1. Watching from the nosebleed section: After several days, media attention in Israel is starting to shift away from Iran as slain general Qassem Soleimani is set to be laid to rest and Israelis see themselves as unlikely to get the Iranian fist of fury.
- According to several reports in Hebrew media, security chiefs told a meeting of the high-level security cabinet that a strike on Israel as part of Iran’s plan to avenge Soleimani is unlikely.
- “Israel was not involved in the killing and there’s no reason it will be dragged into it,” one official is quoted saying.
- On Monday, southern command chief Herzi Halevi told a conference organized by the Yedioth Ahronoth group that Israel was “watching from the side.”
- Channel 12 news reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told ministers they can speak about the killing, but to be circumspect and focus on Israel’s support for the US.
- In Haaretz, Chemi Shalev writes that Netanyahu is trying to remain supportive, but really wants no piece of whatever mess US President Donald Trump may be getting the Middle East into: “Netanyahu is undoubtedly pleased by the escalation of tensions between the US and Tehran but unlike most of his citizens, he also remembers that today’s widely hailed targeted assassination could easily turn into tomorrow’s roundly condemned folly and national catastrophe.”
- A poster published by Al Meyadeen shows the locations of US troops and assets across the Middle East that could be targeted, from Oman to Jordan to Turkey. Not on the map: Israel.
— قناة الميادين (@AlMayadeenNews) January 7, 2020
2. Maybe a little fear? Despite Israel’s best attempts to stay to the side, it is still being shoved into the story, at least on the Iranian street.
- On Monday, mourners in Tehran carried a coffin with a picture of Netanyahu on it. On Tuesday in Kerman, where the burial is to take place (and where dozens have been killed in a stampede), a crowd responded to the army chief’s calls for revenge on whoever is supported by the US with cries of “Death to Israel.”
- David Wurmser, a former adviser to Dick Cheney and John Bolton, tells Army Radio that an Iranian attack on Israel is possible, “but if it happens it will be only symbolic because they know that Israel is strong,”
- In Israel Hayom’s op-ed page, Ofir Bar’el writes that “Israelis should be worried,” given Iran’s cyber capabilities, its partnerships with Russia and upcoming elections here.
- “Iran could spread false information through smarter channels, which Israeli authorities will have a harder time locating, and it could manage to reach a wider audience.”
- Walla reports that Hezbollah put a large poster of Soleimani and a warning that “The threat continues” near the Lebanese border with Israel, and also attached printed papers with pictures of new Quds Force head Esmail Ghaani on the fence.
- “The group is trying to send a message that the killing of Soleimani will not diminish Hezbollah’s threat against Israel,” Amir Buhbut reports.
3. Quds forced: Israel, or rather the liberation of Palestine, was also center stage on Monday at the Tehran funeral procession, which featured a speech from Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in his first appearance in Tehran for years.
- Citing a senior Egyptian intelligence officials, Israel Hayom reports that Haniyeh’s participation in the funeral raised hackles in Cairo and Riyadh.
- “Haniyeh has been told in no uncertain terms, both by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that both countries objected to his participation in the funeral ceremony. However, Haniyeh appears to have ignored the messages,” the paper reports.
- Haaretz reports that Hamas is stuck, both needing to be seen as a leading resistance organization and wanting to move ahead with Egypt-brokered talks with Israel to lift the blockade on the Strip.
- “Hamas defines itself as a popular resistance organization. It can’t do without Iran and Hezbollah from a military-strategic perspective. But for over a decade, Hamas bears responsibility for more than two million civilians, and Egypt is an anchor without which Hamas could not be in control,” a Hamas source is quoted telling Haaretz.
- The paper quotes an Egyptian source saying Cairo is unlikely to take any action against Hamas for Haniyeh’s attendance at the funeral.
- UAE-based The National notes that other representatives of Arab groups that came in and out of Iran’s sphere of influence also sent representatives to the funeral: “Suleimani was aware of the usefulness of psychological tools in keeping Iran’s diverse group of allies in line, despite their ideological differences, and suspicions of treachery among each other.”
4. Ja’recuse: Haaretz’s lead story in print is about the US sending a message that it was pulling troops out of Iraq, though by the time the papers actually hit the doorstep, it was clear that the news was not true and the note had been sent as a mistake.
- That wasn’t the only boo-boo amplified by the media over the past day. In an even worse mess-up (in terms of culpability, not effect) on Monday, Israeli websites were filled with the news that Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon was recusing himself from dealing with Netanyahu’s immunity and with efforts to set up a panel to discuss, and likely reject, that immunity.
- In fact, Yinon did no such thing, but was only told to recuse himself by Likud and the websites were forced to retract.
- Likud has continued to hammer at Yinon, though, over the fact that his wife worked on Netanyahu’s indictment.
- “Yinon needs to recuse himself,” reads a headline on the front page of Israel Hayom, seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu. “The issue of Yinon’s conflict of interest is not being taken off the agenda,” reads the paper’s lede to its top story, which seems more of a threat than a reflection of reality.
- The paper continues to claim that Yinon did already recuse himself and says now his opinion that there is no problem with the immunity panel convening should be thrown in the trash. But Yinon says that his opinions on creating the committee are not actually related to immunity.
- Seemingly taking what he can get, the paper’s Haim Shine pens a column praising Yinon for recusing himself and lamenting the fact that he didn’t do so sooner. “Once again there is a feeling that the existence of a good ol’ boys club is not far from the truth.”
- Channel 13, citing associates of Yinon, reports that he originally said he would recuse himself from dealing with the panel being set up, but changed his mind after realizing that giving up because of Likud pressure “would be giving in to terror.”
5. ‘Aide-elstein’ out: Also coming under threat now is Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, accused by Blue and White and others of trying to shield Netanyahu.
- At the Yedioth conference, Yair Lapid and Avigdor Liberman both say they will work to can him and appoint a new speaker.
- Speaking to Ynet, Moshe Ya’alon intimates that Edelstein’s days are numbered. “We have a majority to oust Edelstein. We’ll do everything to set up the committee to discuss Netanyahu’s immunity. I hope the Knesset speaker is not acting as Netanyahu’s aide.”
- An aide to incoming minister David Bitan is under fire after Channel 12 reports that he has been tweeting nasty things, like wishing for a giant sinkhole to swallow north Tel Aviv, “the bastion of the left,” after deadly rains hit the city over the weekend.
- Doron Atias also tweeted that Benny Gantz was leading Israel to an apocalyptic civil war.
6. Rabbi rouses rabble: But the storm surrounding Atias is nothing compared to the hellfire raining upon chief Sephardic rabbi Yitzhak Yosef after Yedioth publishes comments made by him at a rabbinical conference in Jerusalem a week ago.
- In the published comments, Yosef says of immigrants from the former Soviet Union: “There are many, many non-Jews here, some of them communists, hostile to religion, haters of religion. They are not Jews at all, gentiles. Then they vote for parties that incite against the ultra-Orthodox and against religion.”
- Much like the people at the conference who apparently saw nothing wrong with the comments, Yedioth also apparently did not realize the bombshell it had on its hands, burying the story on page 12.
- But the ensuing backlash is as loud as it should have predictable, with calls for Yosef’s ouster echoing across the political sphere and gaining wide coverage in the press.
- “Anti-Semitic and racist,” reads a headline in Channel 13 news, quoting from Liberman, who represents many immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
- Labor MK Merav Michaeli tweets that she already tried to push a law banning the Chief Rabbinate, and calls again for it to be scrapped and Yosef out of a job.
- Uri Keidar, the head of a religious freedom organization, tells Army Radio that “the Chief Rabbinate has become irrelevant. It’s not for nothing that we see Israelis choosing to disconnect from it.”
7. Not your goy: The Haredi press, on the other hand, has a totally different reaction to the ballyhoo.
- Kikar Hashabbat terms Liberman’s call for Yosef to be fired “chutzpah.”
- “Most of these immigrants are goyim, that’s a fact.… here’s another fact: Most of them prefer that there be stores selling pork open on Yom Kippur, on the soil of the Jewish state,” writes Yishai Cohen for the website. “They are talking about them as doctors and fighters, Nobody is arguing about that. But we have enough doctors. We need Jews. J-E-W-S.”
- The Hadrei Haderim website also leads off with the story, but offers a bit more balance, although it does have several items with responses from Haredi lawmakers telling Liberman and Lapid to to not preach to them.
- “Every word the rabbi says is considered and measured and supported by halacha,” Shas MK Michael Malchieli is quoted saying.
- Kol Barama pundit Israel Cohen charges that “anti-religious forces are circling over Rabbi Yosef.”
- The station also interviews Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, a former head of the rabbinate’s conversion system, who claims that Yosef was speaking “out of hurt and not out of hate,” since most Russian speakers are not interested in converting to Judaism.