War it is
Hebrew Media Review

War it is

Israeli papers focus on what they consider a reluctant but necessary ground invasion in Gaza

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Israeli soldiers patrol along the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, July 17, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)
Israeli soldiers patrol along the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, July 17, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)

Cry, “Havoc!” and let slip the fog of war.

As Israel launches a massive, if carefully controlled ground invasion of the Gaza Strip to destroy Hamas’s terror infrastructure, the media is cast into the nebulous world of war reporting, where the military’s word is taken for granted and all sources are unnamed.

Fireballs over Gaza and uniform-clad soldiers are the first order of business for all of Israel’s newspapers. Addressing the “threat of the tunnels” is the main objective for the second stage of Operation Protective Edge, Haaretz reports, citing a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office at the start of the ground operation. The paper reports that the cabinet had approved the decision to put boots on the ground in Gaza — for the first time since Operation Cast Lead in 2009 — on Tuesday after the collapse of an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire effort.

“The patience is over,” reads a little blurb on the front page of Israel Hayom, expressing the sentiment of many in Israel at the relentless rocket fire from Gaza. After a failed Hamas attempt to infiltrate Israeli territory early Thursday morning through a tunnel running beneath the border with the Gaza Strip, the group’s violations of Thursday’s five-hour humanitarian truce, the rejection on Tuesday of the Egyptian ceasefire proposal backed by the Arab League and approved by Israel, and the rain of rockets on Israeli towns, the IDF finally launched its ground operation, the paper reports.

“Inside Gaza,” is Yedioth Ahronoth‘s headline showing IDF troops in camouflage paint and an infographic with a map of Israeli operations along the length of the Gaza-Israel border. Surprisingly, the tabloid surpasses the usually gung-ho Israel Hayom as the most jingoistic paper of the day. Its main coverage bears the headline “After me to Gaza,” surrounded by stern-faced Israeli soldiers ready for battle.

“It took ten days, two ceasefires and efforts to prevent a ground operation at any costs, but last night it began,” the paper says. “Last night, after a heavy artillery barrage, Israeli ground forces crossed the border into Gaza.”

As in the rest of the papers, the information provided is regurgitated from press releases and official statements, with plentiful background information. There are no embedded Israeli reporters, and few reports offered from the Gaza Strip, and the fog of war lies thick over the Hamas-controlled land.

But there is no shortage of pundits — nearly as many, it sometimes seems, as the tens of thousands of reservists called up by the IDF to help in the fight.

Haaretz’s editorial calls for the ground operation in Gaza to be limited in scope, but surprisingly the left-wing paper doesn’t come out in force against the IDF’s invasion. It says that the consequences of a large-scale ground operation in the Gaza Strip would be “tragic,” and that Hamas’s relentless rocket fire, and pressure by hawks such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, might push Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to conduct one.

The paper focuses on the deaths of noncombatants and children in Gaza thus far during this operation, noting that “the number of people killed to date, as well as the targets of the strikes – some of which are clearly civilian targets – arouse suspicions that in the current operation, the IDF is violating international conventions and the laws of war.”

“The government, the legal system and the military all have a responsibility to put an end to this,” it says.

In Israel Hayom, Dan Margalit writes that Thursday marked a turning point inasmuch as it was the first time that cabinet members agreed on the necessity of a ground operation in the Gaza Strip to halt rocket fire. But the reach of the current operation is the focus of his attention.

“Will Israel target only the tunnels?” he inquires. “What is Israel going to do if the rocket fire continues after the tunnels have been dealt with? Will the IDF manage to reach Hamas’s leaders, who have been hiding behind their children and family members in hardened bunkers?”

But in his helter-skelter fashion, Margalit also calls for greater Foreign Ministry action to help fend off foreign pressure, saying the ministry “should also shift into emergency mode. It should gauge the reaction on the world stage as the footage comes in from the operation.”

Yedioth Ahronoth’s commentary is, as expected, mostly laudatory of the Israeli soldiers heading off into battle. It runs a piece by Eitan Haber, who says that now is the moment when millions of hearts are with the soldiers running under fire “in order to expose more and more Hamas tunnels dug over the course of years to sow death in Israel.”

“And now there’s no choice: we must find [the tunnels], before terrorists travel through them into the towns of the state of Israel,” Haber writes.

“The ground battle in Gaza will likely become complicated and keep us for a while longer on the other side of the fence, in the most crowded and hateful place on earth. War between homes and in alleys is difficult, and it’s no coincidence that senior politicians and [IDF] brass stalled so long before ordering the troops to move into Gaza,” he says.

“Now the believers among us will pray to the Lord of Hosts, and the secular among us will wish everyone to return home in peace.”

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