There were no game-changing developments on the fifth day of Operation Pillar of Defense, but with the conflict with Gaza remaining THE STORY, Hebrew-language papers are still devoting almost all their real estate to the mini-war, with the result that much of the content is starting to feel a bit repetitive.
Three of the four major Hebrew-language papers lead off with the waiting game being played by soldiers locked and loaded at the border, who must keep their fingers on the safety while Jerusalem figures out whether it wants to widen the offensive or get more aggressive in ceasefire negotiations.
Israel Hayom reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and crew, despite threats that they are ready to blow Gaza to smithereens, actually prefer a ceasefire to a ground operation –though they say they are ready to keep up the fight until rocket fire ceases, period. The paper notes that government spokespeople refused to confirm reports from Hamas that ceasefire talks in Egypt failed because of Israeli demands for a buffer zone and an end to weapons smuggling.
Analyst Yoav Limor writes that Israel, with the help of Iron Dome, is biding its time before choosing whether to pursue peace or war, and may be trying to make diplomatic hay out of the developments.
“Maneuvering is still in the pipeline, but Netanyahu, Barak and Liberman decided to hold off again last night, to give time for diplomacy. Today, the Turkish foreign minister is expected to reach Gaza, ostensibly to show solidarity with Hamas and in fact to increase the involvement and influence of his country in the region. Voices in the defense establishment are calling for Israel to take advantage of the current round of fighting to ‘clean the table’ with Turkey over the Marmara affair, in order to allow them to become fair and effective intermediaries with Hamas (and potential allies against Iran or Hezbollah in the future.)”
Yedioth Ahronoth has the news that the soldiers on the border with Gaza have wrapped up their training exercises and are ready to bust into the Strip like the Kool-Aid man at a moment’s notice. Oh, yeah!
Alex Fishman notes that time is a major factor, with the visit of UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who is coming to try and push along a truce, around the corner, and Obama’s ultimatum that Egypt has 48 hours to broker a ceasefire.
“All the sides involved in cooking up a settlement – Hamas, Israel, the US, Egypt, and the special team of Mideast envoys sent by the UN head – are ready to finish drafting a final agreement for order until this Tuesday. On that day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will land in the region for visits in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo. There is a kind of understanding that the head of the UN will give his backing to a ceasefire and agreement between the sides regarding their future engagement. A sort of symbolic act that is supposed to deepen the commitment of the actors. Until then, they are praying that there won’t come from out of nowhere a strategic strike – Palestinian or Israeli – that will shuffle the cards, destroy what has already been achieved and leave the ground open for warmongers.”
The paper also reports that in Tel Aviv, where shelters are in short supply, teachers in public kindergartens asked parents on Sunday to pick up their kids early after two rockets were fired at the city, saying that they have no way to keep them protected. (If you’re wondering why, you try shepherding 15 toddlers into a safe room or defensive position and holding them there for 10 minutes). The main problem, say teachers, is trundling the kiddies off during nap time, and thus have asked parents to pick up their kids at 1 p.m., and not 4 p.m., or at least chip in as helpers, until the end of hostilities.
Maariv has the one semi-scoop, that the European Union will on Monday condemn Hamas rockets and offer its support to Israel, much as the US has done, in a statement by foreign policy head Catherine Ashton. The daily also reports that within Gaza there is a split between Hamas and Islamic Jihad over how to move forward. Islamic Jihad accused the ruling Hamas movement of capitulating to Israel in talks, and Hamas accused Islamic Jihad of seeking to extend the conflict just to help deflect attention from Syria.
The paper also attempts to set the scene for readers of what it is like for the soldiers sitting on the border and waiting to go in, joining up with a group of fighters who went through the same thing four years ago before Operation Cast Lead.
“We met them last night, waiting. They are located in the heart of one of the entry zones, in the woods, between the folds of land and under green trees. On Friday, they joined up and are already a few hundred meters from the border. After getting their kits from the base, they went for two days of training and came in masses. The final exercises they didn’t manage to carry out on base they are doing here. Team commander and battalion sergeants order exercises on the potholed road while the officers sit and approve orders. The maps are open on the ground, the sun starts to set between the houses of Gaza and the darkness slowly settles in. The soldiers – a few days ago regular civilians – practice spaced walking and signaling. ‘We had training just half a year ago, but last time we had more practice before we went in,’ says Ronen, a soldier in the unit.”
Last but not least is Haaretz, which devotes its whole front page to the conflict, though mostly from the other side. The left-leaning daily is the only paper to lead with the deaths of 12 members of a family in Gaza from Israeli strikes on Sunday, pasting a large picture of the destroyed home on its front, and reporting that the IDF mistakenly hit the neighbor of an alleged Hamas rocket chief, killing the Dalu family, including five children.
Haaretz also reports on poll numbers which show that though 84 percent of the public support Israel’s operation against Gaza, only 30% think the war should be expanded to include a ground operation.
The numbers contradict a much less scientific poll taken by Yedioth of readers, via Facebook, a day earlier, which show that 70% of respondents believe a ground operation is just what the doctor ordered, and 30% think the called-up soldiers should be sent home.