Contradictory reports and a surprise announcement by Syrian officials that Israel attacked a military research site outside of Damascus on Wednesday leave the Hebrew dailies to do a little head scratching while trying to understand what happened north of the border.
Yedioth Ahronoth declares simply on its front page, “Syria states: Israel attacked.” Inside the paper notes the conflicting reports from the foreign news services and the Syrians, with the AP, AFP, and Reuters all saying that Israel attacked a weapons convoy that was transferring weapons to Hezbollah, Complicating the picture is the declaration late Wednesday night by the Syrian government that Israel didn’t attack a convoy but rather a military research facility outside of Damascus. What does Israel say? “In Jerusalem there is a deafening silence,” writes the paper.
“Preemptive strike,” declares Israel Hayom’s front page headline, and inside the paper contends that there were two separate attacks: the attack on the convoy and the bombing of the research site. With few details available about the research site, the paper provides information on the type of weapons possibly being transferred to Hezbollah including the surface-to-air missile SA-17. The paper spells out of the dangers of the weapon in the article headline, “SA-17: Mobile, accurate, and hard to destroy.”
Haaretz’s front page looks at what the strike could mean for the region, headlined: “After reports of an IDF attack in Syria: fears in Israel of Hezbollah retaliation.” Amos Harel writes in an opinion piece about what could happen after the attack or attacks. Referring to a number of attacks that have been attributed to Israel, like the supposed destruction of the Syrian nuclear program in 2007, Harel writes that in the past Israel’s silence allowed Syrian leader Bashar Assad to save face and not force his hand. Now that picture has changed and of all the troubles facing Assad, an Israeli strike is “the least of his problems.” Instead, Harel writes, “The question is how will Hezbollah react?” Harel’s answer is a more active Hezbollah — but mostly an anticlimactic wait-and-see.
Maariv reports that Israel is not the only party silent about the attack in Syria — the Washington is also refusing to comment. White House spokesman Jay Carney, when asked about an Israeli attack on Syria, responded, “I’d refer you to the government of Israel for questions about deliberations or actions that they may or may not have taken.” The paper also takes a report from the website Al-Monitor, that the head of Israel’s Military Intelligence, General Aviv Kochavi, has been sent to Washington to meet with General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the two were expected to discuss the deteriorating Syrian situation.
Maariv also frets about what the strike could mean for residents of Israel’s population, especially those in the north. The paper reports that on Wednesday teams were dispatched around the northern city of Kiryat Shmona to check the preparedness of shelters around the city. These actions come after two Iron Dome batteries moved north: one to Haifa and the other to Safed. Maariv also reports that the Postal Authority, the organization in charge of distributing gas masks, reported a spike in daily requests for gas masks, to 500 from the normal of 100 per day.
The show must go on
Attack or no attack, Benjamin Netanyahu seems poised to form a new government after Yair Lapid officially threw his support behind him. As Haaretz reports, Lapid spoke with President Shimon Peres on Wednesday and informed him that his party, Yesh Atid, wants Netanyahu as prime minister. Despite his support for Netanyahu in the top job, nothing is certain yet. “This doesn’t mean we’ll sit in the coalition, nothing has been finalized, but what the State of Israel needs in this government is that there will not be ministers without portfolios, this will bring about sharing the burden [of military service] and returning negotiations [with the Palestinians] to the table,” Lapid said, outlining his requests.
Negotiating may have gotten easier according to Yedioth, as Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s political wing, agrees with the two-state solution. Yedioth takes its reporting from a Saudi newspaper, al-Sharq, which reported that Mashaal asked Jordan’s King Abdullah to convey Hamas’s position to US President Barack Obama. Mashaal reportedly told King Abdullah during a meeting the two had on Tuesday that he supports a Palestinian state established in the 1967 borders.
Maariv also picks up the story but reports that Hamas denies the story completely. A Hamas source stated, “The subject of a two-state solution and a solution to the conflict didn’t even come up in the meeting between Mashaal and King Abdullah.” The source then told the paper, “The conversation focused on reconciliation between the Palestinian delegations.”
Returning to glory
Yedioth reports that a special ceremony scheduled to take place on Thursday for the soldiers of the “Tzabar” battalion. What makes the ceremony so special is that the unit’s commander, Ziv Shilon, will be attending. Shilon was seriously injured in October along the Gaza border, when a mine exploded and seriously injured the officer. Three months later, after the loss of his left arm and serious injury to his right hand, Shilon will attend the ceremony that signifies the end of training for soldiers. Shilon was injured just two days before the original date of the ceremony and after the attack his soldiers decided to delay the ceremony until Shilon could attend. Shilon said, “I am very moved. I have been waiting for this for a long time.”