Israel media review

Bufferin’ succotash: 7 things to know for July 13

Israel’s demand for Iran to totally leave Syria seems kaput, and Iran is seemingly finding ways around whatever buffer zone Russia has agreed to in any case

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Israeli soldiers at an army base in the Golan Heights look out across the border with Syria on July 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jalaa Marey)
Israeli soldiers at an army base in the Golan Heights look out across the border with Syria on July 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jalaa Marey)

1. Does Israel want Iran totally out of Syria, or can it live with a wide buffer zone? It depends who you ask and what you believe.

  • The Israel Hayom tabloid reports that upon returning from Moscow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear that, “We won’t accept Iran next to the border or any other place in Syria.”
  • But Yedioth Ahronoth reports that all Israel really hopes to get from Russian President Vladimir Putin is an 80-kilometer buffer zone, though it is presenting it as a temporary measure.
  • “The practical implication of the Israeli demand is [approval to] hit any Iranian military target within the zone, plus the existing policy of stopping Iranian entrenchment in Syria and bringing advanced weapons into the country,” Yossi Yehoshua writes.
  • Yehoshua also reports (albeit without a source) that Iran has cut back on its support for Hezbollah by several hundred million dollars, because of money woes.

2. Haaretz’s Amos Harel takes up the challenge presented by US Senator Lindsey Graham and examines whether Israel can actually trust Russia to follow through on its promise to keep Iran away from the border.

  • “Israel won’t be able to easily rely on Russian insistence that the understandings are being upheld. Their enforcement will be especially complicated in the densely populated Damascus region – which is within the range Israel wants the Iranians to be kept out of,” he writes.
  • Harel also quotes an Israeli official who offered a European diplomat a doozy of an extended metaphor for the Iran nuclear deal: “There’s a corpse in the room, the Vienna agreement, and you want to give it Advil and persist in believing it will come back to life.”

3. The Iranians, meanwhile, are not exactly taking this sitting down, and although they are officially being pushed away from the border by Russia, are finding ways around it.

  • “It stands to reason that Iranian-trained and Hezbollah fighters would try to blend in with SAA [Syrian Arab Army] troops in the battle and try to assist in the battles and gather intelligence,” security analyst Nick Grinstead tells pan-Arab news site Al Bawaba.
  • “Iran would like to build a presence in southern Syria as a deterrent against Israel but they’ll keep having to work under the Israeli radar. At the same time, they’re going to keep pushing the envelope with Russia to see how much it’s willing to commit to reigning [sic] Iran in in Syria.”
  • Haaretz’s Harel also writes that “Already, there are signs that members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Shi’ite militia fighters are shedding their uniforms to mix in with Syrian Army units in the battles taking place in the south.”
  • Yedioth notes that right after Netanyahu left Moscow, senior Iranian official Ali Akbar Velayati met with Putin and told him Iran has no intention of leaving Syria and the Russians should stay out of it.
  • Worth noting is the fact that Russia has already run into trouble trying to get Hezbollah to leave certain areas, as evidenced by a widely reported incident last month where the militia group forced the Russian soldiers to back away from al-Qusayr, on the Lebanese-Syrian border.

4. Israel may not be making peace with Iran, but it is seemingly firmly in the corner of Bashar Assad.

  • Israel is not only not supporting his ouster, but officials are indicating in the media that the diplomatic dealings over Iran and Syria’s takeover of the Golan are offering a prime opportunity for Israel to make clear what it expects from its enemy neighbor and normalize the border, as much as such a thing can be done.
  • It may not be alone. The LA Times reports that Jordan is also making similar moves and ending its support for rebels after Syria took over a border crossing and the Daraa region.
  • “The presence of the Syrian army … is a positive step and serves Jordanian national security,” the paper quotes Brig. Gen. Khaled Massaid saying.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth calls the Syrian army’s taking of Daraa “Assad’s victory.”

5. While southern Syria moves toward some sort of settling down, Europe is moving the other way thanks to Hurricane Donald J. Trump blowing through. After laying waste to the NATO alliance in Brussels, he moved on to London, where he managed to blast PM Theresa May in an interview released just as he was hanging out with the British leader at a black-tie gala.

  • As one Times of Israel editor noted, the only modern equivalent of an American leader speaking so callously of an ally when meeting them was when Barack Obama did it to Netanyahu in 2013, openly embracing the policies of his domestic rivals.
  • Obama’s mild-mannered snub (if it even was that) was apparently nothing compared to the number Trump pulled on his North Atlantic allies.
  • “Several officials who had been in the room when Trump amped up the temperature appeared physically exhausted afterward. One let out a full-body shudder. Another, a long, nervous belly laugh,” the Washington Post reports.
  • Trump flack Kellyanne Conway tells the paper that the president is just doing his thing instead of pussyfooting around like his predecessors — just as he did in moving the embassy in Israel.
  • “It’s like with Jerusalem,” she tells the paper. “You have decades of presidents — right, left and center — talking this way and gently pushing for 2 percent. You’ve got this president doing something about it.”

6. As NATO allies try to figure out what the hell just happened, conservatives are also coming together to try to figure out what kind of prank Sacha Baron Cohen pulled on them. More and more stories are emerging of conservatives lured to a pro-Israel event where, something happened, possibly something amazing.

  • Roy Moore, who threatened to sue Showtime (and compared Cohen to the Viet Cong), is only the latest to come forward. Earlier Joe Walsh said he had been honored at the event, and even showed off his plaque, which seems pretty nifty, even if it is fake.

7. Israel’s internet company Walla would never have made fun of conservatives like Cohen, since it was under the tight thumb of owner Shaul Elovitz who was apparently the tight thumb of Netanyahu according to what police suspect was a quid pro quo.

  • In Haaretz, Gidi Weitz looks at how Netanyahu’s right-hand man Shlomo Filber, who was running the Communications Ministry, made sure to get North Korean-esque coverage for the Netanyahus as he advanced a Yes-Bezeq merger that would benefit the Elovitches, handing the website studies showing how much of the coverage was negative toward the prime minister and family.
  • “One senior writer stopped writing critical articles about Netanyahu following the growing pressure on the site. He wanted to keep his job. But even when he confined his barbs to the social networks, he was advised by one of his bosses to tone his tweets down. ‘They have you in their crosshairs,’ he was told, and he followed the advice,” Weitz writes.
  • ToI’s Raoul Wootliff writes that Netanyahu’s defense — that he was just signing off on decisions made by professionals — may actually be his undoing because it makes Filber, who has turned state’s witness, the cog on which the whole case turns.
  • “If Filber, as state’s witness, testifies that Netanyahu was in fact behind or involved in the Bezeq deals, then the accusations and suspicions hitherto leveled against Filber would be turned on the prime minister,” he writes.

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