Hebrew media review

Gearing up for the day after Mosul

The operation to liberate Iraq’s second city from Islamic State is big news in the Hebrew press, but the US election looms large too

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

A Kurdish peshmerga convoy drives towards the front line in Khazer, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. (AP Photo)
A Kurdish peshmerga convoy drives towards the front line in Khazer, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. (AP Photo)

With little going on in Israel over the long Sukkot holiday weekend, the front pages in the Hebrew papers address the launch of the long-awaited campaign to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State. The jihadist group captured the second largest city in the country over two years ago, and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the kickoff of the joint Kurdish and Iraqi army operation to retake Mosul early Monday morning.

Photos of peshmerga humvees flying the Kurdish flag, rumbling toward the last major bastion of the Islamic State, grace the front pages of the major dailies. With bated breath, they await the outcome of what the White House called the “next important step” in the Obama administration’s support for Iraqi forces combating the terrorist group.

Israel Hayom strikes an optimistic tone, quoting the Pentagon saying that the Iraqi army is advancing “faster than expected.” It quotes Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barazani saying that Kurdish forces will ensure the safe return of residents to their homes. Haaretz, meanwhile, quotes human rights groups’ concerns of a potential humanitarian crisis for the 1.5 million residents of the city in the ensuing battle. Yedioth Ahronoth inexplicably calls Mosul the Islamic State capital and, even though no Western troops are on the ground in the battle to retake the city, calls the impending clash “the climax of the Western world’s war against the most murderous terrorist organization.”

While the battle for the city itself is seen as a sure victory for the coalition against the Islamic State in the Hebrew press, the pundits are more concerned about the aftermath. Yedioth Ahronoth’s Alex Fishman says that taking the city won’t be the difficult task; “The American generals are actually concerned about the day after.” From their experience occupying Iraq after toppling former president Saddam Hussein, they know the difficulties of managing a diverse population after winning a war. With Kurdish and Shiite forces both working to recapture the city from its Sunni defenders, “occupying Mosul, which is supposed to mark a dramatic drop in the influence of the Islamic State, may stir up a new hornet’s nest in Iraq,” he warns.

Despite the overwhelming force being sent to take the city, the Islamic State won’t give it up easily, Israel Hayom’s expert on everything Boaz Bismuth writes. The organization won’t give up the city’s oil revenues without a fight, nor will it let the city where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the establishment of the caliphate fall.

“The Islamic State — and this is important — is not just ruling territory. The Islamic State is also ruling the minds, the moods of many [Muslim] youths across the world who follow the jihadist ideology of the organization and carry out terrorist attacks in their hometowns in Florida, Paris or Nice.” Conquering Mosul won’t eliminate that factor, he says, “but it’s the start.”

With the American election just weeks away, the campaign remains a fertile subject of conversation in the Israeli press. Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth keep up their criticism of Republican candidate Donald Trump, while Israel Hayom’s spotlight remains on Democratic contender Hillary Clinton. Haaretz highlights Trump’s comments that the elections are “rigged” against him, saying in its headline that “Trump poisoned the presidential race more than any candidate before him.” Yedioth Ahronoth takes a lighter approach, reporting on Trump’s outrage at his portrayal on Saturday Night Live by Alec Baldwin, calling it “More Trump than Trump” and “Double Donald.” Even though he’s plummeting in the polls due to sexual harassment allegations, the paper says, what really irks him is his imitation on the comedy show, which he called a “hit job.”

Israel Hayom, on the other hand, reports on the latest episode in the Clinton email scandal, according to which a senior State Department official pressured the FBI to drop its insistence that an email on her private server contained classified information. The paper plays the matter up on its front page, calling the episode a “Shady deal with the FBI.”

The paper also reports on Trump’s claims that the media is biased against him, using that as the headline to a story which opens saying that the sexual harassment allegations against Trump aren’t affecting his standings in the polls, and meekly noting that Trump is still trailing Clinton by four points.

Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth play up the United States’ words of thanks to the left-leaning human rights group B’Tselem for appearing before the UN Security Council, with both papers displaying the articles on their front pages. Israel Hayom tries to minimize the issue, with just a small piece on Page 5 in which it reports that the Foreign Ministry will suspend ties with the Minerva Center for Human Rights at Hebrew University for its “cooperation with… a list of anti-Israeli groups” including B’Tselem.

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