Islamists on the doorstep
Hebrew Media Review

Islamists on the doorstep

The Hebrew papers question the IDF's ability to combat the northern threat, as 10 Israeli Arabs said to join IS ranks

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights, northern Israel, on August 28, 2014. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights, northern Israel, on August 28, 2014. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

After the brutal killing of Israeli-American Steven Sotloff and the heightened violence on the Syrian Golan Heights, the Islamist threat continues to dominate headlines Friday, with the Hebrew papers evaluating Israel’s volatile northern front and expressing concern about the Israel Defense Forces’ ability to effectively combat jihadists and Hezbollah, should the need arise.

In Yedioth Ahronoth, the paper’s Yossi Yeshoshua issues a wake-up call to the military leadership and urges the government to allocate greater funds to the army.

“Those who know the details of the threats on the border and know the IDF’s level of preparedness to face it ought to be very concerned,” he writes. “On top of minimizing training for the troops and cutting it altogether for the reserves — who are the central force in the northern wars — the IDF is also not equipped with enough armored vehicles.”

Yehoshua decries the continued use of the unprotected armored vehicles — such as the one in which 13 Golani soldiers were killed in Shejaiya by an anti-tank missile in the latest Gaza campaign — which, he fears, would be “a real death trap” if used in Lebanon.

The air defense is not much better, he argues. “The IDF only has nine Iron Dome batteries, and obviously this will not be sufficient when the catastrophe hits as thousands of rockets are fired at Israel,” he writes. “The David’s Sling system to intercept long-range missiles will only become operational in a year, but even then there is a major disadvantage — every interception will cost $1 million.

“A glance northward reveals that Hezbollah, meanwhile, is doing the opposite of Israel: It is arming, growing stronger, more sophisticated,” continues Yehoshua, quoting military sources and Hezbollah experts in Military Intelligence. “The organization has 100,000 rockets of different types, and they are heavier, more precise, and have longer ranges than those it had in 2006. The organization has the capacity to fire 1,000 rockets a day — and Israel does not have an adequate response.”

He concedes that many experts maintain that Hezbollah does not intend to strike Israel now, but insists Israel must look ahead and begin to train its troops accordingly.

Meanwhile, Israel Hayom leads with a report — citing Shin Bet sources — on some 10 Israeli Arabs who joined up with IS, the Islamic State, in Iraq and Syria. While the numbers remain dramatically low, the national security agency is keeping close tabs on those suspected of teaming up with the jihadists for fear they will return to carry out attacks in Israel, it reports.

“Although the numbers of Israeli Arabs leaving for Syria to fight is limited, recently a troubling spike of interest in jihadi groups has been detected,” primarily in the al-Nusra Front, but more recently in the Islamic State as well, claims Israel Hayom.

Illustrative photo of Islamic State fighters marching in Syria (photo credit: YouTube)
Illustrative photo of Islamic State fighters marching in Syria. (photo credit: YouTube)

“In light of this, the Shin Bet (in coordination with the Mossad, with Military Intelligence, and with the police) are increasingly keeping tabs and operating against Arab Israelis leaving to fight in Syria. This is not only because Syria is a designated enemy state and travel to the country is forbidden, but primarily because of the dangerous potential of the recruits. Most of those leaving hold radical anti-Israel opinions, and were further radicalized in Iraq and Syria and received military training that, it is feared, will be utilized in attacks against Israel.” The paper further reports that the jihadist groups have tried to glean information about Israel from the Israeli Arab recruits.

Over in Haaretz, the paper spotlights the disagreements between Israel’s various intelligence branches during Operation Protective Edge — a phenomenon that may portend future discord with regard to the northern threat.

While the army received accurate intelligence throughout the operation, claims the paper’s Amos Harel, the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence “are at odds over three other things — what Israel really knew about Hamas’s tunnels; whether Hamas started the war intentionally; and whether Israel misjudged Hamas’s willingness to continue fighting a war that ultimately lasted 50 days.

“Differences in interpretation between intelligence organizations is not a new phenomenon… But an analysis of the system after the fact points to difficulties in deciphering the intentions of Hamas prior to the outbreak of the war and an underestimation of Hamas’s readiness and determination to continue fighting. And that is in an area that is under the Israeli intelligence’s hand, just kilometers from the border, and against a relatively weak enemy. The outcome raises questions about the ability of intelligence to understand, with precision, complex processes in places that are farther away, such as the Iranian reactor and the Islamic State offensive in Iraq and Syria,” continues Harel.

The indictment against Hussam Kawasme, an alleged accomplice who is said to have helped bury the three slain Israeli teenagers — Gil-ad Shaar, 16; Naftali Fraenkel, 16; and Eyal Yifrach, 19 — receives ample coverage in the Israeli press on Friday as well. All three papers spotlight Kawasme’s testimony, cited by the Shin Bet, that the abductors had intended to kidnap one person, but having nabbed three, panicked and killed them, and turned to Kawasme for help.

The three kidnapped and murdered  teens, from left to right: Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach (photo credit: Courtesy)
The three kidnapped and murdered teens, from left to right: Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach (photo credit: Courtesy)
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