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Hebrew media review

Deny no more

Hezbollah's statement that it was hit by Israel in Lebanon means the rules of the denial game have changed, the Israeli press opines

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah speaks via video during a conference, held in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, early May. (photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)
Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah speaks via video during a conference, held in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, early May. (photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)

Go north, young soldier, the Israel Defense Forces said on Wednesday, and the increased preparedness in the wake of Hezbollah’s statement — that yes, it was hit by what it says were Israeli drones, and it will be doing some hitting of its own — gets major play in the Israeli print media Thursday.

Not to say that the hubbub in the north is the only big news. The freeing of Hagai Felician, formerly the number one suspect in the Bar Naor gay club shooting case from 2009, and an increasingly ugly squabble between former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his former office manager Shula Zaken also merit front page headlines.

If it bleeds it leads, goes the old journalism adage, and in Israel, if it threatens to bleed, it also leads. Hence the big “preparedness in north” headlines accompanying relatively thin stories about Israel’s move to up readiness in the face of Hezbollah’s threat to respond “at the time and place of its choosing.”

Eagle-eyed news watchers will remember this is also a favorite phrase of Syrian President Bashar Assad whenever planes said to be Israeli blast one of his missile shipments to smithereens. But unlike Assad, whom nobody takes seriously, Israel seems to giving some weight to Hezbollah’s threat, or at least it wants our northern cousins to think it has.

In Maariv, Amir Rapaport writes that the reported strike on a missile shipment in Lebanese territory, and Hezbollah’s vow to respond, constitute a game-changer. “Until now, Syria and Hezbollah ignored the reports on strikes and Israel also refused to take responsibility for what was attributed to it. The assumption was that Syria and Hezbollah were up to their necks in the civil war and had no interest in opening a new front against Israel over a strike. … This assumption is still in place, but the Hezbollah statement could bring us to a point where [Hezbollah chief Hassah] Nasrallah will in fact retaliate.”

In Haaretz, which adorns its A1 with a heartbreaking (and uber-tweetable) UNRWA photo of massive crowds lined up for food amid rubble in the devastated Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Zvi Bar’el goes with the same theme, but notes that for Hezbollah, admitting that it was hit is a win-win.

“First, if it decides to attack Israel, it will no longer be accused of starting a war; it can defend the attack as merely ‘settling accounts.’ Second, it can parlay the Israeli strike into official government support for it to retain its arms, which have come under increasing criticism within Lebanon due to the organization’s participation in the Syrian civil war,” he writes. “On Tuesday, for instance, Nabil Kaouk, deputy chairman of Hezbollah’s executive committee, demanded that the newly formed Lebanese government offer support to the ‘resistance’ and declare this a fundamental principle of its policy.”

Where’s the kubeh?

There aren’t many times when “Mom, did you make me kubeh?” can work as a headline (let alone an acceptable statement out of the mouth of a so-called adult) but Yedioth Ahronoth finds a way with its two-page saptastic spread on the freeing, homecoming, and apparent appetite of Felician, in jail for several months as the prime suspect in the gay club shooting case. The paper reports that aside from soup, the homecoming also featured Hasidic dancing in the family’s living room, and following the Mitzvah Tanz (out-of-the-can edition), Felician insisting on making his own cup of coffee, which he dreamed of doing since being thrown in the slammer.

But the newly-freed Felician tells the paper he does have some regret, as he was surprised by his release from summer camp jail (though the Israeli media reported he would soon be out already last week).

“I didn’t even have time to grab my stuff from the prison. I want my tefillin and tallit. I also didn’t get to say goodbye to my friends from the cellblock.”

Israel Hayom leads off with the Olmert-Zaken scrap, reporting that Zaken’s assistant has approached the prosecution about her turning state’s witness on the Holyland case, in which Olmert is accused of taking bribes to push through a residential development project as mayor of Jerusalem. Zaken, it should be remembered, went to bat for Olmert in the slew of raps he already beat (including such hits as Rishontours, cash-filled envelopes, and Development Center) and got not much to show for it. Now, the paper reports, she may be willing to open up about guarding Olmert’s secrets in exchange for some easy time doing community service.

In Haaretz, Ido Baum asks the million dollar question, namely if Zaken does change her testimony, will this mean the prosecution can reopen the cases that Olmert already beat.

“In those cases Zaken’s silence meant the court could not rely on her computerized daybook, which contained information that could testify to everything, and would, it seems, have great value to the prosecution.”

Olmert’s defense team says the whole thing throws doubt onto her reliability as a witness and the papers report that the prosecution is not sure a plea bargain could be signed this late in the trial, which is wrapping up.

Israel Hayom’s Dan Margalit commentates that while Zaken’s turnaround is late, it’s not too late. “This was and remains a battle between the sons of light and darkness, a war between the haves and have-nots, between the ethical and those who cling to blackness,” he writes in classic over-hyperbolic fashion. “This is a campaign of great public importance about people who fill roles good, bad and ugly. Now we need to make sure that is comes to an end, that it doesn’t continue to drag the country through indictments against [Olmert] without end. Zaken wants to testify? The court allows it? Then please, here and now, and without Olmert’s tricks and procrastination.”

Suffer the poor settlers

In the op-ed department, Israel Harel writes in Haaretz that among the biggest victims of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who killed dozens of Muslim worshippers in Hebron 20 years ago, are settlers themselves.

“After the massacre, a large part of the public was convinced the two communities could not continue to live together,” he writes. “Since the Arabs cannot be deported – the world would not allow it – the Jewish settlers must pay the price, even if it means uprooting them from areas that make up the cradle of the nation’s birth.”

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