After battle, papers show tunnel vision
Hebrew media review

After battle, papers show tunnel vision

Faced with death and destruction and wondering where Israel goes from here, the print press retreats into tried and true ideological bastions

Illustrative photo of a tunnel opening discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza, July 20, 2014. (photo credit: IDF)
Illustrative photo of a tunnel opening discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza, July 20, 2014. (photo credit: IDF)

A day after the fiercest fight of Operation Protective Edge, and perhaps of all of Israel’s battles with Gaza over the last decade — which left 13 Israeli soldiers from the Golani Brigade dead and dozens more wounded, not to mention the scores of Palestinians killed and injured — Israel’s three major dailies wear their true faces on their front pages in wondering where to go from here.

Looking at the three side by side reveals a microcosm of the rainbow of Israeli thought, from the right-wing Israel Hayom to the populist Yedioth Ahronoth to left-wing Haaretz.

Israel Hayom, for starters, is all guns and tough guys with pictures of tanks, helicopters and smoke from the thick of the fight. “13 brothers in heroism” reads the front page headline, accompanied by pictures of five of those identified killed in the fighting and the Golani Brigade’s trademark tree logo.

Yedioth, meanwhile, tries to balance sentimentality for the 13 killed, plus five deaths over the weekend, with hard-nosed pragmatism aimed at taking stock of the operation. While the front page features pictures of five of the Golani soldiers and the tree, it also has as a headline a statement from Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon that the operation to destroy Hamas’s tunnels will take two to three days longer.

Like Israel Hayom, though, the paper makes no mention on its front page of the Gazans killed in the fighting, aside from the army’s statement that it took out “110 terrorists.”

Haaretz, though, not only mentions the Gazan death toll, but puts it in the headline alongside the 13 Israeli soldiers killed. The dovish paper also plays up ceasefire efforts, which ramped up with America’s entry into the fray on Sunday (more on that in a bit).

Most of the press attention, though, is focused on the battle of Shejaiya, the east Gaza City neighborhood that was home to some of the bloodiest fighting Israel and Gaza has seen in years. IDF officials are quoted in all three papers calling the neighborhood, home to many of Hamas’s tunnels, a “complex battlefield.”

In Yedioth, Nahum Barnea calls it the Bint Jbeil of Gaza, referring to the southern Lebanese town where Israel lost 17 troops over several days of fighting in 2006. Barnea quotes an Israeli military commander at length, who rattles off the talking points of why taking the tunnels is so important, even at the expense of lives: “True we lost many people last night, and it’s possible more will be killed, but think of the alternative. How could we look in the eyes of members of a moshav or Kibbutz in the Gaza periphery if there was an infiltration and dozens of people were killed.”

However, Barnea also notes that the high death toll has the power to turn public opinion against the operation. “Cabinet members know the process from experience. They know that the euphoria of two days ago and the fear of yesterday mix to make an angry tomorrow. It happened in the Second Lebanon War, in Cast Lead and in Pillar of Defense. Nothing will stop Protective Edge from having the same fate.”

Alex Fishman writes that the battle of Shejaiya brought the end of the war closer, as it once again exposed the face of the conflict.

“The incident has shown even more, to both sides, the futility of continuing the fight. In a few days, the army will finish its mission of destroying the tunnels that can attack into the buffer zone. And then what, the military brass will ask the politicians, which of the missions that we offered to you should we pull out now, if any?”

Israel Hayom runs a fist-pounding commentary from Amos Regev, who contends that not destroying Hamas is not an option. “Against Hamas, there is no alternative to winning. For its own reasons, it has decided to go all the way. ‘We won’t surrender, won’t withdraw, won’t negotiate, won’t relax, we have turned to jihad,’ the Hamas spokesperson said yesterday. IDF actions until now have proved that Hamas turned Gaza into a terror tunnel, below ground and above. They didn’t build kindergartens, or parks or hotels or industry there. Just a murdering machine. Our murder.”

The paper’s Yoav Limor writes an appreciation of the Golan Brigade, which he says is always first to the fight, and first to pay the price.

“Golani indeed entered Gaza last, but naturally received the most complex mission. Last night the brigade had to carry out two efforts: keeping the fight on the front line, and at the same time, preparing 13 graves on the home front,” he writes.

In Haaretz, Amos Harel notes that the campaign is quickly becoming a full-blown war, though the only difference between the two is the number of casualties, which has now risen to 18 on the Israeli side. Though the dust has yet to settle on the battle, he says, as with Jenin in 2002, Hamas talk of a “massacre” is overblown. But he says, the army may take lessons from the operation and decide to toughen its tactics.

“Part of the operation was postponed for twenty-four hours, since too many residents had ignored the IDF’s requests to evacuate. Very few armies operate this way when fighting an armed guerrilla group in dense urban areas. It is doubtful whether the IDF will continue to do so as the fighting continues. Fighting in the neighborhood subsided in the afternoon, but the operation continues. It may be expanded, using more aggressive tactics,” he writes.

The paper also reports on ceasefire efforts ramping up, especially by the United States, with President Barack Obama calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday and Secretary of State John Kerry deciding to fly to the region after hearing about Shejaiya (and getting caught on a hot mic sarcastically calling it “a hell of a pinpoint operation.”)

As the cabinet discussed the US demand for a ceasefire, the paper reports, it also weighed expanding the operation, while the army would like to see it remain tied to its anti-tunnel objectives.

Haaretz’s lead editorial shares that view, calling for the war to stop before Israel gets mired in Gaza the way it did in southern Lebanon during the 80s and 90s. “Israel must help the mediators, particularly Egypt, to achieve an appropriate negotiated solution, and not hesitate to ease restrictions to assist Gaza residents. Israel must limit its time in the Strip, stick to the goals it declared at the beginning and stop the warfare once those goals are achieved. It must not drown in the sands of Gaza.”

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