Thank you Trump, may we have another
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Hebrew media review

Thank you Trump, may we have another

As papers report on the US burning an Israeli intelligence source and continuing to obfuscate over the Western Wall, officials and their favorite tabloid show that even the loosest of lips can't sink some partnerships

A paddle used for punishment. (CC BY-SA Wesley Fryer, Flickr)
A paddle used for punishment. (CC BY-SA Wesley Fryer, Flickr)

One might think that as revelations that sensitive intelligence information leaked by US President Donald Trump came from Israel reverberate through the press Wednesday morning, reports would indicate the US-Israeli intel-sharing arrangement may be in danger. And while there is some reporting in that direction, most of the media is a testament to the idea that there are some love affairs so strong (or egos so massive) that they can’t be sunk by even the loosest of lips.

As much as Israel’s leadership may be willing to grin and bear it, there may still be ramifications, Yedioth Ahronoth reports (to say nothing of the dangers facing the actual agent in the field, as reported by ABC News too late to make the dailies).

“We will rethink what information we give the US,” reads a top headline in Yedioth. While the paper’s report mostly pats itself on the back for reporting back in January about Israeli fears the intel passed to the US could end up in the Kremlin’s hands, readers who slog through the story are rewarded at the end with the money quote from a “source in the intelligence community.”

“If Trump, naively or without knowing, indeed leaked information to the Russians, this is a significant danger to sources who devoted years of work. We need to rethink if and which information we will pass to the Americans,” the source is quoted saying. “They are our closest partners and we give them super-sensitive information. Until we are assured the channel is safe from every angle, it’s on us not to give them our crown jewels.”

Haaretz’s lead story also reports on both the leak and the revelation that it was Israeli intel that was shared, piggybacking on the New York Times and other American outlets (possibly due to military censor restrictions which require citing foreign sources).

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

But what it lacks in original reporting, it makes up for with analysis, with Amos Harel noting that even if Israel was burned, it’s not going to confront Trump over it.

“Clearly, the last thing Netanyahu needs now, on the eve of a visit in which Trump is likely to saddle him with a new and ambitious initiative for peace with the Palestinians, is an intelligence crisis with the Americans,” he writes. “Even if Israel was harmed by Trump’s behavior, it won’t rush to make this public. Netanyahu is aware of Trump’s sensitivity to criticism, any criticism. And even before the visit has begun, tensions between Jerusalem and Washington have already risen over problems in setting Trump’s schedule.”

That may be the reason for Israel Hayom’s frankly mind-boggling decision to bury both the Trump leak story and sweep any tensions between Israel and the US under the rug. The paper, seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, and also a big backer of Trump, instead leads off with an interview with incoming ambassador David Friedman.

Friedman tells the paper that Trump is coming to Israel without any peace plan initiative and likely won’t be asking Israel to stop settlement building, describing the visit as an attempt to do a 180 on Barack Obama’s relationship with the country.

As for the little tiff in which US consular officials and then the White House refused to acknowledge Israeli claims over the Western Wall, Friedman calls it a simple “misunderstanding” and shows how much of a Trump-clone he can be by passing blame to the media.

“If it was actually said, whoever said those things did not do so in the name of the US and did not represent our policies,” he says. “The media didn’t do right on it. They blew it up.”

Friedman isn’t the only one attacking the media. In what little coverage the paper affords to the TrumpLeaks story, all the way on page 7, and playing up the fact that Israeli officials refused to confirm it, columnist Avraham Ben-Tzvi calls the affair a “a tempest in a vodka cup — not the apocalypse.”

Ben-Tzvi compares the leak to Hillary Clinton’s unsecured emails and claims that media coverage of the scandal “goes beyond its true dimensions and exposes the deeply suspicious atmosphere in the media toward the new government, especially regarding the Russo-American arena.”

True to form, the other two major papers continue to “blow up” the White House’s hemming and hawing on the Western Wall.

“What did the White House not say yesterday about the Western Wall,” reads the lede to Yedioth’s story. “They said it’s holy to Jews, they said it’s in Jerusalem, they said it’s a question of policies and they said it will be part of discussions during Donald Trump’s visit in five days. Just one thing was not said: It belongs to Israel.”

New US ambassador to Israel David Friedman prays at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
New US ambassador to Israel David Friedman prays at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

In Israel Hayom, columnist Dan Margalit notes that “Had Barack Obama taken a stance like that, he would be attacked by Israel and AIPAC with unprecedented harshness, but Trump is the ‘favored son’ of Netanyahu and his government.”

Yet despite the White House’s clumsy handling of just about everything, there is still, somehow hope. Yedioth’s Orly Azulay writes that Trump’s unorthodox business style and lack of knowledge about the Middle East may actually help him. “The American president is on his way, but no messiah is coming. What’s coming is a brutish businessman, who is trying to bury his domestic failures under the presentation of a historic deal that will have his name on it,” she writes.

Haaretz’s front page reports on what may be the first fruits of his efforts, a Gulf proposal to take steps toward financial normalization in exchange for a settlement moratorium. On its op-ed page, the broadsheet wholeheartedly endorses the plan.

“Although the language is economic, the initiative might result in a historic breakthrough in the Middle East and provide infrastructure for a regional peace. Therefore Netanyahu would be wise to accept this initiative and announce a construction freeze in the settlements,” the paper writes. “Israel would show that its sights are set on peace, and even before then, it would be rewarded by what until not long ago it could only dream about: normalization with the Gulf states.”

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