Rebuker in chief
Hebrew media review

Rebuker in chief

Barack Obama's late-night call for an immediate ceasefire has the Israeli press convinced that the US is once again messing up truce efforts

President Barack Obama holds a bobblehead doll of himself in the Outer Oval Office, May 14, 2014. (photo credit: White House/ Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama holds a bobblehead doll of himself in the Outer Oval Office, May 14, 2014. (photo credit: White House/ Pete Souza)

After 20 days of fighting in Gaza, US President Barack Obama got on the ol’ squawk box with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Sunday, just in time for his call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire to speed around the world via Twitter, telegram and text message before winding up on the front page of all three major Israeli dailies.

Yedioth Ahronoth’s A1 openly wonders if Obama’s call marks the beginning of the end of Operation Protective Edge. The paper calls the phone conversation a “red light from Obama.”

But coming on top of Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to find a solution to the conflict via Turkey and Qatar, which Israel made plain over the weekend was unacceptable, it may just pour more salt in the festering wound of US-Israeli relations, Nahum Barnea writes.

“Obama was not satisfied with rebuking Netanyahu over the offense he showed Kerry. He demanded an immediate ceasefire, without conditions, and made clear that demilitarizing Gaza was not part of the ceasefire. He will wait for a future agreement,” he writes. “Now the Israeli government, which really wants a ceasefire, will be seen as giving in to American demands. This will make it harder to do what it wants. The kerfuffle between the US, Israel, the PA and Egypt is a victory for Hamas and its patrons.”

In a sign of the strange times we find ourselves in, archrival Israel Hayom is actually in agreement with Yedioth over how misguided the American ceasefire attempts are. However, the paper’s Dan Margalit notes that with Israel already operating under a humanitarian truce, the president’s call was actually mainly meant to give Netanyahu a talking to over the way he’s been treating Obama’s main man Kerry.

“Give the facts, and under the assumption that there were no harsh words from Obama that have yet to be published, it seems the call from the president to the prime minister was mainly meant to rebuke Israel for mocking John Kerry, who went along with his friends (the Europeans) and companions (Turkey and Qatar), and without Israel, the PA or Egypt, in a ceasefire proposal that was seemingly copied from Khaled Mashaal’s Facebook page.”

Haaretz, which a day ago uncharacteristically skewered Kerry over his proposal (another sign of the times), takes its criticism one step further Monday, writing that Kerry’s efforts aren’t just bumbling but dangerous as well.

“The Obama administration proved once again that it is the best friend of its enemies, and the biggest enemy of its friends. The man of peace from Massachusetts intercepted with his own hands the reasonable ceasefire that was within reach, and pushed both the Palestinians and Israelis toward an escalation that most of them did not want,” Ari Shavit writes.

Friendly fire

While men in suits continue to squabble over “terms” in air-conditioned boardrooms, actual fighting is still continuing on the ground in Gaza. Newspapers provide some shocking details over a recent battle in Shejaiya, in which IDF troops were forced to fire mortars on their own positions in order to push back Hamas fighters, who seemed to be gaining an upper hand.

Haaretz cites an unnamed IDF officer who says that troops were ordered to take cover in armored vehicles, before artillery and air forces bombed the area to smithereens.

“The IDF soldiers ‘were taking fire from all sides and they couldn’t neutralize the threat with all the firepower we gave them,’ said the officer. So the decision was made to order the soldiers to take shelter in the highly protected Namer APCs, the best armored vehicle in the IDF ground forces. A number of artillery battalions then fired about 600 shells at Shejiaya as fighter planes bombed from above.”

Yedioth notes that a decision to fire artillery so close to friendly troops had also been made 32 years earlier, in the battle for Sultan Yakoub in southern Lebanon, where three IDF soldiers were captured by Hezbollah.

A week after the battle for Shejaiya and despite the initial investigation, the paper says some questions still linger: “Firstly, if the intelligence on the area was so good, why wasn’t massive artillery used to soften the area before ground troops went in? And secondly, why did they need to go in an unprotected APC at all if the distance was less than two kilometers and could have been covered on foot?”

A number of officers, including fairly high-ranking ones, have been killed and wounded in the fighting thus far, including Golani Brigade Commander Ghassan Alian, who was injured in the fighting in Shejaiya.

It’s a fact not lost on Eli Hazan, who writes in Israel Hayom’s op-ed section that the IDF is proving its role as the country’s heroes in deed as well as creed, as opposed to Hamas, which hides its leaders in bunkers or far away from the fighting.

“IDF commanders, even at high levels, are right to be leaders, going first into battle and making their lives subservient to the defense of the State of Israel. Indeed, it’s impossible, simply impossible, to deny the following fact: More and more senior IDF commanders are being killed and injured in the fight to defend Israel in the current round of fighting with Hamas in Gaza.”

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