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Israel media review

Boosted and busted: What the press is saying about 3 shots and 2 caught escapees

And perhaps bested… as questions continue to dog officials following the Gilboa escape and a US rebuff of Israel’s vaccine booster blitz

Israeli soldiers take positions along the border between the northern West Bank near Jenin and Israel as they search for two Palestinians who broke out of a maximum-security prison last week, on a road leading to the West Bank town of Jenin, near Gan Ner Israel, September 12, 2021. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli soldiers take positions along the border between the northern West Bank near Jenin and Israel as they search for two Palestinians who broke out of a maximum-security prison last week, on a road leading to the West Bank town of Jenin, near Gan Ner Israel, September 12, 2021. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

1. Catch me if … ok, you can: Nearly two weeks after it began with a bang, a jailbreak by inmates who escaped Israel’s Gilboa Prison has ended with little more than a whimper, as security forces collar the last two escapees in Jenin.

  • While officials have been pilloried by a string of revelations detailing screwups and snafus in the prison break, the capture of the last two remaining escapees, which gets top billing in the press Sunday morning, comes as a welcome relief with a side of comeuppance.
  • Iham Kamamji and Munadil Nafiyat, both members of the Islamic Jihad terror group, were apprehended in the West Bank city of Jenin, the Israel Defense Forces said early Sunday, noting that the two surrendered without any resistance.
  • Ynet gives a little bit of coverage to what it calls a “trick move” pulled by the army to nab the two, reporting that “large forces openly entered the [Jenin] refugee camp, thought of as especially violent and saturated with armed people, at around 1 a.m. in order to simulate an operation and divert attention to those forces, and not to the operation to catch the terrorists taking place in secret.”
  • There’s no evidence that anyone was fooled, but that doesn’t stop those who were in charge of catching them from taking a victory lap.
  • “We used deceit and trickery, and many varied intelligence tools,” IDF spokesman Ran Kochav tells Army Radio. “It’s great that it ended without anyone being killed, though we were doing whatever needed to be done to capture them. That there was no exchange of fire and we managed to capture the six terrorists is a credit to our security forces.”
  • “The arrest of the terrorists was carried out after precise intelligence was received by the Shin Bet pointing to a specific house where the escaped terrorists were,” reports Israel Radio, parroting the same official account as most other news outlets. “The forces fired light ammunition toward the building where the two inmates were hiding and they came out with their hands in the air.”
  • “As more time went on, we knew they were in Jenin,” Israel Hayom quotes police chief Yaakov Shabtai saying, though other sources report that until recently the police were pretty sure that at least one of the two was not there.
  • Still, that would put Shabtai ahead of the father of Iham Kamamji, who spoke to his son a half hour before the arrest but thought he was in Lebanon or Gaza, Channel 12 News reports. “I was surprised he was in Jenin,” the channel reports the dad (called only “the dad” by the channel) told Jenin’s Radio Nas. “The conversation was short. I figured he’d call, but not from Jenin. What calmed me was that he was very calm and not stressed.”
  • Channel 12 reports that “according to the dad, his son told him that he was afraid IDF soldiers would storm in shooting, endangering the lives of relatives in the home. That’s what caused [the two] to give themselves up, the dad claimed.”
  • While most reports simply rely on the official account, some go beyond with useful tidbits of information, like Walla, which reports, without a source, that “one of the two has symptoms of coronavirus.”

2. A spoon in the works: Despite the big win, those who allowed the escape to happen in the first place are still not out of the woods.

  • “Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said that while all the fugitives have been apprehended, he will be requesting a government commission of inquiry into the jailbreak,” reports Haaretz. “The hunt ended successfully, but the mission is not yet over; we must ensure that an event like this does not repeat itself in the future,” the paper quotes him saying.
  • Army Radio’s Hadas Shteif notes that “a string of guards and commanders will give testimony or be questioned under caution by the police this morning. The police inquiry will stop and the materials pass to the government commission that will be created if it has the authority to give personal recommendations, including whom to indict. Either way the series of flubs by the Prisons Service is too big. The question is how high these personal recommendations will go.”
  • Israel Radio quotes Khader Adnan, the head of Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, saying he also has not forgotten all of Israel’s big blunders that allowed the six to get out in the first place. The capture “won’t erase the defeat of Israel in the operation to break out of Gilboa.”
  • AFP reports that a claim that one of the prisoners dug his way out with a spoon has turned the utensil into a faddish symbol for Palestinians and others protesting Israel. “With determination, vigilance… and cunning, and with a spoon, it was possible to dig a tunnel through which the Palestinians escaped and the enemy was imprisoned,” it quotes writer Sari Orabi waxing on the Arabi 21 website.
  • Writing before the last two inmates were nabbed, Haaretz’s Amos Harel takes a deep dive into some of the troubling allegations against the Prisons Service: “It’s clear that the mechanism for promoting officers has been usurped at the Prison Service by Likud. In recent years many appointments, including mid-level ones, have been made due to the influence of Likud members. Meanwhile, officers seen as too independent, or as suspected leftists (heaven forbid), have been shown the door.”

3. Third time’s a harm? Despite a rising infection rate and serious questions about the quality of its data, Israeli officials are taking to the airwaves to defend the decision for Israel’s full-power booster shot program, despite the US Food and Drug Administration ruling that a need for the shots in the general population has not been proved.

  • “After FDA panel limits US boosters, minister says Israel proves 3rd dose works,” reads a headline in The Times of Israel.
  • Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz isn’t the only booster booster. “I’m worried that Israeli youths won’t get the booster because of the FDA decision,” laments ministry head Nachman Ash.
  • Former ministry deputy head Itamar Grotto tells Army Radio that “the FDA confirmed that there’s huge value in a booster shot. You can easily see that all the seriously ill cases in the hospital are unvaccinated.”
  • At issue is not whether it works, but for how long and whether young people really need it more than the elderly in vaccine-poor countries.
  • A news article in the academic journal Nature, with a study based on Israel’s national experience with the booster shot in pre-print, notes that “potential biases in the data leave some scientists unconvinced that boosters are necessary for all populations — and the data do not dispel concerns about vaccine equity when billions of people are still waiting for their first jab.”
  • “From a public-health perspective, it’s way, way more impactful to get more people vaccinated than it is to boost the vaccine effectiveness by a few percentage points in those who have already gotten the vaccine,” the article quotes Ellie Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University in Massachusetts.
  • The New York Times, also tackling the issue, notes that the Israeli data falls short in that it doesn’t show anything more than a short-term boost, and that many policy expert think that while boostering the elderly is needed, giving doses to the younger set is probably unnecessary. “There’s obviously some risk in continuously trying to ramp up an immune response,” immunologist Marion Pepper is quoted saying. “If we get into this cycle of boosting every six months, it’s possible that this could work against us.”
  • Health Ministry public health chief Dr. Sharon Alroy Preis goes on Channel 13 to defend the booster, and Israel’s decision to prescribe it.
  • “The process in Israel is very transparent, even if it’s not broadcast online,” she says of Israel’s famously opaque decision-making. “Presentations on the effectiveness of the shot are published on the ministry’s website.”
  • Haaretz, which notes that the FDA move may force Israel to rethink requiring booster shots for a Green Pass, says that “Israel’s haste to give the booster to children and teenagers, who are less likely to become seriously ill, may prove to have been premature. Israel may appear to have made a rash decision, even though most Israeli experts still believe it was the best choice, and that its benefits will outweigh the harms.”
  • “The fact that we see a bigger rise in antibodies after the third shot, as opposed to after the second shot, indicates that immunity could last longer; in which case, everyone should receive it,” Sheba Hospital’s Gili Regev-Yochay, one such expert, tells the paper. “At this point I think the third dose should be approved for age 16, or 18, and up.” In Israel it’s been approved for age 12 and up.

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