “Red south” headline, accompanied by a downright Kafkaesque photo of a mother holding her baby, dressed as a hatching chick, in a bomb shelter during the nearly unprecedented barrage.
Haaretz goes newsy up top, reporting a rocket count of 70 (Yedioth says 48, while Israel Hayom goes with “over 60”) slamming the south, noting it’s the biggest flare up since 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense. The paper also gives a bit of context as to what precipitated the attack, that being the killing of three Islamic Jihad baddies about to fire rockets at Israel on Tuesday, which it connects to the killing of a Palestinian in the West Bank a day earlier.
Israel Hayom skips straight ahead to the latest news, Israel’s punishing response against some 29 targets in Gaza. The paper notes that though Islamic Jihad was behind the rockets, Hamas was also hit in the IDF sally. “Hamas is responsible for what happens in the Strip and it needs to take into account that we won’t suffer rockets fired at us,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is quoted saying.
The paper’s Yoav Limor notes that despite the tough response, Israel is not interested in an escalation of violence with Gaza and neither is Islamic Jihad.
“It was difficult yesterday to find any excitement in Israel for an adventure in Gaza. … The situation in Gaza is good in comparison to the past, and domestic and international legitimacy for an action like that would be limited. And more than that, there are objective limitations: The bad weather makes it hard for the Israeli air force to act freely, and the Purim holiday has many planned events, with reluctance to cancel them. … Islamic Jihad, which was dealing yesterday with the death of three activists, also doesn’t seem to want to break the status quo. Despite its warnings that its calm vis-à-vis Israel has ended, it has no real desire to enter another round of continued fighting, during which it can lose significant assets.”
Yedioth focuses more on the effect the rockets are having on the south, where residents had been lulled into complacency by over a year of calm. “I was sitting at home and suddenly there was a siren, and another one and another one, five times at least. I thought it was a mistake until I heard a massive boom that shook my house,” a resident of Sderot tells the paper.
The escalation is also threatening to dampen activities for the holiday of Purim which will fall on Sunday, though festivities generally begin weeks earlier.
“How will I go in the street with my little boy, if there’s a chance there will suddenly be a rocket siren,” the Sderot mother photographed with her chick baby tells the paper. “It’s scary, and despite my desire to celebrate Purim, it’s not worth the risk.”
Haaretz reports that despite Ya’alon’s tough words against Hamas, top Israeli officials are still trying to determine to what extent Hamas was actually involved and how much it should be made to pay. The paper also surmises that the rocket barrage may have been in response to the Israeli capture of a ship of arms sent from Iran and apparently en route to Gaza.
Several of the rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome anti-missile battery, which was the star of Israel’s last engagement in the south. Haaretz reports that there is plenty of American funding for new batteries to cover more of the country, but a dearth of trained soldiers to man the machines.
“The Air Force was supposed to finish deploying the eighth battery by the end of the year. But despite the high demand among IDF recruits to be assigned to the batteries, the IDF has not trained enough personnel to operate them. This means the deployment of the eighth battery could be delayed by a few months, to early next year. The IDF had planned for reservists to operate the batteries, but this could cause further delay as training reservists involves additional expenses,” Haaretz reports.
With all the southern ruckus, lost in the mix is the visit by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was treated to some real Israeli class by sitting through a Knesset session in his honor rife with heckling and arguing between Israeli politicians (thankfully nobody walked out during his speech, though the same cannot be said for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke before him).
“David Cameron likely won’t forget this session,” Sima Kadmon writes in Yedioth. “And it’s not because he hasn’t seen things like this ever. The British Parliament is not exactly a pharmacy. But there they at least have some sophistication, some finesse, some irony. It’s not just a ‘balagan’ [circus] as Cameron termed this in his thick British accent. His eyes said everything. If someone still needs an explanation for his expression, it was ‘God, what kind of lunatic asylum have I gotten to?’”
Israel Hayom previews an interview with Minister Yaakov Peri, a former Shin Bet head who also chairs the committee on Palestinian prisoner releases, quoting him saying that the fourth release, slated for the end of the month, may actually not go ahead.
“If Abbas doesn’t agree to extend the talks with Israel for another year, there is a possibility that the fourth release won’t happen,” he tells the paper.
In Haaretz, Gideon Levy aims his acid pen at IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, whom he accuses of running an army of ruthless killers: “The decent and nice Gantz, the last word in the Teflon industry, is commander of the army that has killed in recent months with insufferable ease. Drop by drop, like Chinese water torture, the army − heaven forbid − has not committed any massacres but a week has not gone by without at least one or two killed, sometimes three or four. Here and there in Palestine − here a child, there a judge. … Only Gantz can put an end to this trickle of death. He is not doing so. There are no investigations. It goes without saying no one is going on trial. Nor do we hear a clear statement from the chief of staff to withhold fire.”