1. Ready to rumble again: It’s been nary a month since fighting between Israel and Gaza halted and the sides are already gearing up for another round, with the rising tensions and increasingly intense attacks once again at the top of the news agenda.
- After a day that saw several incendiary balloons launched into Israel from Gaza, the IDF hit back with a series of air strikes for the second time this week.
- Haaretz notes that “The IDF strikes on Thursday night were more intense than previous strikes conducted by the Israeli army in response to incendiary balloons sent from Gaza.”
- And there is no small amount of talk in the Israeli press of the strikes being just the start. Kan reports that even though IDF chief Aviv Kohavi is set to fly to the US for a makeup meeting on Iran, earlier scratched by the last round of fighting, “he will not hesitate to cancel his trip again if the situation with Gaza worsens,” which appears to be the equivalent of a dad threatening to turn this car right around.
- “Before the strikes, Kohavi ordered the army to up its readiness for a range of scenarios, including a return to fighting,” Kan adds.
- Ynet’s Ron Ben Yishai also amplifies the saber-rattling, reporting that “The defense establishment views balloon terror with great seriousness and is preparing in case there is a need to launch another campaign that will be the continuation of Guardian of the Walls.
- But lest you thought Israel will just go back to its modus operandi of alternating rounds of violent escalations and tense calm punctuated by occasional arson balloon attacks, he adds that Prime Minister Naftali “Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Kohavi are steadfast in their decision that what was before will not be, even if it means another military campaign.”
- Former general Gadi Shamni tells Army Radio he’s all about hitting Gaza in response to the balloons. “Israel can’t go backward when it comes to striking Gaza; we’re years behind and we need to catch up.”
- Channel 13, reporting before the Israeli strikes on Thursday night, says that residents in the south were “frustrated and downtrodden” over the fact that the IDF didn’t bomb Gaza on Wednesday night as well. “Despite the fact that after Guardian of the Walls it was promised that the calculus had changed and balloons will be considered like rockets, thousands of dunams have burned this week and Israel did not always respond — and it seems the containment doctrine is repeating itself,” the channel’s correspondents opine.
- Israel Hayom also takes aim at the new government being the same as the old government (which it supported), running a cartoon showing a Hamas man holding flaming balloons as Israeli jets bomb sand dunes behind him. “I feel the change,” he says.
2. The battle for Balfour: News outlets are also continuing to wrestle with the fallout from the departure of Benjamin Netanyahu from the premiership, which is helped along by the fact that Netanyahu does not appear to think he is going anywhere.
- ToI’s Tal Schnieder writes about Netanyahu continuing to use the Prime Minister’s Residence, exploiting a lack of clear rules regarding the transition period. “It’s reasonable to allow several days for the transition, since changes of power take place swiftly, with little advance notice and no guarantees until they are done. Still, it is inappropriate to make use of the trappings of leadership during that time, as Netanyahu is doing,” she writes.
- The New York Times reports that it could get no answers on a possible moving date or whether Netanyahu was allowed to continue to host meetings there. “A person close to the Netanyahu family said this week that the question of when they would leave the official residence had not been discussed yet and there had never been any question over the legality of Mr. Netanyahu continuing to host meetings there,” the paper’s Isabel Kershner reports.
- According to Channel 12 news, Netanyahu’s aides told Bennett’s people that he wouldn’t have the residence available for a few weeks at least. Bennett’s response: as you wish, sir. It’s apparently a far cry from 1999. In 2015, Netanyahu tried to empathize with settlers being evacuated from their homes by telling about his 1999 loss, when Ehud Barak forced his family out into the street/Sheraton Hotel.
- In Haaretz, Yossi Verter chides Bennett for not putting Netanyahu in his place: “The greatest error was his forgiving attitude toward the obsessive clinging to the official residence by Bibi and his consort Sara. I will treat him respectfully, Bennett promised, as if he had no idea who he was dealing with.”
- In Walla, Ben Caspit writes that the problem extends well beyond a real estate dispute. “The issue is not that they are physically in Balfour, but the legitimacy of the transition of power. The Netanyahu family continues to act as if they are the First Family, Netanyahu continues to treat himself as prime minister. It’s not just them, it’s also the party, MKs, former ministers, supporters …”
- ToI editor David Horovitz finds that the symbolism of what’s happening on Balfour street can’t be missed, and could be a problem for the new prime minister: “Bennett may think he’s taking the high ground and looking dignified and patient, but his disinclination to require Netanyahu to vacate the premises suggests he is suffering from intimidation, precisely when he needs to radiate confidence. Netanyahu, whose highly serviceable accommodation alternatives include his spacious home in Caesarea, is telling his forces he’s not going anywhere. At the Prime Minister’s Residence, for now, Bennett has let him show that’s indeed the case.”
3. Shred it and forget it: But a blockbuster scoop by Haaretz may show that Netanyahu does know he is out. According to the paper, aides to the prime minister shredded papers that had been kept in office safes just before power was transferred to Bennett, at Netanyahu’s behest.
- Reports Haaretz: “Senior legal sources said that what happened in Netanyahu’s office is extremely unusual. Even personal documents – for instance, officials’ schedules – are supposed to stay in the archives, with limited access for the new prime minister and his staff, they added.”
- Former chief state archivist Yaakov Lubozek tells Army Radio that weeks earlier, staffers were briefed on what had to be preserved and told not destroy papers. It’s not known what is shredded, but he says it’s probably not just someone’s chicken cacciatore recipe. “If they are shredding the documents, it’s probably not information that anyone else has; we’re likely talking about the most sensitive material.”
- Others have the same thought:
— Ron Skolnik (@Ron_Skolnik) June 17, 2021
4. Between a hardliner and a harderliner: One Twitter user notes that putting shredded paper back together is not impossible, as Iranian students proved after they took over the US embassy. But while Israel’s eyes are indeed on Tehran this week, it’s not for their paper-reconstruction skills, but rather what the presidential election could augur.
- “Forecast in Iran: Extremist president and problematic deal,” reads the top headline in Israel Hayom, referring to practical shoe-in Ebrahim Raisi and the nuclear pact that’s coming back together.
- “Whether a hardliner or a so-called moderate wins, nothing will change in the regime’s foreign policy, as the only differences between them are the length of their beard and the color of their turbans,” columnist Kaveh Taheri writes in the paper. “No matter who is elected on Friday, world leaders should agree to find a solution to remove the cancerous tumor in the Middle East, not make deals with it.”
- Kan’s Moav Vardi says Raisi is an especially hard hardliner who is known as “the executioner” for ordering the killings of thousands of political prisoners as deputy prosecutor in the 1980s. “He’s very much identified with the relatively extreme conservative bent of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei,” he says.
- ToI’s Lazar Berman notes that with the decision to disqualify nearly all the candidates, practically ensuring Raisi wins, Iran’s leaders appear to be giving up on attempting for a high turnout rate to bolster the legitimacy of their system of democracy.
- “The system is doing this, which is basically costing them one of the pillars of their legitimacy – the institution of the election – in order to empower a loyal, trusted, subservient ally,” Ali Vaez, Iran Project Director at the Crisis Group, tells him. “I don’t think the system would pay such a huge price just to get Raisi as president. It probably has a bigger agenda in mind.”
- Benny Savati, an Iran expert with the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, tells Channel 12 news that the election is just window dressing for the real decision makers anyway: “The government that appears in public — with the president and ministers — is really made up of functionaries who are there to ‘protect’ the shadow government so the world will aim their complaints and demands and problems at them. The secret government is the one that is acting, commanding, embezzling money, selling oil where it wants and bolstering itself with nuclear [activities] and missiles. Because of the lack of hope, these things are coming out.”