Bombs over Baghdadi: 7 things to know for October 27
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Bombs over Baghdadi: 7 things to know for October 27

Israelis differ on what the apparent death of the IS leader means; and a tape of a conversation with Netanyahu leaves Yedioth’s publisher outcast by many

File: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi giving a sermon. (screen capture: YouTube)
File: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi giving a sermon. (screen capture: YouTube)

1. Jumping the gun: According to several US-based news outlets, as of this writing, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been killed during a special raid in Syria overnight.

  • The news is indeed big, as US President Donald Trump noted excitedly before various reports on the raid began filtering out. And in Israel, the story has been covered as a major one, overtaking all other events.
  • But coverage of the apparent raid in Israel veers from the US reporting in one crucial point: accuracy. All US news sites are sure to note cautiously that the death of the elusive terror chief has not actually been confirmed.
  • In Israel, though, the news is reported by many as fact, with no heed paid to such cautious pronouncements, meaning Israeli journalists either know something the US reporters don’t (they don’t) or this is yet another case of playing fast and loose with the facts.
  • Some Israeli sites also play up a report that al-Baghdadi was killed when he detonated a suicide vest rather than be captured, a dramatic detail if true, but one that is far from being confirmed.

2. What Baghdadi meant, if anything: With Baghdadi likely dead, several Israeli outlets look at how his demise may affect the Islamic State terror group and the US-led campaign against it.

  • “Islamic State won’t die with Baghdadi,” reads a top headline on the Ynet news website, though columnist Ron Ben Yishai writes reams about the myriad ways in which the group will be hobbled.
  • “Baghdadi dubbed himself the Caliph Ibrahim, that is, the heir to the Prophet Muhammad. He made himself the embodiment of the resurrection of the caliphate, and it’s safe to say that his assassination will deal a severe blow as well to the Salafi-Sunni ideas that he pushed on young Muslims in his service. Baghdadi indeed had a string of deputies and helpers, but the most important ones were assassinated over the years and those left will start fighting with each other for control of the organization,” he writes.
  • Former Mossad intel chief Chaim Tomer also predicts this will not be the last we see of IS: “The assassination of Baghdadi, like that of Bin Laden, is the end of an era, but the extremist Islamist energy [behind him] is still kicking,” he tells Army Radio.
  • Researcher Yoram Schweitzer is quoted telling Haaretz that Baghdadi’s killing is mostly symbolic.
  • “ISIS had prepared ahead of time to find a successor for Baghdadi, in light of the knowledge that the Americans were continuing their manhunt for him,” the paper’s Amos Harel writes, citing Schweitzer. “He minimized Baghdadi’s importance as a long-term symbol for his organization, despite the reports that he had blown himself up with an explosive belt when he realized he could not flee the American forces who raided his hideout in the Idlib enclave in western Syria.”
  • Channel 12 news focuses on the fact that “Trump may have sold out the Kurds … but it appears they played an important role in the operation to assassinate Baghdadi.”

3. Tale of the tape: The Baghdadi news overtakes what would be top news any other day and is indeed splashed across the tops of Israel’s major dailies Sunday morning: the airing of recordings in which Netanyahu can be heard chatting with Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes about colluding to hobble a rival paper.

  • While the essence and even much of the transcripts had been previously leaked, this is the first time the tapes of the conversations are actually heard by the public.
  • Yedioth does not shy away from playing up the story, and goes as far as to publish the transcript in full, across three whole pages.
  • The full transcript does not make Mozes look very good, exposing him as willing to put his profit margins ahead of his readers, but the paper makes sure to downplay those bits, instead highlighting Netanyahu threatening to take down the paper if Mozes does not play ball.
  • The front page is mostly taken up by a passage in which Netanyahu threatens to go after Mozes with all the tools at his disposal if he does not toe the line, and Mozes protesting innocently that Netanyahu can’t do that and think he’ll just sit silently.
  • On Twitter, Haaretz media reporter Nati Tucker rejiggers the Yedioth front page to instead highlight a quote in which Mozes lectures Netanyahu about knowing how to “manage journalists.”
  • An actual front page column by the paper’s Nahum Barnea is a bit more evenhanded, though the piece, headlined “A lack of trust,” includes him recommending that Mozes remain at the paper’s helm pending the attorney general’s decision on an indictment, apparently believing anything goes in journalism so long as it’s not illegal.
  • “I’m sure the conversations do not jibe with the values a prime minister is supposed to act and by the values the owner of a paper should. I am not sure it crosses the line of criminality,” he writes.
  • Others at the outlet also back Mozes, or at least the publication, including Ynet’s Atilla Somfalvi, who tweets that he’s “proud of Ynet, proud of Yedioth, its writers and editors.” Responding, Maariv’s Ben Caspit quips, “I’ll settle for just being proud of you.”

4. Still backing Bibi: Also not shying from from the affair is Israel Hayom, the free tabloid that is seen as heavily in Netanyahu’s corner, and which the tapes show Netanyahu supported crippling as part of his alleged proposed quid pro quo with Mozes.

  • Showing that there are no hard feelings, the paper appears to remain in Netanyahu’s corner, with a number of columns going hard after Mozes and other journalists the prime minister contends are out to get him.
  • In one column, the paper’s Amnon Lord claims the real telling transcript is that of the police interrogation of Mozes.
  • “One on side is the publisher of a newspaper standing like an elephant in the public space and trampling on any democratic process. When Netanyahu speaks to him about different politicians, he learns what influence he has over their fates. And opposite Mozes are the flaying implements of [police official] Koresh Barnur. One one side is the ‘strongest man in the state,’ as Mozes calls himself. On the other is an agent of the police state,” he writes.

5. Go down Mozes: Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker, who aired the transcripts Saturday night, writes in his own column that if anything, the tapes show that Netanyahu may escape the affair, known as Case 2000, without a breach of trust indictment.

  • “Netanyahu takes a more winding approach, a bit gentler than Mozes. That’s probably because he knew the conversation was being recorded and even got advice from his lawyers on how to not make it sound like he was making a deal. On the other side, it’s hard to believe how a man as strong, independent, influential and experienced as Mozes would speak in a way that exposes him, even if he assumed he wasn’t being recorded,” Drucker writes on the Channel 13 website.
  • Channel 12’s Daphna Liel writes on Twitter that “the tapes gives the impression that Netanyahu was trapping Mozes more than he was bribing him.”
  • But Shuki Tausig of the 7th Eye media watchdog news site writes that the tapes in fact strengthen the case for throwing the book at both of them, and takes issue with former minister Haim Ramon trying to claim in the Channel 13 expose that a previous instance of Yedioth trying to do something similar with him and not facing legal repercussions exonerates the paper.
  • “The simple truth is that the case was never put to the test because Ramon never told the public about his sins,” Tausig writes. “The innovation of Case 2000 isn’t the relationship between a publisher and a senior politician. … It’s that it was recorded.”

6. Gantz gets a go: News reports are also swirling around the resumption of coalition talks, with Blue and White head Benny Gantz set to meet Netanyahu later Sunday.

  • The meeting marks the first time in a decade that someone other than Netanyahu will attempt to form a coalition.
  • Haaretz reports that “Gantz is reportedly not working toward establishing a minority government with either the ultra-Orthodox or the Joint List, and is continuing to attempt to form a broad unity government with Netanyahu’s Likud.”
  • Israel Hayom quotes a Likud source saying that “Netanyahu will insist on the president’s [rotation] formulation, but may consider any [proposal] respectfully.”
  • Gantz is also set to meet Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who writes a guest column in Maariv.
  • Gantz is barely mentioned in the column, but Netanyahu’s name comes up again and again as Liberman attacks him with everything he has: “Netanyahu gave Hebron to [Yasser] Arafat, voted for the disengagement and the booting of Jews from Gaza, killed the death to terrorists bill, decided to pay protection money to the Hamas terror group…” You get the point.

7. How to heal, Pittsburgh style: Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, though there is almost nothing about it in the Hebrew press.

  • In English however, there are a number of reports and think pieces on the commemorations and the effect the deadly anti-Semitic attack has had.
  • In Haaretz, Dina Kraft writes on how the close knit community managed a closely choreographed dance toward healing.
  • “This is a horrible incident in our history we should never forget,” Jeff Finkelstein, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, is quoted saying, “but it’s the response to that the moment that is the only thing that should define us.”
  • Finkelstein brings a similar message to ToI and AJC’s People of the Pod Podcast, saying he feels “anger … when people refer to ‘Pittsburgh’ as a catch-all for anti-Semitism in America.”
  • The healing is still a work in progress, however, writes Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of the New Light Congregation, one of the three attacked, in JTA.
  • “If one would ask the question, ‘Where are we today?’ I would say that we are in a state of repressed shock. People constantly ask me how I am doing, and I just shake my head,” he writes. “I know they mean well, but the wound is still fresh, and I just don’t want to talk about it,” he writes.
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, exploring what may be done with the closed Tree of Life building, notes that some survivors have found it helpful to return to the scene of the shooting.
  • “ I was able to shake the yoke of this gunman off my shoulder,” Barry Werber is quoted telling the paper after visiting the sanctuary where he saw friends killed. “He had no more control over me.”
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