Game changers from Syria to settlements: 9 things to know for November 19
Israel media review

Game changers from Syria to settlements: 9 things to know for November 19

Israelis see a rocket attack from Syria as the start of Iran’s new eye-for-an-eye policy, and the US settlement swerve is interpreted by some as a revolution, for better or worse

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flips a coin to at the start of an NCAA college football game between the Army and Morgan State, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019 in West Point, N.Y. (AP/Julius Constantine Motal)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flips a coin to at the start of an NCAA college football game between the Army and Morgan State, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019 in West Point, N.Y. (AP/Julius Constantine Motal)

1. News comes at you fast, bro: A volley of rockets fired from Syria dominates the news agenda Tuesday morning, managing to push other very big stories — Washington’s settlements reversal, the approaching end of Benny Gantz’s prime ministerial bid, looming indictments for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, charges against a cop in the Solomon Tekah shooting and Lionel Messi’s soccer friendly in Israel — further down the page or almost totally off the agenda.

  • The story leads nearly every Hebrew-language website Tuesday morning, though at the time of this writing, not much is clear beyond the basic facts and calming messages being sent to northerners who may have feared the volley was the start of a new conflict.
  • What is noted by many are reports of explosions near Damascus airport at around the same, indicating some sort of larger exchange or an Israeli response.
  • Several Israeli news sites cite the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights saying that the explosions were the result of Israel shooting five missiles at targets in southern Damascus.
  • Haaretz however claims that the report about Damascus seems flimsy and “there’s doubt over whether there was an Israeli attack.”

2. Iran’s change-up: Israel has quickly pointed the finger at Iran and its regional proxies. While no official has come out and actually blamed Tehran yet, there are enough unsourced reports sin Hebrew media about Israel’s assessments to make clear that they are all being fed the same info from official sources who refuse to put their names behind anything.

  • Amir Buhbut in Walla News reports that the army believes the attack was a response to the failed hit on Islamic Jihad terror leader Akram Ajouri last week, as well as the more successful one on Gaza terrorist Baha Abu al-Ata at around the same time.
  • As it happens, just weeks ago Israeli officials began saying that they feared Iran wanted to start responding to each reported Israeli strike, warning of a possible upcoming conflict. Now, analysts say it is coming true.
  • Channel 13 claims, with no source (cough, cough the IDF) that the order to fire the rocket came directly from Quds Force honcho Qassem Soleimani: “The Iranians want to create a new equilibrium, according to which they will respond to any attack attributed to Israel, whether it be airstrikes, missiles, attacks on weapons shipments etc.,” the channel’s Hezi Simontov writes.
  • Like magic, Channel 12’s Roni Daniel has almost the same exact assessment: “What happened was part of this same battle, connected to their attempts to put down a foothold, and their policies of responding are being turned into action, which has seemingly created a more serious situation.”

3. So will there be a response to the response? Former IDF general Kobi Marom tells Army Radio that Israel “needs to respond to make clear to the Iranians that they will not be allowed to cross any red lines. We need to maintain a clear policy: No fire on Israel will go unanswered.”

  • But perhaps throwing some cold water on that possibility, Ronen Yitzhak, another former general, writes in Israel Hayom that Israel should think twice before sending missiles flying.
  • “Syria is not Hamas and Hezbollah is not Islamic Jihad. It’s not for nothing that the defense and political establishment’s biggest concern is a deterioration of the security situation in the north. So each action should be very carefully weighed,” he writes. “If the Iranians wanted to start a war, they would have already. Something is holding them back and there is still a deterrent in the area, whether it be [Russian President Vladimir] Putin … or the Iranians themselves, who are deterred by the possible response. This deterrence is strong and present.”

4. Gimme shelter: While the rockets were intercepted, the ever present fears of a war eventually opening up has sparked pleas from northern residents for more protection.

  • Ynet, which notes that residents of some Golan communities where the sirens did not go off headed for shelter anyway, quotes former general Gershon Hacohen saying that Golanites will have to get used to a new reality after decades of relative quiet since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
  • “The ongoing conflict has created a new reality that needs to be recognized, and it has wide-ranging significance for the IDF’s power as well. Bottom line, the Iranians managed to get a foothold on Israel’s border,” he says.
  • Giora Zelts, head of the nearby Upper Galilee Regional Council, which was also awakened by sirens, tells Kan that “I really hope that this will be a wake-up call to go ahead with the plan, already funded and approved a year and a half ago, to protect the north.”

5. This changes everything: Mike Pompeo’s announcement that the US no longer views the settlements as illegal under international law makes plenty of waves and then some. Both the right and left see it as a game-changer, though they disagree on whether it’s the best move ever or the worst.

  • Israel Hayom’s front page calls it a “huge political revolution.”
  • “Without a doubt, this is perhaps the most significant shift in American diplomatic policy toward Israel and the territories it liberated in 1967,” the paper’s Amnon Lord writes. “This is proof that standing tenaciously for years on solid and consistent legal ground ultimately ends in international recognition.”
  • Fellow tabloid Yedioth places the news on its front page below Messi, but still writes in big letters that the move gives a “stamp of approval for settlements.”
  • It also claims, falsely, that the US recognized settlements as legal. They did not, just as not necessarily illegal.
  • The paper’s Yifat Ehrlich, who lives in a settlement, celebrates the decision and says Pompeo “will enter the history books of the plain truth.”

6. Giving the world the finger: On the other side, Palestinians and other proponents of a two-state solution see the move as crushing to their aspirations.

  • PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yousef tells ToI, “This decision is an act of aggression against the Palestinian people.”
  • In Vox, Zach Beauchamp writes that the move is part and parcel with the Trump administration’s “blank check” policy toward Israel.
  • “While the announcement has no immediate policy implications, it does send a pretty clear message to Israeli settlers and its government: go ahead and keep moving en masse into land that the Palestinians might want as a home for their future state,” he writes.
  • CNN reports that diplomats said “the move reflects a US willingness to ‘give the finger’ to international law.”

7. Sound and fury, signifying nothing: Some say that the whole reaction is an over-reaction.

  • Channel 13’s Barak Ravid notes that the decision is “mostly symbolic.”
  • “The situation on the ground will not change overnight, nor will the international law shift just because the U.S. decided it no longer recognizes it,” writes Noa Landau in Haaretz.
  • Former Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheim warns the right-wing against overreacting, as he and his compatriots learned in 2016 when Barack Obama withheld his veto from a UN resolution on settlements.
  • “In actuality [the non-veto] didn’t affect the building of one house. So with Trump’s new stance, it’s all talks, please calm down,” he tweets.
  • But even a symbolic decision can do affect changes, former US Ambassador Dan Shapiro writes.

8. He who benefits: One effect the decision may have is on helping Netanyahu remain prime minister, according to some.

  • “I tend to think this was in the works for a while, and this was something that Netanyahu wanted credit for. He sees this as kind of unfinished business from his tenure,” David Makovsky, a special envoy to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations during the Obama administration, tells ToI.
  • Researcher Yael Hirschhorn notes, though, that any benefit Netanyahu may have tried to get was somewhat dampened by rival Benny Gantz also trumpeting the shift.
  • In Walla, Amir Oren surmises that the timing was actually meant to help Trump amid his impeachment hearings and other woes. “It won’t bring him a ton of applause. Maybe a clap and a half more than normal, but when you are down, you can’t be picky.”
  • The Week’s Joel Mathis calls the announcement a “cynical ploy” by Trump: “When times get hard, he runs for the safety and shelter of his most loyal voters. And there is probably no group of Trump voters more devoted and loyal — especially in the face of widespread consternation and criticism — than conservative U.S. Christians.”

9. Iraq, Messi and everything else in the bin: ToI’s Adam Rasgon writes about the Arabic book that made Palestinian lader Mahmoud Abbas cry, and which he now wants to reprint and distribute: A book about Iraqi Jews by Israeli author Yitzhak Bar Moshe.

  • Delve further into that community in Israel Story’s latest podcast about the Iraqi Jewish experience.
  • Shaina Oppenheimer in Haaretz finds that the Kurdish women who had been on the front lines against IS now face another kind of danger.
  • Also in ToI, Raphael Ahren pens an ode to “the Messi-ah” and the night the world’s greatest (exhibition) soccer show came to Tel Aviv for a not-so-great match.
  • JTA’s Ben Sales looks at the Manhattan synagogues emptying out and being transformed into condos.
  • And in The Washington Post, Jim Morrison and Shoshana Kordova write about an Israeli company transforming everyday trash into plastic cash.
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