Israel media review

A failure to communicate: What the press is saying about the hunt for Ron Arad

Bennett’s news that spies carried out a mission for info on the captured airman sets off a whirlwind of criticism and counterclaims, leaving nobody the wiser as to his actual fate

A Palestinian woman walks past a mural painted by a Hamas artist of captured Israeli soldier Ron Arad, in the Jabalia refugee camp on the Gaza Strip. on January 28, 2010. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A Palestinian woman walks past a mural painted by a Hamas artist of captured Israeli soldier Ron Arad, in the Jabalia refugee camp on the Gaza Strip. on January 28, 2010. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

1. Search and declare: Navigator Ron Arad, missing since 1986 and presumed dead, is back in the news this week after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett revealed that Mossad agents recently went on a mission to uncover his whereabouts.

  • It may have been 35 years since Arad was shot down over Lebanon, but it took less than a day for the latest news of the mission to garner enough twists and turns to make John le Carré proud.
  • Bennett played up the mission as an important step toward learning more about Arad, praising those involved but offering no details. And within only a few hours, Channel 12 was quoting Mossad chief David Barnea saying in an internal meeting that “it was a courageous, daring, complex operation, but it was a failure. We failed.”
  • Other major news organizations also portray the mission as a failure: “The operation to gather new information about Arad did not succeed and brought no such information,” reports Kan.
  • Haaretz writes, “The security establishment criticized Bennett’s disclosure of the mission as ‘unnecessary bragging,’” though it also reports that according to a security official “no harm was done in revealing it to the media since the mission ‘had run its course.’”
  • Channel 13 quotes an official as saying Bennett had “made political use of a sensitive operation,” and following the avalanche of criticism, Bennett’s office retorts that the info about the operation brought to the Knesset sure did have value and anyone who says otherwise is a liar, though not in so many words.
  • And indeed, by Tuesday morning, the media is chock full of the latest spin, with many of the same outlets now telling Israel’s poor news consumers that the operation was indeed a success and portraying the uber-secretive Mossad as your typical spotlight-hungry spy agency just chomping at the bit for public praise.
  • Channel 12 reports that Barnea actually asked for Bennett to reveal the operation and that “the praise and recognition for the Mossad sacrificing to return Arad and other captives and MIAs was important for members of the organization along with the praise for soldiers. [In the Mossad] it is also claimed that the head of the Mossad sent a letter to the organization’s staff portraying the operation as a major success.”
  • Tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth slaps a gung-ho “Daring mission” across its front page as its top headline, and quotes an unnamed “senior intelligence source” who claims that “the Mossad achieved its mission.”
  • Israel Hayom, which reports that Bennett’s comments caught Israel’s intelligence community off-guard and quotes criticism from both opposition and coalition lawmakers about Bennett’s yapper, also quotes a senior intelligence source saying that “this was one of the most important and successful operations to bring quality information about Arad.”

2. Twisting in the wind: At the end of the day, though, not only has the public been put through the wringer regarding the mission to find out about Arad, but it also still does not have any new info about Arad, who has remained a household name in the country and has continued to garner high interest despite the decades that have passed since his capture.

  • “The State of Israel is not resting, is continuing to search for Arad and find any scrap of info about him,” a close friend of Arad’s tells Army Radio. “We know they have been doing this for years, unfortunately without success. I hope Ron Arad hears that we are continuing to look for him.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor writes that Bennett’s mention of Arad won’t “turn him from a politician into a statesman,” and bemoans another false start for the Arad family: “The Arad family has known enough sadness in this affair, and no headline now, certainly none like this without a clear bottom line, can justify the whirlwind it’s forced to go through each time anew.”
  • Taking a completely different tack and dispensing with tact altogether, Haaretz’s Rogel Alpher wonders why Israelis should care one way or another what happened to Arad. “His mission carried out before he was shot down was not especially important, and certainly wasn’t of the magnitude that would put Israeli citizens in any large debt to him. Arad wasn’t an especially important person for the country. Simply, he was one of many Israelis killed while carrying out his duties. Sure, he suffered in captivity. It happens to other Israeli soldiers too. Yes, we don’t know where he is buried. The circumstances of his death aren’t clear. Also not unique. It happens. War is war.”

3. Not easy being green: With new coronavirus infections falling, experts are weighing in across the airwaves on whether it’s time to start easing up on some restrictions again, and looking at a rollout of a new Green Pass vaccine passport program described by some as “chaotic.”

  • ToI’s Stuart Winer reports that ministers have decided to keep many Green Pass restrictions in place despite suggestions that some be rolled back in open spaces. However, the government is now demanding new Green Passes in a bid to up enforcement, though the rollout of the new passes was stymied by technical difficulties as too many people tried to get them at once.
  • “As part of the new rules, venues and businesses that require a Green Pass for entry must scan the permits’ QR codes before granting access to their holders. Though QR codes have existed on the Green Pass since the inception of the system, which is designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, most businesses have forgone scanning them for verification and often simply wave people through with a cursory glance,” he writes. “But with the advent of new passes on Sunday, authorities have promised a major enforcement campaign starting Thursday in a bid to ensure compliance with the stricter requirements. … However, in a confusing directive, the cabinet decided that venues would need to start scanning QR codes on Tuesday, with some still using the old passes, even while the codes on the old passes no longer work.”
  • The new Green Passes are also meant to ensure that anyone holding one has been vaccinated within the last six months or had a booster, which Haaretz notes is a first for the world of vaccine passes. The paper quotes health expert Nadav Davidovich calling the move “the right decision.”
  • Davidovich tells the paper that the protection boost from the booster could “be 10 times and up, compared to people who got the second dose.”
  • Channel 13 reports that the army will also be rolling out Green Pass policies for soldiers. Those who refuse to get vaccinated will be subject to serological tests, though that won’t be a set policy, it reports cryptically. It also notes that the army is looking into the possibility of placing unvaccinated career soldiers on leave.
  • Speaking to Walla, Health Ministry public health chief Dr. Sharon Alroy-Pries says if infection rates go up again, Israelis should expect to get in line for more shots. “We’ll do exactly what we did now, and it will happen if we get to a situation of severe morbidity and mortality, just as we saw at the start of the fourth wave,” she says.
  • In the meantime, though, infection rates are going down and Kan reports that at least nine coronavirus wards around the country have closed.
  • According to the station, Health Ministry officials believe a return to school after the holidays will “not affect the downward trend, which is expected to continue.”
  • Speaking to Army Radio, expert and government adviser Ron Balicer notes that “we still don’t know what the effect of the return to school will be, but we should prepare the ground for easing restrictions. If we don’t see a rise, it’s only natural that we’ll see rollbacks of the type suggested by the coronavirus cabinet, especially in open spaces.”
  • But Balicer also advises against jumping the gun, noting that Israel needs to be ready for the possible advent of a new variant with winter approaching.
  • Channel 12 reports that the fourth wave saw a dramatic increase in the number of children who recovered from the coronavirus only to be struck with MIS-C or PIMS, two names for the same dangerous inflammatory disease that others around the world have been raising alarms about for over a year.
  • According to the channel, some 110 Israeli children have come down with MIS-C, including 50 just in the last wave alone. “It’s a tough disease, ongoing, which causes multisystem harm,” a Petah Tikva doctor is quoted saying. “It’s quite hard to get control of, and anyone suffering from it is of course in life-threatening danger.”

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