Protective hedge
Hebrew media review

Protective hedge

The decision to pull troops out of Gaza is analyzed, second-guessed and defended, as wide support for the leadership starts to give way to a war of words in the press

An Israeli Merkava tank pulls back from the Gaza Strip near the border with Israel on August 3, 2014. (Flash90)
An Israeli Merkava tank pulls back from the Gaza Strip near the border with Israel on August 3, 2014. (Flash90)

Three papers yield three very different takes on the 27th day of Operation Protective Edge, Monday morning.

In one corner is the populist tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth, with a lead headline and story heralding the bravery of a soldier who dashed into a tunnel to try and recover Lt. Hadar Goldin as he was snatched by Hamas gunmen on Friday, and a series of commentaries analyzing, and second-guessing, the cabinet’s decision to pull forces out of Gaza.

In the other corner is Israel Hayom, often accused of being a government mouthpiece, defending the cabinet decision as one that will actually make Israel stronger. “We won’t agree to be weakened” the paper’s lead headline reads, and a laundry list in the deck lays out the leaderships talking points of how a pullback and reorganization at the border will make the south safer.

And in a third corner is the left-leaning broadsheet Haaretz, dutifully reporting the news on the ground, and even highlighting those verboten Palestinian death tolls.

Yedioth devotes its first several pages to the series of funerals that took place around the country Sunday afternoon, including for Hadar Goldin, whose body was never recovered, and profiles the soldier who tried to chase down his captors in the wake of the attack that left Goldin and two other dead: the appropriately named Lt. Eitan.

“Against army regulations, and despite the great danger of the tunnel being booby-trapped, Lt. Eitan went in with his command team. Yesterday it became clear that he chased them for hundreds of meters, and not a few dozen, as had been thought at the beginning. During his journey through the tunnel he and his men found remains that allowed the rabbinate to rule by Jewish law on the death of Lt. Goldin,” the paper reports.

His father, an immigrant from New York, tells the paper he’s not surprised by what his son did. “I’m very proud of what he did, he always wanted to contribute to the country,” his father tells the paper. “I don’t know where he got the courage, but we are not surprised.”

Haaretz, which is less breathlessly enamored with Eitan, reports that the massive bombing campaign in Rafah in the wake of the kidnapping – following the so-called Hannibal Protocol – left over a hundred Palestinians dead. The procedure, the paper reports, calls for large firepower to be directed at an area where a soldier is taken, even at the risk of loss of innocent life, in order to try to recover the soldier.

“IDF sources said that senior commanders in the field ordered the procedure implemented in full. The army knows that innocents were hurt as a result of the massive use of force after the soldier’s capture,” the paper reports.

IDF firepower hasn’t left only Rafah in ruins. Israel Hayom writes that though IDF troops are pulling out of Gaza, the Strip has been left in such a state that Hamas won’t soon provoke another war again.

“Gaza is starting to recover in a worse spot than Lebanon was in 2006,” an IDF officer tells the paper, which quotes the source saying that 60 percent of Hamas’s rocket-manufacturing ability has been destroyed.

The paper’s Dan Margalit says that rather than be mad over the IDF’s decision to pull out without a ceasefire in place, as many are, Israeli should take heart in the massive blow dealt Hamas, which will have put Israel’s version of MAD back into the equation.

“Hamas has been clobbered. Its rocket array is in tatters. Israel won’t let it rehab it. It’s true that Israel knew about most of the tunnels, but [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Defense Minister] Moshe Ya’alon did not make them one of the goals of Protective Edge, and that was a key mistake (probes will find out who prevented installing a workable blocking measure and what actions should be taken against them). But the mistake of ignoring the tunnels was fixed during the operation, and most of them were destroyed.”

In Yedioth, though, Shimon Shiffer says the pullback is ultimately another case of Netanyahu mismanaging the war.

“Over the weekend Netanyahu decided to pull out of the Strip, without a deal and without making it official. He chose to continue to weaken the Israelis in a war of attrition with no ending date. Plain and simple. ‘The responsible adult’ and ‘King Bibi,’ who saw in himself during the days of the war in Gaza someone who ‘acts wisely and judiciously,’ has been discovered, to great distress, as someone who picks goals for the IDF with insights that even those who try to find good in him have trouble understanding, from ‘quiet will be answered with quiet’ to ‘collapsing the tunnels.’ And what of the rockets?”

Shiffer’s critique represented an unusually harsh critique of Netanyahu’s management of the war, considering many have been holding their tongues while the fighting continues.

But Haaretz’s Amos Harel says that with the battle winding down, politicians, pundits and others will soon feel free to let loose with verbal arrows in the coming battle over the war’s narrative and conclusions.

“In the coming days, politicians will be freed of even the limited restraints they imposed on themselves while soldiers were being killed in Gaza. They will claim that had it not been for the hesitancy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the generals, Hamas would have been defeated once and for all,” he writes. “Netanyahu, Ya’alon and senior officers will claim a great victory was achieved. The Iron Dome anti-missile system kept Hamas’s rockets from doing much damage; the tunnels were destroyed (at the cost of 64 soldiers), and Hamas will be deterred for a long time to come. But many ordinary Israelis remain skeptical about the war’s results. This may yet turn out to be another case of Israel winning every battle against a terrorist organization but still not winning the war.”

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