Weapons of mass distraction
Hebrew media review

Weapons of mass distraction

Three leaders whom some regard as dictators are in the papers: Assad, Morsi, and Liberman

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.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Yisrael Beytenu party press conference in Jerusalem on December 4. (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Yisrael Beytenu party press conference in Jerusalem on December 4. (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

Three main stories top the headlines in the Wednesday papers: Egypt, Syria, and Yisrael Beytenu. Cairenes took to the streets by the tens of thousands in protest of Mohammed Morsi’s perceived power grab. Syria’s neighbors — especially Israel — grow increasingly concerned about Damascus’s chemical weapons stockpiles. Yisrael Beytenu, the Likud party’s bedfellow in the coming elections, announced its Knesset list.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chemical and biological weapons arsenal, suspected of being one of the largest in the world, is a hot topic among world leaders. Israel Hayom parrots Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu parroting US President Barack Obama’s warning against Assad’s possible use of chemical weapons against Syrian rebels.

“I heard President Obama’s important remarks on this issue and we are of the same mind, that such weapons must not be used and must not reach terrorist elements,” Netanyahu said.

Yedioth Ahronoth cites Russian sources saying that “Assad has lost hope of winning or fleeing, and only a brave suggestion will convince that he can survive his flight from the palace without the rebels killing him.” It quotes Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Al-Arabi saying that “Assad can fall at any moment.”

Haaretz reports that Assad has investigated the possibility of absconding to Latin America, and has dispatched envoys to Venezuela, Cuba and Ecuador to inquire after sanctuary for himself and his family. A Caracas newspaper is cited in Haaretz saying that Assad forwarded a missive to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez regarding “the personal relationships between the two presidents.”

Maariv quotes a Times of London report that claims that the West’s preferred way to address Syria’s chemical weapon threat is an international coalition spearheaded by the United States and including Britain, Jordan, Turkey, and Israel. The assault would combine a no-fly zone with “75,000 soldiers that would be meant to control Assad’s chemical weapons installations.” It quotes unconfirmed sources that say that Assad’s chemical weapons experts had already started assembling sarin nerve gas artillery rounds.

Maariv’s picture of the mass protest outside the Egyptian presidential palace in Cairo Tuesday night may make the front page, but the coverage is buried on Page 17. It reports that President Mohammed Morsi fled his besieged palace under armed guard “after security consultation that concluded that there was a recognized threat to his safety.”

The paper reports that Egyptian sources say Morsi may amend the draft constitution in response to the mass protests in order to mollify the enraged mob that threatens to terminate his presidential career like Hosni Mubarak “so long as Morsi behaves like Mubarak.”

Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Morsi held an emergency cabinet meeting and has resolved to press forward with the national referendum on the draft constitution to be held on December 15. Haaretz devotes a mere five brief paragraphs from Reuters to its reportage on developments in Cairo.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman’s decision to cast out three prominent party members ahead of the Knesset elections is the story making the most waves in local news. Maariv writes that Liberman punished Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, and MK Anastassia Michaeli by removing them from the party list. Though, it reports, Michaeli and Misezhnikov claimed to have resigned for personal reasons, the paper points out in words and images that the two were the focus of embarrassing episodes for the party.

Michaeli attempted to physically assault MK Hanin Zoabi and splashed a glassful of water in the face of MK Raleb Majadele on camera; Misezhnikov drank liberally and preferred partying to politics. As for Ayalon, his infamous diplomatic insult of the Turkish ambassador by placing him on a low chair back in 2010 earned him a dismissal, the paper says.

Yedioth Ahronoth points out that the projected united Likud-Beytenu list would have no female members in the top 10 slots. The paper reports that members of both parties believe that Liberman and Netanyahu will amend the list and elevate current Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver to make it nine men to one woman.

Sima Kadmon writes in Yedioth Ahronoth that when Liberman wants to oust someone like Ayalon, who “apparently Liberman suspected of leaks” to the media, “he sends him to Siberia… he does it with his own two hands… he does it with no premeditation.” Her bottom line is that Liberman simply did not need Ayalon anymore for his political advancement, and instead needed rubber stampers.

Barak Ravid in Haaretz calls Yisrael Beytenu an “Assad-style party” and dismisses the claims that Ayalon was given the boot because of the Turkish diplomatic faux pas.

“Liberman fired Ayalon simply because he can. He is the party and the party is him,” Ravid writes. “There are no primaries, political rivals, or internal criticism. When he feels that he no longer needs Ayalon any longer, he throws him off the list.”

“He runs Yisrael Beytenu as if it were the Syrian Baath party and that’s also how he assembles its list. Very much Assad-style.”

Dan Margalit writes in Israel Hayom that Ayalon’s ouster was meant to remind Yisrael Beytenu members that “Liberman is their boss, the one who gives them orders which must be obeyed without question or pause.”

“I do not understand why politicians agree to a system in which they have to dance before a leader’s window to get a good place inside,” Margalit writes. “This seems to violate Israel’s Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty. Politicians who are part of parties in which the lists are set by individual leaders have no dignity or liberty. Rather, they live in Byzantine courts.”

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