At the Gates: 10 things to know for October 9
Israel media review

At the Gates: 10 things to know for October 9

An Israeli firm offered some shady services to Trump (with code names that made it sound like a children’s story); Jerusalem seems silent as Gaza heats up, and a manhunt continues

Rick Gates leaves federal court in Washington, DC, on February 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Rick Gates leaves federal court in Washington, DC, on February 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

1. The Lion and the Bear: A New York Times report details Israeli firm Psy-Group’s offer to employ all sort of dirty tricks for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

  • Though it appears the proposal was never accepted, the story sheds a bit of light on a shady Israeli industry, as well as on the kind of tactics it seems the Trump campaign was considering, and the story dominates the Israeli press landscape Tuesday morning.
  • Using code words like “lion” for Trump, “bear” for Ted Cruz and “forest” for Hillary Clinton, the story details how Psy-Group offered to create fake social media identities to push pro-Trump narratives and anti-Cruz and Clinton ones.
  • The group also offered to provide intelligence on Clinton and associates. While opposition research is part of any campaign, Psy-Group’s offer of unspecified “complementary intelligence activities” to prepare “intelligence dossiers on each target” lends the proposal a more sinister veneer.
  • The story basically expands on a report from May that said Psy-Group head Joel Zamel had outlined a subversive social media strategy to Donald Trump Jr. and some others.
  • There are still some hanging strings and question marks on the Mueller probe corkboard, like the $2 million paid by Gulf operator George Nader to Zamel after the election, and whether the campaign would have been illegal.

2. From Gates to Netanyahu: The report also plays six degrees of Bibi Bacon, noting that Rick Gates approached Psy-Group after learning about the company from George Birnbaum.

  • George Birnbaum is a Republican operative, but has close links to many Israeli officials, the New York Times says.
  • Birnbaum, an American, worked for Netanyahu himself, but he is mostly known as an acolyte of the late Arthur Finkelstein, a well-known political consultant credited with engineering Netanyahu’s first win to become prime minister in 1996.
  • “Again and again Israel is finding itself in strange corners of the Mueller investigation,” Haaretz’s Amir Tibon writes on Twitter.

3. The spy hole: While some Israeli stories focus on the social media campaign, most lead with the spying allegations.

  • “Is there an Israeli firm that spied for Trump?” reads a headline on Hadashot news’s website.
  • Despite the company being Israeli, most reports closely hew to the New York Times’s coverage, reflecting the black hole that Psy-Group and other similar companies are to many in the Israeli press.
  • A Privacy International report from July 2016 relies mostly on foreign reports and lists 27 Israeli surveillance companies, though Psy-Group is not one of them.

4. ‘Unprecedented’ search: A manhunt for Ashraf Na’alowa, the suspected terrorist who killed two people in the West Bank’s Barkan industrial zone on Sunday, is continuing on Tuesday.

  • The chase makes the front page of all three major Hebrew-language newspapers.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth (front page headline “turning over every stone”) reports that Na’alowa is considered armed and dangerous, and says the hunt is being described as “unprecedented.”
  • “The IDF and the Shin Bet estimate that his capture is only a matter of time, given that he cannot survive for long on the run and as far as is known he did not plan ahead of time for a situation in which he would escape the attack alive,” the paper reports.

5. Help with the hunt: A Palestinian security source tells ToI’s Adam Rasgon that the extent of the Palestinian Authority’s role in the search for the killer is less operational and more intel-based.

  • “We are helping the Israeli side locate him,” the security official says, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “The main way we are helping is in providing them with information.”
  • Four other Palestinian security officials declined to comment, reflecting the quiet nature of such cooperation.

6. Looking for Mommy: Israel Hayom’s top story focuses on an even more heartbreaking search, under the headline “Kai is looking for Mommy,” referring to the 16-month-old son of Kim Yehezkel, one of the Barkan attack victims.

  • “Kai doesn’t understand, he’s looking for his mother and we don’t know what to tell him,” Yehezkel’s older brother Schachar tells the paper.

6. Torn fences, bad neighbors: Gaza is continuing to heat up, with Monday night seeing a large protest that included several Palestinians busting across the border fence and setting an IDF post alight.

  • While Palestinians occasionally sneak across the border, this incident was of a more riotous nature, and was captured on video, garnering fairly major coverage and sparking a fair amount of hand-wringing.
  • “How much is Israel deterred from [acting against] Hamas,” Noam Amir, military correspondent for the right-wing Channel 20, asks on Twitter, sharing the video. “In the past something like this would have ended with a significant attack on Hamas. There’s no response, and no media coverage.”
  • Walla correspondent Amir Bohbot writes that “the videos will encourage more terror.”
  • Monday night also saw a fairly large fire started in a nature reserve near the Gaza border, from a suspected balloon launched by Palestinians.

7. Bennett takes on the Big House: Strangely enough, Naftali Bennett, the minister who has been leading the charge for taking a harsher line against Gaza is silent on the fence and fire as of this writing, possibly indicating he has been made to toe the line.

  • Instead, Bennett puts out an open letter to the University of Michigan, after it emerged a presentation used in a mandatory class featured a slide comparing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler.
  • “The time has come for you as head of the University to make a strong stand against what has clearly become a trend of vitriolic hatred against the Jewish state on your campus,” the future Ohio State fan writes, according to a statement from his office, referring to an incident last month in which a faculty member refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student wanting to study in Israel.
  • Unlike that case, which was quickly condemned by the school, the latest scandal has been defended by the school as intentionally provocative.

8. Let my student go: Haaretz reports that Hebrew University’s senate is asking to join an appeal by American student Lara Alqasem, who is seeking to be allowed into the country to study there, despite claims by the government that she supports the BDS movement.

  • The university is “a place for the exchange of ideas and the acquisition and creation of knowledge. It is a place that does not shrink from disagreement and is pleased with a multiplicity of opinions. [Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s] decision not to allow the student into the country merely because of her opinions constitutes a threat against what the university represents,” the paper quotes a statement from the senate saying.
  • Erdan has responded by calling it “another politicization of the Israeli academia for the sake of someone who actively works to harm the State of Israel and its citizens.”

9. Feeling the heat: A day after a report by the world’s top climate experts warned that the earth is doomed without drastic action now, the Israeli press finally takes a bit of note, though not much.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Israeli climate experts say the country will not be immune from the changes and may even feel it more than other places.
  • “Israel is on the coast and on the edge of the desert. Any scenario with a rise in sea level will influence us greatly,” expert Aryeh Wenger says.
  • Alon Tal, another expert, says that many changes are already here: “According to the models we can expect the winter to shorten by two months. That’s a worrying forecast and we can already start to feel it. Where’s the fall? Every year, the rains are delayed. It’s becoming chronic.”

10. Rain on the way? Tal will be happy to know that Tuesday is expected to see a drop in temperatures and yes, even some of that sweet, sweet rain.

  • “Where’d you put the umbrella? The weather will finally line up with the season,” reads a headline on the Walla website.
  • The site notes, though, that the rain will be scattered, and quite light.
  • A look at the radar Tuesday morning shows not much in the way of precipitation anywhere in the country.
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