Cease in our time: 8 things to know for November 15
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Israel media review

Cease in our time: 8 things to know for November 15

Israel appears determined to stick to a shaky truce, rockets or not, and with ‘mosquitoes’ swatted, may soon be shaking hands with new bestie Hamas

Palestinian members of the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad terrorist group, parade with a replica rocket on a truck during a march to show loyalty for the Iranian-backed Palestinian movement's newly elected leader Ziad al-Nakhalah during a rally along the streets of Gaza, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Palestinian members of the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad terrorist group, parade with a replica rocket on a truck during a march to show loyalty for the Iranian-backed Palestinian movement's newly elected leader Ziad al-Nakhalah during a rally along the streets of Gaza, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

1. Let’s do launch: Israelis were pretty sure a ceasefire had been reached with Gazan terror group Islamic Jihad as of Thursday, but with the Israeli bombing of Gaza early Friday morning, following a series of rocket volleys the day before, the only thing that seems certain is that the ceasefire is as shaky as ever.

  • “Another night in the bomb shelter,” the Ynet news site writes, quoting parents relieved that southern authorities decided to cancel school amid the uncertainty, but others annoyed that the area would remain on veritable battle footing despite the absence of more than a few sporadic rockets here and there.
  • “It can’t be that they shut down a whole area because of one siren at night, that’s giving in to terror,” a resident the Sdot Negev region tells the outlet.
  • Ynet’s print sister Yedioth Ahronoth quips that the situation is a “cease, with fire” in a front page headline.
  • ToI’s Jacob Magid tours the Nahal Oz kibbutz, which sits just a few thousand feet from the Gaza border, and where residents say rockets or not, a return to normal is just an illusion.
  • “It’s like the movie Groundhog Day. You wake up and this whole thing will happen again,” resident Don Salman says.
  • Speaking to Walla News, a Sderot resident decries the double standard that allows fire to continue while pretending it has ceased. “If someone thought we would agree to a ceasefire that included drizzles of fire on Sderot and the Gaza periphery, they should forget about it. Sderot needs to be treated like Tel Aviv, no different. I hope the army responds forcefully to every launch.”

2. We won, let’s eat: Despite the overnight airstrikes, there are signs that official Israel is more than happy to declare a win and move on.

  • On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared an end to the fighting while touring an Iron Dome command center. Moments after his statement was released to the media, more rockets were fired with what would be considered comedic timing if rockets were anything to joke about.
  • Israel Hayom, the house tabloid of the PM and his Likud party, devotes relatively little coverage to the flare-up, relegating it to page 8 and giving it as much space on its front page as it does to a mother fighting for safety reforms after her son was killed in an electric scooter accident.
  • Inside, the paper claims that the south is getting back on its feet and columnist Eran Lerman writes that Israel got everything it wanted in the two days of fighting.
  • “[Islamic Jihad’s] decision to enter the circle of talks with Egypt signals that Israel achieved its main objectives,” he writes.
  • Channel 13 claims that the pitter-patter of continuing rocket fire is actually a sign of Israel’s decisive victory against Islamic Jihad, with the launches indicative of the group’s disappointment at being forced into a ceasefire before it really wanted to stop firing.
  • In Yedioth, Nahum Barnea quotes an officer who bragged that the operation was akin to shaking a table filled with flies and mosquitos. “We managed to get the mosquitos, without harming the flies.”

3. Dead wrong: It’s not clear if the flies are Hamas or civilians, but the analogy is both unfortunate and telling, given most Israeli publications refusal to devote more than passing coverage to the civilian death toll in Gaza.

  • That’s not true of Haaretz, which puts a report on the top of its front page that Israel killed eight members of a single family when it launched an airstrike on a house it thought was empty.
  • While the IDF’s Arabic-language spokesman initially said Israel had been targeting an Islamic Jihad rocket commander who lived there, the paper quotes defense sources saying the actual “target of the strike was ‘infrastructure,’ and that they were not at all aware that Palestinians were in it.”
  • Though the IDF spokesman said the target was Rasmi abu Malhous, who was killed, the Associated Press reports that the army was likely actually targeting Mohamed Abu Malhous, who normally lives there but had gone into hiding. Instead the IDF killed his brother Rasmi, both their wives and five kids.
  • Israel’s “tactics of carrying out airstrikes on private homes suspected of harboring militants could once again come under scrutiny over the civilian death toll,” it predicts.
  • Noor, 12, one of the few surviving members of the family, tells al-Jazeera she was saved because she couldn’t sleep and was able to run out when the first missile struck.
  • “When the first rocket fell next to the house, I ran outside. But I was too scared for my life to manage to wake anyone else up,” the girl is quoted saying. “When I gathered enough courage to return, the whole house had become rubble. I could see my mother [Yosra] under it and my dad’s head split and bleeding. But I couldn’t save them.”
  • The army says it has opened an investigation.

4. Smarting but still standing: As for what the army did mean to hit, there remains some dispute over what kind of blow Islamic Jihad was dealt.

  • Former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin tells ToI’s Adam Rasgon that “Islamic Jihad took a very hard hit,” but admits that the group is not on the verge of collapse. “They still have enough terrorists and they have many rockets.”
  • Gazan analyst Tala Okal tells him, meanwhile, that Israel didn’t even deliver that severe a blow: “It only caused them a small amount of losses.”
  • But a number of reports note that Israel had expected a somewhat more forceful response from Gaza. “The IDF had expected a far more aggressive response, from massive rocket-fire to central Israel to sniper and drone attacks, and while central Israel did come under fire on Tuesday, the terrorist group did not truly tap into its perceived capabilities,” Yoav Limor writes in Israel Hayom.
  • Walla’s Amir Buchbut reports that officials specifically expected more rocket fire on the Tel Aviv area, which never materialized beyond a couple of volleys early Tuesday. He surmises that a number of factors may have foiled those plans, from technical difficulties to unkind winds, but he reports that the army maintains that it was its own disruption of the rocket supply chain that kept Tel Aviv mostly rocket-free.

5. Married to Hamas: What is getting heavy coverage in Israel is the strange new world in which Hamas is almost an ally of Israel on account of the organization not entering the fight.

  • “One could discern indications of cooperation between Israel and Hamas,” ToI’s Avi Isacharoff writes. “Such a relationship, such an ‘alliance,’ is unprecedented between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers. And it may turn out to pave the path to still wider quiet and secret cooperation.”
  • Channel 13’s Zvi Yehezkeli writes that Islamic Jihad was just the side-show and the real story is Hamas growing stronger than ever: “Its deterrent capabilities have grown and now Israelis are treating it as a powerful body from a diplomatic perspective, an organization one needs to reach agreements with, not fight.”
  • Yossi Yehoshua writes in Yedioth that military officials expect the politicians and diplomats to make good use of the negotiating window created by the round of fighting.
  • “The IDF is convinced that it’s given the politicians improved conditions to advance an arrangement, which is understood to be in the interests of both sides… and are warning them against wasting time, as occurred in previous rounds.”

6. Obstacle to peace: Some note that Hamas didn’t exactly mind the elimination of Islamic Jihad terror commander Baha Abu al-Ata, who had been an obstacle to a long-sought after and long-term ceasefire arrangement.

  • “Al-Ata had been quite a thorn in the side of the Hamas leadership over the past year,” Shlmoi Eldar writes in al-Monitor. “Israel did Hamas’s dirty work, and Hamas hopes that Islamic Jihad got the message. For now, Israel has every reason to believe that Hamas is serious and willing to push ahead with a deal on a long-term truce and the easing of Israel’s blockade of Gaza. There is no better proof than its conduct in Gaza this week.”
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that Israel too marked Abu al-Ata “as an obstacle standing in the way of a long-term arrangement in the Gaza Strip.”
  • “Hamas, according to Military Intelligence, has for quite some time now been interested in moving in the direction of a prolonged truce with Israel. The elimination of the main trouble-maker, Baha Abu al-Ata, could now lead to that. However, Israel, which does not negotiate directly with Hamas, will have to fork over the goods: significant easements in the movement of merchandise and people from the Gaza Strip, along with acceleration of large projects for rehabilitating Gaza’s collapsing infrastructures,” he writes.

7. Like Gantz in an hourglass, so are the days of our talks: With the fighting seemingly in the rear-view mirror, political wrangling is rearing its head full force.

  • Channel 12 news reports that with less than six days to go for Blue and White head Benny Gantz to form a government, his chances are likely slipping away amid party infighting over how to deal with President Reuven Rivlin’s proposal for a rotational government in which Netanyahu steps away once he is indicted.
  • The channel reports that party co-leader, Yair Lapid, strictly opposes accepting Rivlin’s proposal as is, since it would mean serving under a prime minister facing criminal charges — something the party promised its voters it would not do. The party’s No. 3 Moshe Yaalon and No. 4 Gabi Ashkenazi are also currently dissatisfied with the assurances they are getting that Likud would honor such an agreement, the Channel 12 report says, without citing sources.
  • Channel 13 meanwhile reports that Gantz rejected Rivlin’s proposal out of hand because it contains loopholes that will allow Netanyahu to seek parliamentary immunity, thus being able to avoid indictment.
  • According to the channel, the attorney general plans on making his final decision in some 10 days, just in time for everyone to have something else to argue about over terducken.

8. Weak unity: In a rare sign of light for Gantz’s chances, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman tells Radio 100 Friday morning that he has not ruled out backing a minority government, seemingly reneging on his promise to only back a unity government.

  • Israel Hayom claims though that “the public prefers unity,” citing a poll it commissioned which shows 40 percent of respondents backing a unity coalition, as opposed to 28 percent who favor a narrow right-wing government and 17 percent who want a left-wing one.
  • The message closely dovetails with Likud’s party line, as does another part of the survey which shockingly finds much of the public having little faith in politicians, the media, the prosecutor’s office and police.
  • Politicians get the lowest rating, and though one might think that speaks badly of the politicians who have been in power for the past decade, the paper’s Haim Shine still tries to turn lemons into Likud talking points.
  • “Trust in the courts, law enforcement and the media is dropping at a dizzying pace,” he writes, “and could soon reach the level of trust in politicians.”
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