It’s the final countdown
Hebrew media review

It’s the final countdown

With military intervention in Syria supposedly all but confirmed, papers opine over where, when, how, who and why the US will strike

Columns of smoke rising from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood in west Damascus, Syria. (photo credit: AP/Hassan Ammar)
Columns of smoke rising from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood in west Damascus, Syria. (photo credit: AP/Hassan Ammar)

Tuesday’s saber rattling hits a fever pitch in Wednesday’s papers, as the media gears up for a presupposed military strike on Syria and whatever may come after that — like children on Christmas morning who just can’t wait to open their new gas masks.

Tabloids Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom run identical “countdown” headlines, summing up the waiting game in one succinct word (two in Hebrew). There’s nothing new in the news that news consumers couldn’t have consumed the night before on any news website (ahem ahem), but boy do the talking heads have a lot to talk about, even though there’s pretty much nothing new to say that wasn’t said the day before. 

Take Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea, who earns his paycheck by writing that Obama has to give Assad a nice wallop, but the White House must decide exactly how they will do that before launching a war, which he makes seem like Obama is deciding whether to get a side order of French fries or a toy with his happy meal:

“On Obama’s table are laid a series of military actions that he needs to choose between. The question is what he’s being asked to carry out. From the light to the heavy: A show of force, a punishment, a warning, a dramatic signal, the toppling of the regime. His choice will determine the number of Tomahawk missiles that will be fired, or the number of shells to be shot, or the number of targets that will be hit and their quality.… The world is not expecting a continuing operation, and definitely not something that will influence the outcome of the civil war. But the expectation for action is so wide, and so surefooted, that it’s turned an American abstention into a near non-option.”

The paper also features a guest column by Caspian Makan, the boyfriend of slain Iranian activist Neda Agha-Soltan, who tries to figure out why, after 100,000 deaths and years of war, the US has decided now is the time to get involved. “The lack of international response by the international community until now possibly is for two reasons,” he writes, translated here from the Hebrew which was likely translated from English or Farsi. “The first stems from the fact that according to international norms, the Syrian regime has a right to act against the opposition during a civil war. If the international community was going to respond to Assad’s dastardly policies, they could have stopped the murder of masses and fleeing of millions of Syrian civilians. The second reason has to do with Syria’s partners — Iran, China and Russia. Russia is known as someone who opposes the US in any international issue. China’s role is unknown, and thus Iran comes out the big winner.”

Papers note that the IDF does not expect Assad to hit Israel in retaliation, but Maariv leads off with the puffed chest of both countries’ military machines, with Syria threatening to unleash its fury on Tel Aviv and Israel threatening to hit Syria hard if it detects any attempt at an attack.

The paper reports on the rush for gas masks which has become a more than yearly tradition, but writes that some 40 percent of the population is not prepared with gas masks and won’t be before any American action. “Whoever is responsible for the home front in the Defense Ministry and didn’t take care of the gas mask project and its budget — has failed and hurt Israel’s readiness,” the paper quotes a chorus of “security sources” saying.

Despite the bluster coming from the brass, Israel still wants to stay out of Syria, while also watching Assad go down.

Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor notes the tension in the buildup to a strike and the conflicting feelings over the US putting its skin in the game.

“At times like this the gut cries out for Assad to pay the price for his crimes, and the head cautions over his removal. In the interim, a lot of coolness and cold logic will be required so that the estimations will become reality and Israel will continue to stay outside Syria’s bloody battlefield,” he writes.

Haaretz features an interview with a resident of Damascus whose feelings on an American strike are less than mixed. “The world hears about us when there is a chemical attack but every day there are mortars and deaths,” Mohammad, a rebel in the outskirts of the capital, tells the paper. “This situation has gone on for over a year and the resident are fighting for their freedom, and every time anew waiting for the world to wake up.”

Mohammad won’t have to wait long, according to the paper’s Amos Harel, who writes in an analysis that a strike is on its way. Yet Mohammed will likely be disappointed with Harel’s estimation that the US won’t stay in long enough to actually fell Assad: “Most likely, the US will do the bare minimum and attack but then swiftly disengage. Such an approach dictates a particular set of targets: Not symbols of the regime but strictly military targets such as missile bases, anti-aircraft batteries and perhaps chemical weapons sites.… Assad, it seems, would be able to withstand such an attack and remain on his feet. It wouldn’t stop him from continuing his onslaught on the rebel forces, who are currently preoccupied by infighting.”

Friday, the rabbi refused to kiss and make up

While a large chunk of the papers are taken up by Syria, there is other news as well. Yedioth reports that Ovadia Yosef, a former chief rabbi, current Shas spiritual head and father of the current chief rabbi, was recently visited in the hospital by Shlomo Amar, who just left his post as chief rabbi following a bitter battle with Yosef over keeping the seat to himself. Amar used the opportunity to try and patch things up with Yosef, but, the paper reports, quoting the Haredi website Kikar Hashabbat, that Yosef would have none of it. “You wanted to kill me in my old age,” the 102-year-old Yosef reportedly told Amar. “What was my crime and what was my sin that you pursued me for?”

Haaretz is stuck on another attempt at conciliation that seems to be floundering, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which were reportedly set back by the deaths of three Palestinians during a raid on a refugee camp that went awry earlier this week. “The main argument against the deadly raid at Qalandiya is its timing. Just when Israel and the Palestinian Authority are struggling to weave the peace process anew after lengthy stagnation and an unprecedented American effort, the IDF operated in a manner that could jeopardize the talks. It’s as if the two arms of the government, the military and political, are detached from one another, with each branch operating independently, without coordination and guidance,” the paper’s lead editorial reads. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who keeps stressing his seriousness about advancing the diplomatic process, ought to calm and restrain the military, to prove that he indeed has peaceful intentions.”

read more: