1. Jet-setting drill: Israel for the first time deployed F-35i Lightning II fighter jets in war games, the army says, using the super-advanced planes in a massive drill simulating simultaneous fighting in the Gaza Strip, Syria and Lebanon.
- The real focus of the exercise, though, is the Hezbollah terror group, which is regarded as a veritable army that will be able to use advanced Iranian arms and hide under cover of Russian-provided Syrian air defenses.
- “We are training at very high intensity with a challenging, thinking enemy that possesses technology beyond what currently exists in the arena,” a senior air force official tells Israeli media.
- The official also plays up the use of the F-35, which he says gives Israel “multi-role capabilities” it did not have before.
- And though Israel so far only has a handful of the jets, the official says troops are quickly learning how to get planes refueled and back in the air with more missiles an hour or less after they return from a bombing run.
- “Our crews are working like a Formula 1 [pit crew],” the officer is quoted saying in the Ynet news website.
2. Watching Iran: News of the drill, which wraps Wednesday, comes as tensions with Hezbollah’s Iranian benefactor are continuing to rise. The US has said it is sending more troops to the region, and Iran has threatened to ramp up uranium enrichment.
- While most say the drill is aimed at Hezbollah, the front page of tabloid Israel Hayom calls it a “message to Tehran.”
- In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that Israeli intelligence believes that Iranian attacks on oil tankers were designed to push the US back to the negotiating table and to drive up oil prices, but with the gambit not working fast enough, the Islamic Republic may turn to attacking Israel with Hezbollah’s help.
- “Because the crisis is moving slowly, Iran might decide to worsen it; for example, by dragging Israel into the heart of the developments. There’s the prospect of an indirect scenario involving an Iran-led group such as the Shi’ite militias in southern Syria, or perhaps an operation by Hezbollah or others in southern Lebanon.”
3. Them’s non-fighting words: US President Donald Trump tells Time magazine that he would go to war with Iran over nuclear weapons, but leaves military confrontation over oil tankers or other matters “a question mark.”
- Time notes that the comments “cut against a series of recent diplomatic and military moves that his Administration has made amid escalating tensions with Tehran,” coming just as acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan (since replaced) was deploying another 1,000 troops to the region.
- But what the comments really seem to do is reveal the troop deployments to be a form of political posturing. In Russian state news agency Tass, Russian envoy to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov is quoted writing on Twitter that the Iranian threat to ramp up enrichment “is a political message that Iran expects more energetic efforts to restore the balance between economic and nuclear parts of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] undermined by US sanctions.”
- Or as Yaakov Lapin puts it in Israel Hayom, “Iran wishes to frighten the international community, divide it and intimidate Europe into finding ways for protection from American sanctions.”
- The Wall Street Journal reports that Iran’s real target is not Europe, but Russia and China, which can protect it from any UN Security Council action: “As Washington struggles to build robust international support for its pressure tactics against Tehran, Iranian officials are working to take advantage.”
- Russian National Security Adviser Nikolay Patrushev will be in Jerusalem on Sunday to chat with his US and Israeli counterparts John Bolton and Meir Ben Shabbat, in what has the makings of a very awkward meet-up.
4. Summit plummet: Even more awkward may be the Bahrain meeting, which has seen its stock fall from workshop to somewhere around ice cream social.
- “When the conference was announced on May 19, some analysts in Jerusalem imagined it turning into what Israelis call a ‘victory picture’ for the US administration, showcasing Israeli and Arab officials sharing a table, discussing the future of the Middle East and doing so in front of cameras from all over the world — including Israel itself. Right now, almost no part of that vision seems likely to become a reality,” Noa Landau and Amir Tibon write in Haaretz.
- US envoy Jason Greenblatt tells Israel’s Channel 12 news it will be “an exciting conference,” that the Palestinians will miss out on, but even he has begun entertaining the possibility of failure. “If we fail I understand why,” he says cryptically.
- Scholar David Makovsky tells JTA’s Ron Kampeas that Arab officials may have thought twice about appearing with Israelis once new elections were called.
- “We don’t know the answer, but I wonder if some of the Arab states got cold feet because of the new Israeli election and thought that it would be viewed as somehow interference in the Israeli election,” says Makovsky, who will be at the conference.
- Former peace negotiator Yossi Beilin writes in Israel Hayom that the summit has already been effectively canceled and the US touted it in a harebrained way.
- “This isn’t how things work. Before you announce that you’re convening an economic forum that will include the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as Arab and international leaders, you check to see who is willing to take part. But it’s probably that instead of doing that, the Americans made do with Manama agreeing to host the forum, and immediately made public an idea that is, at best, half-baked,” he writes.
5. If at first you don’t succeed: Police in Israel announced they are reopening a shocking case in which a Palestinian man was accused of raping a 7-year-old girl in a West Bank settlement, in a tacit acknowledgement of the various holes that have been poked in their case.
- Questions have been raised over how the girl could have been dragged from the school to a construction site over a kilometer away by suspect Mahmoud Qadusa without anyone noticing, and the unreliability of testimony from a small child.
- “An Arab man walking in the middle of the day with a girl for 15 minutes, and he pulls her and she falls and cries as the charges claim — that’s impossible,” a resident of Modiin Illit, where the alleged rape took place, tells Channel 13 news.
- The child investigator who questioned the victim wrote in notes obtained by The Times of Israel that the girl could not identify the suspect beyond saying he worked at her school. The investigator referred to her testimony as “weak and incomplete.”
- The case against Qadusa is based on the victim’s testimony and her later pointing him out at school while with an adult. That adult was never questioned by police, an official with knowledge of the investigation confirmed.
6. Swiss miss: Even some police are beginning to question the case more openly.
- An unnamed police official tells Walla news the case is “like Swiss cheese, full of holes.”
- Haaretz reports that law enforcement authorities think the case is “iffy.”
- According to the broadsheet the girl was not examined by a court doctor who could determine if she was sexually assaulted, but rather by an HMO doctor, several days after she told her parents what happened, and the doctor could not confirm whether she was raped.
6. What holes? Yedioth Ahronoth reports that nonetheless, police still believe Qadusa is their man.
- The paper says new information obtained by the police “settles some of the issues.” That information includes the fact that the girl testified four times, drew a picture of the house where she says the rape took place that matches the description of where the police think it happened, and that she was taken in a car or bus and not by foot.
- Israel Hayom partially blames the reopening of the case on “public and political pressure.”
7. How could using rape for political points backfire? A number of people have leveled criticism at the way the case has been treated in the public eye, including unfounded claims of a nationalistic motive being used to politicize the issue.
- “Why waste precious political time waiting for a complete investigation when you can ride the populist wave and use the awful incident to keep inciting against Arabs and fan the flames of hatred, which may yield a few more votes in the next election,” a lead editorial in Haaretz reads. “Under the guise of a concern at the national level, the country’s leaders are being completely irresponsible.”
- “The latching on of men who have no compunction about feminist issues the rest of the year, rallying everything they have for an issue they don’t really care about, is at best a sad joke,” writes Meirav Batito in Yedioth. “And in a bad case, it’s an ugly gathering around the small bed of a rape victim.”
- Kan’s Dedy Markovich tweets that it seems that nobody will take responsibility for what has happened. “Police seem more interested in watching [reality show] ‘Jerusalem Precinct.’”
8. More jaundiced eyes, please: Uzi Benzimann in the Seventh Eye writes that the media also has some soul-searching to do, especially Channel 12 police reporter Moshe Nussbaum, who basically acted as a mouthpiece for the police when first reporting on the case. Channels 11 and 13 were a bit better but basically also followed the same one-sided tone.
- “The media needs to treat claims put out by state authorities more responsibly, and not pump them up like they came down from Moses at Sinai,” he writes. “When Nussbaum and his colleagues report on a case of child rape, it would behoove them to remember that they are doing so in a time of volatility, to a society with a low threshold to stimuli, which is exposed to political and media manipulations from all sides, and the ability to rely on versions it is being given has almost totally been lost.”