And the rockets’ red glare
Hebrew media review

And the rockets’ red glare

Israeli newspaper pundits generally believe a missile attack on Syria gave proof through the night that the US is back

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.

In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) launches a tomahawk land attack missile in the Mediterranean Sea, Friday, April 7, 2017. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via AP)
In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) launches a tomahawk land attack missile in the Mediterranean Sea, Friday, April 7, 2017. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via AP)

The United States’ missile strikes on an airbase belonging to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces on Thursday night missed the presses Friday, forcing the Hebrew newspapers to report on the attack and its aftermath Sunday morning instead. The reception is almost universally positive, with most pundits offering heaps of praise for US President Donald Trump’s action. As ever with the Hebrew media, the cartloads of opinions come before the workhorses of reporting. All the familiar pundits are at the top of the agenda.

Foremost among the Trump cheerleaders, predictably, is Israel Hayom. The launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles at an airbase from which Syrian planes were believed to have carried out a chemical weapons attack on a village near Idlib marks “The Return of America,” the newspaper proclaims on its front page, calling the missile attacks “a first strike” in an obvious play on words with the tenth plague in time for Passover. The paper’s “Return of America” coverage runs 11 pages deep.

Trump fanboy-in-chief Boaz Bismuth writes a 1,100-word, Page 2 profession of his love for the American president that leads the newspaper’s Sunday coverage. He says that there’s “a new sheriff in the neighborhood,” butchering an already hackneyed expression for the sake of being cutesy with an American turn of phrase. With a single act, Trump “succeeded in putting six years of the Obama administration’s failure in the Syrian civil war behind,” Bismuth exalts. “Instead of a Nobel Peace Prize laureate,” he goes on, ragging on the former president with his typical tropes, “there’s a sheriff with a gun drawn, who doesn’t hesitate to harm regimes who deploy deadly gas on little children.”

Bismuth’s tired rhetoric recalls Gil Scott Heron’s “B Movie”: “Clichés abound like kangaroos — courtesy of some spaced out Marlin Perkins, a Reagan contemporary. Clichés like ‘itchy trigger finger’ and ‘tall in the saddle’ and ‘riding off or on into the sunset.’ Clichés like, ‘Get off of my planet by sundown!'” We get it, man. You hate Obama and sully his reputation at every turn and have a massive man-crush for the new commander-in-chief.

“You can criticize Trump, but you can also compliment him when necessary!” Bismuth gushes. That’s rich coming from someone who only does the latter.

The spread of opinions at the six-course Haaretz op-ed buffet varies somewhat more than the Boaz Bismuth show in Israel Hayom. Amos Harel says Trump “did the right and necessary thing, more than his predecessor Obama did over six years.” At the same time, he says it’s not clear whether the US will now work to oust Assad or not. Other writers in the paper, however, offer a more critical approach. Chemi Shalev says that while the surprise strike “suddenly presented Trump suddenly [sic] as a determined leader, who acted for the sake of appropriate aims and isn’t deterred by conflict,” a prolonged, fresh American involvement in another Middle East conflict could quickly turn things sour. Tzvi Barel writes in the paper that the missile strikes were “a ringing slap in the face to Assad and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, which conveyed a message to other states as well.” At the same time he is unconvinced that this single act marks a shift in the US’s policy vis-a-vis the Syrian civil war and its involvement therein.

Yedioth Ahronoth’s approach is one of concern after the US missile strike, not exultation like in Israel Hayom. Nahum Barnea opens his op-ed with some confused ramblings about lions and flies. “When a fly bothers a lion in the zoo, the lion looses an irritated roar, lifts one of its paws and lands it on the estimated location of the fly. The lion is at peace, and the fly as well.” He says that Trump’s 59 missiles didn’t change the Syrian civil war at all.

So is the lion the United States, irritated by Assad’s pesky use of weapons of mass destruction, or is it the fly, who merely roused Assad to anger with its insignificant buzzing? This is why they put this guy on Page 2.

Barnea says Trump has no strategy, “neither in Syria nor in any other place in the world. His strategy is a lack of strategy.” Where Israel Hayom sees America’s definitive return as a world power, Barnea says that “for good or bad, Trump put the leaders of the world in a period of uncertainty.” Allies and enemies alike are unable to predict how the US president will act. “Trump is playing with fire.”

On the opposite page, Alex Fishman writes that Israeli defense officials (unnamed, of course) say Assad is an “injured and humiliated animal” (again, the fly or the lion? Or perhaps a binturong? Or a pangolin?). He says that in such a state, “any action by Israel in the near future on the northern front will take into account that President Assad will try to restore his honor.” He cites this as the reason why Israel closed its airspace for the coming weeks over the Golan Heights and Jordan Valley, lest Syria try to strike out at Israeli flying enthusiasts.

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