A game of chicken in every pot: 9 things to know for March 26
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A game of chicken in every pot: 9 things to know for March 26

There’s a tense calm with Gaza after a day of fighting, and with elections on the horizon the push and pull of punishment or peace is stronger than ever

Fire and smoke around buildings in Gaza City during reported Israeli strikes on March 25, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Fire and smoke around buildings in Gaza City during reported Israeli strikes on March 25, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

1. Uneasy feeling: A shaky calm has settled in between Israel and Gaza after a day of heavy fighting as of this writing, though tensions remain sky-high with rampant fears of snowballing violence.

  • The words “tense calm” appear in just about every top headline in Israel’s Hebrew-language press as of 11 a.m.
  • While Hamas said Monday night it had accepted a ceasefire, Israel has made no such claim and kept bombarding targets in Gaza overnight. Gazans, meanwhile, continued to shoot several rocket sprays at Israel communities near the border. By morning, though, things had calmed down.
  • Treasury chief Moshe Kahlon, a member of the security cabinet, tells Army Radio that “there is no ceasefire, we haven’t run out of targets in Gaza,” following the Israeli line of never actually admitting to a ceasefire.
  • Meanwhile, troops and tanks have massed at the border, though there has not been a general call-up of reserves, which would indicate a much more serious step toward war or a large operation.

2. Back to calm? There are signs that Monday’s heavy fighting was merely a warning, with both sides interested in a return to calm.

  • “This is not the time for a ground operation,” writes former general Meir Indor in Israel Hayom, sometimes seen as a good window into the government’s thinking.
  • “A rocket at the Gaza area should be treated the same as one in Tel Aviv, residents of the south say. The opposite is also true. We haven’t gone to war until now, we shouldn’t go to one because of a rocket at the Sharon,” he adds, advising that any operation wait until after elections.
  • The lead editorial in Haaretz urges the government to “reconcile its aspiration to punish, avenge the rocket fire and demonstrate its determination to restore deterrence with a recognition of the uselessness of launching any large-scale military action. The aim is to achieve calm, not to bog the country down in yet another war.”

3. Gaza politics: With elections so close, everything is being seen through the lens of how it may help or hurt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was making his way back from Washington.

  • Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth calls the Israeli reprisal campaign a “political test balloon.”
  • “If the voters are impressed with the level of punishment, if the carping on social media stops, if Hamas make do with hitting one house in Sderot, perhaps it will be possible to end this round here,” he writes.
  • In the meantime, though, the harping is continuing, with rivals from the right and others pushing for heavier action.
  • “The prime minister tells us this is a ‘powerful response,’ but if it is, how is not even a single terrorist scratched,” Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman says to national-religious news site Srugim.
  • Yedioth’s Yossi Yehoshua writes that the government’s policies aren’t working, and calls the Israeli reprisal “not enough.”
  • “For the last year, Hamas has made the rules and Israel, the strongest country in the Mideast, is dragged along. It decides when it wants to have a confrontation. And what does Israel do? It broadcasts to the other side, in a baffling move, that it does not want an escalation in violence, and Hamas takes advantage of that well, and ahead of elections, brings [Israel] to its knees because even it understands that Netanyahu has decided to swallow whatever happens ahead of elections.”

4. Stutter-start: Netanyahu’s chief rival Benny Gantz also laid out how he might treat Gaza differently with a series of interviews Monday.

  • Gantz told Channel 13 news that taking Gaza back was “always on the table,” but needed to jibe with policy.
  • In his first English-language interview he refuses to go into details of how he would retaliate, but tells i24 news that Israel should be using “all means, air, land, whatever it takes, defensive or offensive. We are far stronger than Hamas. Hamas knows it, and it must feel it now.”
  • Gantz also spoke to Channel 12 and was immediately mocked online for repeating interviewer Yonit Levy’s name and appearing to stutter or get flustered when asked about comments he made about Netanyahu wanting to kill him.

  • Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson reports that Likud has decided to begin campaigning on the idea that Gantz is “mentally unstable and unfit to be prime minister,” which dovetails nicely with the interview and comments online calling him a “psycho” over the interview.
  • “It’s too bad someone who thinks they can run the world’s most complicated country, before even being elected, has lost his temper, judgment and composure,” writes Haim Shine in Israel Hayom.

5. Good Gantz: He seemingly did better at the AIPAC conference, with ToI editor David Horovitz writing that he “passed a test” with his speech despite coming off as a bit stiff and awkward.

  • “The delivery was certainly not flawless. A few sentences were indeed misspoken. But the AIPAC audience was warm and receptive, ready to applaud and even to cheer, and his text was smartly constructed to encourage them to do so,” he writes, comparing him to an also-fumbly Yitzhak Rabin.
  • And Ctech, the Calcalist financial daily’s English website, tackles what’s most on everybody’s minds: how good Gantz looks.

6. Forget Gaza, talk Golan: Netanyahu himself also seemed to lose it when harping to reporters about how all they covered over the last day was Gaza and not US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the Golan.

  • “That you don’t cover it for more than one minute is on your account,” he told reporters, only mentioning Gaza when pressed repeatedly.
  • Indeed, the Gaza flareup seemingly ruined all his plans for a triumphant appearance in Washington to cement his electoral position, forcing him to cancel one appearance with Trump and overshadowing the Golan pronouncement.
  • “Benjamin Netanyahu has a truly cosmic sense of timing, but Hamas has outfoxed him,” Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz.
  • While some think the Gaza situation will hurt Netanyahu and puts him in a no-win bind, The New York Times notes that he still managed to overshadow Gantz’s speech with his White House visit.
  • “Trump’s embrace and Hamas rockets may well make the difference in helping Netanyahu form the next Israeli government,” former negotiator Aaron David Miller tells the paper.

7. Height of collusion: While coverage was far smaller than he might have hoped (even Israel Hayom relegated it to page 20), the Golan ceremony did get coverage, especially internationally, and not all of it fawning.

  • Haaretz’s Noa Landau notes that Trump gave Netanyahu the “ultimate gift” of the Golan “brightly wrapped and with a bow on top,” even if Israelis were too busy preparing for war to care that much.
  • While the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor uses the occasion to remark on the “real collusion” between Trump and Netanyahu, some note that it also highlights one place where the White House and Moscow actually diverge: Crimea.
  • In Bloomberg, Leonid Bershidsky writes about what’s right and wrong about attempts by Kremlin allies and Trump critics to compare the Golan to Crimea, using a mishmash of mixed justifications.
  • “By the time such arguments start getting kicked around, though, it means there are no firm rules and, in the end, anything goes. The post-World War II rule against recognizing land grabs is perhaps the most important one in the current international order. It’s a key reason wars of conquest are extremely rare today. This is one case where the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official line on the Golan is correct; it should apply to Crimea, too.”

8. Wolf pack: Susan Wolf, who was injured when her home was hit by a rocket in Mishmeret Monday morning, tells the Kan broadcaster that she is “feeling much better, thank you.”

  • Wolf and her husband Robert moved to Israel from London some 30 years ago, giving the British tabloid press a good reason to get in on the coverage.
  • “’If we did not get to the bomb shelter in time, I’d be burying my family’: British ex-pat reveals how his wife, children and grandchildren cheated death when rocket hit their home in Israel,” reads a Daily Mail headline.

9. No delay: Another ex-pat Brit, ToI’s Raoul Wootliff, looks at the possibility the election could be put off because of the Gaza tensions and finds it’s unlikely in the extreme.

  • “With Israel having seen an unusually high number of both military operations and elections in its 71-year history, it’s perhaps not surprising that the national ballot has fallen during a war, and been postponed because of it, on more than one occasion.”
  • But Central Elections Committee spokesperson, Giora Pordes, says based on current law, postponing the election would be almost impossible.
  • “It could be done, but probably only in theory.” Pordes says.
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