Mr. Balagan and mismanagement
Hebrew media review

Mr. Balagan and mismanagement

Between Comey, leaked intel and American ineptitude in planning for Trump’s visit, Israeli papers see (or deftly ignore) swirling chaos of Sharknado proportions

US President Donald Trump sits in the driver's seat of a semitrailer as he welcomes truckers and CEOs to the White House in Washington, DC, to discuss healthcare, March 23, 2017. (AFP/Jim Watson)
US President Donald Trump sits in the driver's seat of a semitrailer as he welcomes truckers and CEOs to the White House in Washington, DC, to discuss healthcare, March 23, 2017. (AFP/Jim Watson)

Anyone who thought that the press had reached peak hyperbole with the firing of FBI head James Comey last week will be the most shocked ever to discover that there’s even more hype headed their way, thanks to the constantly swirling F-5 tornado of chaos that is the Donald Trump administration.

Both the news that the US president tried to get Comey to back off the Russia investigation, and the general bedlam that is accompanying plans for his trip to Israel (which will also include a jaunt to the original bedlam Bethlehem), give the press plenty to spill overwrought ink over.

And even though Israel Hayom doesn’t join Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth in reporting on the White House’s black eye, it still employs a Washington Monument-sized stick of lipstick to gussy up what looks to others like a pig.

Trump’s big ask of Comey makes the top story of Haaretz. While the report doesn’t add much to what is in The New York Times, columnist Chemi Shalev writes that what is going on is no less than “Watergate version 2.0.”

Shalev compares Comey’s transcript to the smoking gun recording of Richard Nixon and Bob Haldeman talking about sinking an FBI probe, and says the competition between The Times and the Washington Post for scoops is reminiscent of that era. But Nixon had only one scandal. Trump, who always has to be bigger, has both Comey and the leaked intel scandal competing for space.

“Before US citizens and the rest of the world can manage to swallow the last scandal [of the leaked intel], which could have been written by John Clancy or John Le Carre, a new mortar explodes, fired from the cannon of the previous scandal,” about Comey, Shalev writes.

The idea is echoed in Yedioth, which describes what’s going on as “ridiculousness follows ridiculousness,” and notes that the Comey scandal “can end up costing him dearly.”

The news doesn’t even make Trump-backing Israel Hayom, though that’s not to say the paper is just pretending it doesn’t know anyone by the name of Donald Trump. Instead, it proudly crows on its front page about how great Trump’s visit will be (so great), so-called intelligence leak scandals be damned.

“In Israel there was no doubt that the US president’s trip would be historic, and now the estimation has a basis in the words of Trump himself,” the paper fawns, quoting the president saying the trip will be “critical” and ensure the “unbreakable bond with the Jewish state.”

The article also outlines, in the vaguest terms possible, plans for Trump’s plane to land, saying it won’t disturb any planned commercial air activity.

According to Yedioth’s top story, though, there are no plans, but just a “balagan,” or total mess, and the only thing set so far is that singer Shiri Maimon will perform for Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a state dinner.

“Trump lands in four days and all the details are far from being finalized; Jerusalem is waiting for answers from Washington and Washington is changing the schedule all the time,” the paper reports, noting that the sides haven’t been able to come together on whether there will be speeches at the airport or just handshakes, and that’s just the start.

Columnist Nadav Eyal christens Trump “Mr. Balagan” and has a laundry list of questions for the way the visit is being handled.

“If the president is already coming, who announced that his important visit to Yad Vashem will be only 15 minutes? What’s up with that? And who announced a speech at Masada, a dramatic issue for Israelis, only to cancel it casually? It’s true that this is nonsense in the face of more troubling behavior, say exposing of secret Israeli efforts to get intelligence on the Islamic State to the Russians, but there’s one word that ties it all together: balagan,” he writes. “The Americans have always demonstrated the abilities of a superpower on such visits. Having the fundamentals ready weeks beforehand, well-studied, the Americans looked derisively at Israel’s improvisation. Now, it’s the other way around: The Israelis are shocked at the Americans’ management.”

Indeed, the leaked intel scandal does remain important, despite the other anarchy-wreaking havoc, and papers continue to report on it — even Israel Hayom.

Not surprisingly, the tabloid focuses on Israeli statements that good ties with the US will continue no matter what happens.

Columnist Yoav Limor guesses that Israel made its displeasure known through quiet channels in a bid to keep from poking the bear, and says the scandal is now behind us.

“Despite reports, Israel will not for a second pull back from its intimate intelligence-operational cooperation with the Americans,” he writes. “Proof of this is in Washington right now, where Military Intelligence head Herzi Levy is on a working trip dealing with subjects, one can assume, that include those which were contained in this latest hubbub.”

Indeed, Limor may be right, but as Amos Harel notes in Haaretz, that’s not because Israel is necessarily cool with what Trump did. Rather, Jerusalem’s hands are tied.

But the columnist also says that the reports of it being Israeli intelligence, or even related to a plot having to do with laptops on planes, may all be nothing but fake news to protect both the source and the bungler in chief.

“We can assume that some of the reports in the past two days are the product of intentional disinformation, or speculation by people who have watched too many episodes of ‘Homeland,’” he writes. “From the moment the story broke, it has been in the interest of both the United States and of Israel to spread false information, in an effort to reduce the real harm to the work of intelligence gathering as well as to Trump’s image.”

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