After Beirut blast, Israel feels ripples: What the press is saying on August 5
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After Beirut blast, Israel feels ripples: What the press is saying on August 5

The explosion in Lebanon was not heard in Israel, but sends waves across the Blue Line, as the media wonders how it will affect Hezbollah and whether Haifa could be next

A man stands in a damaged apartment as he looks out at the scene of a massive explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, August 5, 2020. (Hussein Malla/AP)
A man stands in a damaged apartment as he looks out at the scene of a massive explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, August 5, 2020. (Hussein Malla/AP)

1. Bombed out and bogged down: The massive blast in Beirut is met with a mix of sympathy, confusion and suspicious speculation by the Israeli press on Wednesday morning.

  • The explosion has dominated the news landscape since the breadth of the carnage became clear Tuesday evening. On Wednesday morning it takes up the top story of every mainstream Hebrew news website, and often the second and third stories as well.
  • “Lebanon’s Hiroshima,” reads the front page headline on Yedioth Ahronoth, though the paper actually buries its coverage on Page 10, behind stories about nurses unhappy about being quarantined, people unable to afford food and political wrangling over the budget/elections.
  • The paper also compares the explosion to the 9/11 attacks, running a picture of smoke rising above Beirut’s skyline from across the water which it says is reminiscent of a similar picture taken of the Twin Towers burning.
  • “The difficult pictures, videos and testimony coming out of Beirut have left no room for doubt: Lebanon experienced yesterday one of the worst national disasters in its history, which will be remembered in eternal infamy,” reads Israel Hayom’s lede of its news story, which is mostly taken up with Israel’s response and speculation about Hezbollah’s involvement.
  • Kan’s Roi Kais writes that the blast “brings Lebanon one step closer to the abyss.”
  • “Beyond the size of the disaster… this is a dramatic event for the land of the cedars, which comes during one of the toughest period’s in Lebanon’s history, especially on the economic front,” he writes.

2. Hezbollah in trouble: Much of Israel’s coverage revolves around looking at how the explosion will affect Hezbollah and its everlasting fight with Israel.

  • “Even after it turned out that the explosion was caused by an accident rather than a deliberate attack, the enormous scope of the damage and the large number of people killed and wounded will raise pointed questions about the warehousing of ammunition, missiles, guns and explosives in populated areas,” writes Zvi Barel in Haaretz. “The Lebanese are well acquainted with the map of Hezbollah’s bases and missile stockpiles, since their location has been reported in the media and on the internet. Anyone who lives near one is aware of the threat posed by the possibility of an accident causing an explosion or a deliberate Israeli attack. The explosion at the port makes this threat even more concrete. But dismantling and neutralizing these stockpiles, or moving them away from populated areas, is a sensitive issue politically, because it would mean disarming ‘the Lebanese resistance’ and leaving the country devoid of any force capable of deterring Israel.”
  • He adds that “the Beirut port blast could now at least lead to some changes in the public discourse, and even possibly among some political leaders, resulting in a demand to remove Hezbollah’s weapons and ammunition warehouses from population centers.”
  • (Ironically, the paper itself appears to confuse the map of Hezbollah’s alleged munitions caches, with its news story claiming that the port was home to a warehouse where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hezbollah of storing missiles in a 2018 UN speech. In actuality, Netanyahu had pointed to three sites near Beirut’s airport, including at a small quay, but nowhere near the main downtown port.)
  • “I estimate that much of the conversation going forward will focus on Hezbollah continuing to hold stores of weapons adjacent to civilian areas,” says Channel 12’s Ohad Hemo.
  • Channel 12’s Ehud Yaari writes that “Hezbollah will not be available for a long while going forward for score-settling with Israel. It is in a quagmire that the explosion has only made worse.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Yoav Limor writes that the blast “changes everything” for the terror group: “After what might be the worst incident in Lebanon’s history, the public will have even less inclination for needless security headaches caused by Hezbollah’s foolishness. Given Israel’s clear warnings – originally reported in Israel Hayom – that any attack on Israelis would lead to strikes on Lebanese national infrastructure, we can expect growing pressure within Hezbollah’s ranks to avoid dangerous capers.”
  • But researcher Orit Perlov tells Army Radio that “the conversation [in Lebanon] is not around Hezbollah. The Lebanese are blaming the government for the massive screw-up, and trying not to fall victim to conspiracies.”
  • And Walla’s Amir Buhbut reports that Israel is not letting its guard down just yet, surmising that Hezbollah and Iran could take advantage of the chaos to transfer arms from Syria to Lebanon. And he sees a possible other “upside” for Hezbollah
  • “Despite the harsh criticism of it, Hezbollah can see the disaster as an opportunity to unite its ranks,” he writes.

3. Pointing fingers: While it seems clear this was not an Israeli attack, or likely an attack of any kind — unless you are Donald Trump’s mystery generals — some in Israel still see the group’s sinister hand behind the explosion, or at least hints of such.

  • “None of Lebanon’s political elite, its partners and enemies alike, are insisting on poking too much into the question of how 2,700 metric tons of ammonium nitrate was stored in the Beirut port for years,” writes Channel 12’s Ehud Yaari.
  • Researcher Ronen Solomon points to a picture appearing to show the ammonium nitrate, with a label matching the name of a company in Brazil that makes the stuff.
  • “Hezbollah is the immediate suspect in who controlled this warehouse. During these same years, it has managed a smuggling route, including from Brazil, the source of the ammonium nitrate that was stored there,” he tells Army Radio.
  • Some in Israel take it even further. Former MK Moshe Feiglin gets some rare press attention after insisting in a post on Facebook that the blast was caused by a miniature nuclear bomb held by Hezbollah.
  • “You don’t actually believe this was some disorganized fuel depot, right? Do you understand what hell would have befallen us beneath a rain of missiles?” he writes.
  • What really gets people’s goats, though (and makes up the headlines) is his comment appearing to express joy over the blast (though he may have been speaking sarcastically, “thanking” those who allowed Hezbollah to get the bomb.
  • “A real thank you to all the geniuses and heroes who organized this great celebration for love day,” he writes, referring to the Jewish holiday of Tu B’av.
  • In Haaretz, David Daoud, who tracks Hezbollah, writes that the terror group is returning the love: “The group – either to redirect attention or fuel enmity against its foes – has also been eagerly fueling the rumor mill, with Al-Mayadeen and Al-Manar suggesting American or Israeli responsibility. While Hezbollah’s Al-Ahed newspaper denied a strike caused the explosion, these other outlets hosted guests, like retired Lebanese General Charles Abi Nader – a frequent contributor to Hezbollah’s mouthpieces – hinting Jerusalem or Washington were responsible.”

4. Hand it to them: Israel’s offers of help and condolences also get wide coverage, though it’s a bit of a comedy of errors.

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, for instance, announces that he told National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat to contact UN special coordinator for Mideast peace Nikolay Mladenov to see how Israel can offer assistance. While most report that news straight — calling Israel’s offer out of the ordinary — some note that Mladenov is the wrong guy.
  • “Mr. Netanyahu, tell your team to call @UNJanKubis – he is the one in charge of Lebanon,” tweets journalist Barak Ravid.
  • According to ToI’s Raphael Ahren: “Israel has no love for Kubis because he met with and praised Hezbollah number 2 Naim Qassem last year.”
  • While most news reports indicate that Lebanon will reject Israel’s offer of assistance, Channel 12 news reports that Israeli officials are preparing for the possibility that Lebanese unable to get help from Beirut’s strained hospitals and other infrastructure will flock to the Israeli border, much as some Druze and others have done in the Syrian Golan. Given that Hezbollah has outsize influence on southern Lebanon, though, the idea seems somewhat outlandish.
  • Ynet reports that Israel has also offered to treat UNIFIL peacekeepers injured in the explosion.
  • But according to Walla, Israel is not taking in anyone yet and won’t until the army brass holds a situational assessment Wednesday afternoon.
  • And when former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt appears to express surprise over Israel offering aid, minister Orit Farkash Hacohen gives him an earful about how Israel never withholds aid from civilians, even from enemy countries.
  • Her message, though, is somewhat undercut by some on the right asking why Israel should give Lebanon aid, given that Hezbollah is part of the government.
  • “If someone thinks that if we put our differences to the side for a moment we’ll get some brownie points, they are not just mistaken, they are mistaken big time. Sometimes, even facing the worst scenes, you just need to not get involved,” writes Noam Amir in Makor Rishon.

5. Could it happen here? (yes): The blast has also turned attention to Haifa, which has its own stockpiles of explodable chemicals, leading to questions of whether the city could turn into another Beirut.

  • “The massive explosion in Beirut proves the danger ingrained in the concentration of dangerous chemicals so close to population centers,” reports Channel 12 news.
  • “A disaster like in Beirut can happen in Haifa. Unequivocally. There could be a catastrophe here that’s impossible to describe,” Haifa Mayor Einat Rotem Kalish tells Kan.
  • Some point out that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has himself threatened to aim missiles at nitrates stored in Haifa.
  • Attorney Jamilla Hardel Wakim tells Walla that she’s been warning about the issue for years.
  • “The whole country is shut down for months over one virus, but there is a much bigger danger that nobody is prepared for. If something like this happens, if there’s an explosion or a missile strike in Haifa bay, it will be a mass casualty event, because our assessment and that of all the experts is that there has been no preparation for an event like this. There’s no preparations for how to act during the event and no activities to reduce the risk ahead of time,” she says.
  • But former environmental protection minister Ze’ev Elkin tells Army Radio, “We’ve never allowed amount of chemicals like they had there by us. Israel has very clear regulations from the Home Front Command, since we are always prepared to be attacked.”
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