Threat level midnight
Hebrew media review

Threat level midnight

Iran and Syria both bark in response to Israel's reported strike, but it's Hezbollah Israel fears most, even if the army is playing it cool

The Iron Dome missile defense system in action, November 15, 2012 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
The Iron Dome missile defense system in action, November 15, 2012 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Three days after the reported Israeli strike somewhere in Syria (or was it Lebanon?), Israel is no closer to knowing what happened to whom and why, but that doesn’t stop all four major Hebrew papers from splashing the latest “news” about the bombing and its fallout across their front pages. Yet instead of reporting what happened, as papers normally do, most of Israel’s pen jockeys on Friday are more concerned with reading the tea leaves and trying to figure what will be.

Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom both lead off with a blurry picture of a fireball, or maybe a dramatic sunset, which is claimed by Syrian rebels to be the Israeli attack. With both Syria and Iran threatening retaliation on Thursday, Yedioth plays up the preparation for a possible rocket attack on Israel, with Israelis rushing gas-mask distribution centers and northern towns getting bomb shelters spic and span, just in case. The Yedioth story notes that the IDF is playing it cool, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak even flying to Germany. The paper lays out three possible response scenarios: A volley of rockets on the north from Hezbollah in Lebanon; an attack on Israeli interests abroad, such as an embassy or tourists; or a response from Syria itself, though with the country unable to keep even rebels at bay, that scenario is seen as unlikely.

Nahum Barnea writes that Tuesday/Wednesday’s reported attack on a weapons convoy headed for Lebanon may just have been the tip of the iceberg: “The IDF brass estimates that Syria will in the future become the biggest security problem for Israel. Israel cannot stop every convoy. The chemical weapons are a problem, but the conventional weapons are no less threatening.”

It’s a thought echoed by Amos Harel, writing in Haaretz (which decides to decorate its front page with a generic drawing of a plane, since I guess there were no good pictures), who says that Israel should expect a Hezbollah response every time it strikes, even though the retaliation may not come in the form of Katyusha rockets or attacks on embassies: “It is possible that Hezbollah is preparing ‘sleeper cells’ of Palestinians from the West Bank who are waiting for instructions to act — and it is possible the organization has succeeded in smuggling in other explosives that have not been uncovered.”

Israel Hayom helpfully rounds up all threats into an easy-to-consume fearball, including Iran’s less-than-reassuring words: “Yesterday Iran hinted that Israel had opened up a new front. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi terms the action ‘brutal.’ His deputy minister was sharper and promised ‘the Israeli attack on Syria will have grave consequences on Tel Aviv.’ He called UN head Ban Ki-moon and told him that the ‘international community, which has taken a [harsh] stance toward Syria, needs now to take serious steps and a firm stance against the aggression from Tel Aviv.’ He also recommended that Israeli citizens not rely too much on Iron Dome and said that ‘their lack of efficiency was already exposed in the eight days of Pillar of Defense.’ ” Duly noted.

However, analyst Yoav Limor writes that, in this case, revenge may have to be served cold: “Iran may have promised to respond, but the estimation is that in Tehran, Damascus and Beirut they aren’t interested right now in opening up a wider war — each side for its own reasons.”

Burning down the Hauser

Maariv gives almost as much front-page play to Syria as it does to the resignation of not-so-trusted Netanyahu aide Zvi Hauser. Hauser, the cabinet secretary, previously refused to resign along with his colleagues when it came to light that he had tattled on ousted adviser Natan Eshel for allegedly doing something having to do with a camera and the underside of a table.

Saying Hauser has become a suspicious package — the term used for bags left in public places that warrant the calling in of a bomb squad — in the Netanyahu administration, analyst Shlomo Yerushalmi explains why he had to go: “Hauser is seen as a suspicious package for two reasons. Firstly, Hauser is known as a pawn of Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar. The ties between the prime minister and Sa’ar are apparently tense. Sa’ar was the head of the Likud elections committee, which failed at its task. Paid activists would go round screaming ‘Hey ho, who’s that coming, Saar is the prime minister to come,’ and Netanyahu and his wife didn’t like seeing it. Hauser is paying the price for Sa’ar. The second reason is the Eshel affair, which came to light exactly a year ago.”

Hauser and Sa’ar shouldn’t feel bad they are on the out and out with Netanyahu. It’s practically a rite of passage. Just ask Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett, who will likely make it into the coalition despite a falling-out with the prime minister. Don’t expect a tearful reunion, though. Yedioth reports that Likud-Beytenu No. 2 Avigdor Liberman met with Bennett in Netanyahu’s stead on Thursday to discuss Jewish Home’s positions and what its entry into the coalition might mean. The story cites Likud sources saying that it’s “no secret that Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, is involved in the troubled relationship between her husband and Bennett.” Both sides, though, are still mum on what exactly happened.

Israel Hayom reports that residents of a building in Rishon Letzion, which took a direct hit from a Hamas missile in November, are still waiting on repairs: “No real work has started,” one resident of the building tells the paper. “The gas and power lines are still destroyed, and apartments still remain destroyed. No government representative has been entrusted to take care of us; despite endless meetings, nothing has moved and people here don’t have any strength.”

On the Haaretz op-ed page, the always enigmatic Yossi Sarid tries to break down Yair Lapid (remember him?) and figure out why Israel loves him so darn much. Sarid figures he embodies “Israeliness,” though once he figures out what this is, it’s not altogether a good thing: “ ‘Israeliness’ — and this is its principle virtue — doesn’t require a decision now. There’s time; there are plenty of ‘domestic problems’ that must be solved first. It swings us in the hammock — left, and mainly right; how pleasant it is, half-asleep, to vote for it. And if we are once again disappointed, it’s not a tragedy: Another ‘beautiful Israeli’ will break forth like a new dawn, and, like his predecessor, will say everything we long to hear. And once again the ‘social protest’ will fall like rotten fruit into the lap of a neoliberal.”

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