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Israel media review

Divide, but don’t conquer: What the press is saying about Syria and Gaza

A strike in Latakia is seen as an Israeli attempt to wean Assad off Iran, and a new barrier is seen as a way to keep Israel from needing to go into Gaza

Lieutenant General Aviv Kohavi, Israel's army chief of general staff, pictured by the newly completed barrier above and below the border with the Gaza Strip, near Moshav Netiv HaAsara in southern Israel on December 7, 2021 (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
Lieutenant General Aviv Kohavi, Israel's army chief of general staff, pictured by the newly completed barrier above and below the border with the Gaza Strip, near Moshav Netiv HaAsara in southern Israel on December 7, 2021 (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

1. Port of kill: Israeli planes have been bombing targets in Syria for a long time — nearly a decade. But an attack on the port of Latakia strikes the media in Israel as something new.

  • ToI’s Judah Ari Gross calls the attack on the key port, believed to be used by Iran to smuggle in weapons, “highly irregular.”
  • “Though Israel has regularly conducted raids against Iranian-linked targets in Syria, it rarely strikes close to Latakia, let alone inside the terminal, as the Russian military maintains a base of operations nearby. Due to its delicate relationship with Moscow, Israel typically refrains from carrying out attacks against targets if there are Russian troops nearby, though Israel believes that this well-known policy has led Iran to seek to protect its arms transfers by conducting them near Russian-controlled areas,” he writes.
  • Channel 13 reports that the silo targeted likely contained advanced weapons being shipped by Iran to Hezbollah, though the strike targeted much more than that.
  • “This is an escalation, an anomalous and sensitive strike, which one can guess was worked on for a long time,” reports the channel. “The estimation is that the strike was meant to signal to Iran that it cannot transfer weapons by sea, and to show [Syrian President Bashar] Assad that he isn’t up on everything happening in his territory.”
  • Kan notes that the Iranians appear to be concentrating more on smuggling weapons than building up bases these days and has a few more details about Israel’s signaling to Assad.
  • “The attack … shows Israel’s efforts to drive a wedge between the Syrian president and the Iranians, as it’s possible Assad did not know about the Iranian weapons shipment. Israel’s goal is to knock Assad down a peg and to show him the price he pays for allying with the Iranians,” Kan reports.
  • The channel ties the Israeli effort to Gulf attempts to draw Assad away from the Iranian sphere, but says that “there’s no indication of a break in the Iran-Syria alliance.”
  • Zooming out a bit, Walla reports that Israel has managed to take out 75 percent of Iran’s weapons in Syria, according to Israeli officials. That includes “various kinds of drones, missiles, rockets, air defense system components, infrastructure for building weapons and more.”
  • In the pot calling the kettle black section, Haaretz says it’s not like Israel doesn’t know a thing or two about shady weapons transfers, reporting on a former head of the Defense Export Control Agency who admitted that Israel will sell arms to human rights abusers as long as it serves the country’s interests.
  • “Human rights [in the target countries of the exports] are on the agenda – both at the Defense Export Control Agency and the Foreign Ministry – but rights do not always take top billing,” Eli Pinko is quoted admitting in private conversation. “There are state interests that need to be taken into account, and more than once the decision regarding the dilemma has been left to the highest political echelons.”

2. Good fences, not so good neighbors: Iran may be an evolving challenge, but at least Israel can put a pin in its Hamas problem for a few minutes, now that a barrier along the Gaza border has been completed.

  • “Today we note with great satisfaction the addition of another Israeli method to deal with the security crisis on the Gaza border,” Deputy Defense Minister Alon Schuster, a resident of the Gaza border region, tells Army Radio. He’s so giddy he even thanks former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Kan reports that Tuesday was the ceremony, but the wall has been keeping out bad guys for a while: “On the first night of the Gaza operation [in May] the wall’s tech managed to locate terrorists from Hamas’s elite unit, who were trying to break into Israel,” the station says, adding that an airstrike was called in against the tunnel, killing 20 people.
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that Gazans “will probably seek and find more detours. … And yet, the new fence conveys to Hamas that it will be a difficult obstacle to overcome.”
  • But noting that Israel appears to prefer to wall off problems, he adds that the commitment to walls should raise questions about Israeli offensive capabilities, especially with talk of attacking Iran ramping up.
  • With the wall providing Israel with more maneuverability to deal with Gaza, much as Iron Dome did, Eshkol Regional Council head Gadi Yarkoni has other ideas for what Israel should do next: “They finished the wall, now they need to build a bridge and to allow two million [Gazan] civilians to live normal lives. But first, they can’t have any trust-building steps until our boys are returned to Israel.”
  • About that, Channel 12 news reports that talks are stuck and so violent rhetoric out of Gaza is suddenly on the rise again. “The terror group is downcast that Israel won’t pay the price it is demanding, and the mired talks have led [Hamas head Yahya] Sinwar and his men to threaten an escalation — coming after an extended period of calm in the south.”

3. Getting the kids to alright: Israel Hayom leads off with the news that the Health Ministry is launching a new initiative meant to help kids who’ve been hurt by the coronavirus crisis, announced by Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz at a conference put on by, who else, Israel Hayom.

  • According to the paper, there’s been a 40 percent jump in kids asking for helping with mental issues since the start of the pandemic, which the project will seek to address via a number of only vaguely detailed avenues.
  • “The emergency plan for child psychiatric services coming together is needed and praiseworthy,” Zvi Fishel, the state’s top mental health expert, tells the newspaper. “The lack of availability of psychiatrists and other types of therapists has become unbearable, with extremely long wait times.”
  • Meanwhile, the pandemic isn’t going anywhere, and confusion surrounding shots for kids who already had the virus likely isn’t helping matters. On Tuesday night, several Hebrew media sites reported that a panel of experts had decided to wait for more data on Omicron before deciding on recommending shots for recovered youngsters, which was true according to the Health Ministry. But moments later, several Hebrew media sites, including many of the same ones, reported that the Health Ministry said that the expert panel recommended allowing recovered kids to vaccinate, which was also true according to the ministry.
  • Among those news sites was Walla, which credits itself with the ministry okaying shots for children who had COVID at least three months prior, after it reported that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s son had gotten his shot despite having gotten over COVID.
  • What it does not do is explain the discrepancy, though Haaretz steps in to hint that it’s a matter of “can vaccinate” versus “should vaccinate”: “The vaccinations committee decided on Tuesday to postpone a decision on inoculating five- to 11-year-olds who have recovered from the coronavirus, instead waiting for more data on the omicron variant,” it reports. “The panel, however, said that parents are permitted to vaccinate their children if three months have elapsed since their recovery, in line with earlier comments from the Health Ministry.”
  • It’s not like parents are lining up to get the shots for their kids. According to Channel 13, only 6 percent of kids 5 to 11 have gotten a single dose.
  • But Ynet reports that in one place, that number is 34%: The settlement of Efrat south of Jerusalem.
  • “The vaccination is really a form of mutual responsibility and Efrat excels at that,” says local resident Mayan Waller. “You feel a part of the community, responsibility for your neighbor or your kid’s friend in daycare. This is part of every aspect of life in Efrat.”

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