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Israel media review

Heard immunity: What the press is saying about warning Iran and widening closure

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi appears to blunder into Netanyahu territory as a squabble shapes up over the US listening to Israel on Iran; and virus infections stay stubbornly high

IDF chief of the General Staff Aviv Kohavi is vaccinated against COVID-19, December 20, 2020 (Israel Defense Forces, via twitter)
IDF chief of the General Staff Aviv Kohavi is vaccinated against COVID-19, December 20, 2020 (Israel Defense Forces, via twitter)

1. Speak loudly about your big stick: The head of the Israel Defense Forces seemingly slammed military action back on the table in a speech Tuesday evening, garnering headlines, renewing tried and true saber-rattling, and raising some uncomfortable questions.

  • “Aviv Kohavi on Tuesday said he has directed the military to prepare fresh operational plans to strike Iran to block its nuclear program,” reports ToI’s Judah Ari Gross.
  • He also notes that Kohavi “warned that US President Joe Biden should not rejoin the 2015 nuclear agreement,” describing the statement as a “rare public comment on American foreign policy.”
  • Channel 13’s Alon Ben David notes that unlike his predecessor Gadi Eisenkot, Kohavi seems to be lining up behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in pushing against the deal and for a credible military threat.
  • And it’s not only him. “Senior defense officials told Channel 13 that along with Kohavi’s comments, there is a consensus that a return by Biden to the nuclear deal will be a bad, unwanted development for Israel.”
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that the IDF chief probably made the prime minister happy, but questions his “full-fledged entrance into the diplomatic arena, in which Netanyahu litigates with the Americans. … It’s hard to remember another chief of staff speaking this sharply. The IDF’s most senior officer is not supposed to issue orders to our central ally, which continues to fund our security with $3.8 billion a year, even at the height of an unprecedented economic crisis.”
  • Channel 12’s Oded Ben Ami notes that Kohavi should have learned a thing or two about keeping the quiet part quiet during his time in Military Intelligence: “What he did yesterday was the exact opposite of everything he learned. His volunteering to be the first among the threateners perhaps serves domestic political interests, but does not show diplomatic wisdom.”
    Walla’s Amir Bohbot implies on Twitter that Kohavi may have had job security, not Iranian nukes, on his mind when he made his comments.
  • “Eisenkot got his fourth-year extension after a year and a half in the job. What about Kohavi? He’s been in the job for two years and 12 days and I don’t hear any whispers in Jerusalem about a fourth year term extension,” he writes.

2. Silent spring: If Kohavi’s goal was to put the military option on the table, Yossi Yehoshua in Yedioth Ahronoth finds some problems with that: “What did those sitting in Tehran hear? That we had no plan until now? That now we need to ask for billions to prepare one? And what is he saying to the Americans — he’s asking them to stop us from acting? Someone with a plan prepares it quietly, in secret, and if needed hints at them or sends a message. But here he is asking for US pressure and broadcasting weakness to the Iranians. And this is even before talks with the US get underway.”

  • Is Jerusalem even planning on having talks? ToI’s Jacob Magid reads into some leaks from Netanyahu’s camp that appear to send a message that Israel has no intention of playing along with the US’s offer to hear what it has to say on the nuclear deal.
  • “They’re bent on starting a confrontation with the new administration,” a ministerial aide from a non-Likud party says, accusing Netanyahu of trying to “present Biden as a replica of Obama who wasn’t as forthcoming with us on Iran.”
  • It wouldn’t be the first time. Former general Giora Eiland tells Army Radio that in 2015, US negotiator Wendy Sherman visited Israel and “almost pleaded to hear what Israel’s reservations were, so she could insist on them in talks [with Iran]. Israel played at being ‘angry’ and refused to cooperate with her.”
  • Writing in Israel Hayom, Netanyahu manages to shoehorn Iran into a column for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in which he says that anti-Semitism is alive and well around the world.
  • “Anti-Semitism is present in the developed western world as well as the developing east. It is the official policy of Iran, which day after day declares arrogantly: Our goal is to kill another 6 million Jews and destroy Israel. Indeed, no vaccine has been found for the virus of anti-Semitism,” he writes.

3. Sick and sicker: As for the vaccine for the coronavirus, it may have been found, but does not appear to be working fast enough, nor does the lockdown.

  • Days after official data from the Maccabi health provider showed that only 128 of 120,000 fully vaccinated patients had contracted the virus a week after the second dose, earning celebratory headlines worldwide, Kan reports that Health Ministry officials are saying that even leaving the lockdown in place for one more week will not be enough to get Israel out of the woods.
  • “Nothing right now is bringing down infections — we need to wait until it drops once the vaccinations have an effect,” the sources are quoted saying.
  • “The number of seriously ill has not dropped for two weeks now,” another ministry source is quoted telling Yedioth.
  • “This is the first time that a lockdown – the heaviest weapon in the government’s arsenal for managing the pandemic, which has already succeeded in bringing raging numbers under control – is still far from dealing its familiar knockout blow,” writes Haaretz’s Ido Efrati.
  • “It could be that our expectations were not realistic,” a senior Health Ministry official tells him. “I think that without the lockdown the numbers would be double, or even higher.”
  • Army Radio reports, however, that only an extension of a few days is on the table, with there being no political will to keep the lockdown going.
  • Minister Orit Farkash tells the station that lockdowns are no way to move ahead. “I ask if 300 people on ventilators is a reason to close down the country.”
  • Yes it is, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch tells Army Radio, saying he’s appalled at her comments: “All due respect, I suggest she go to a coronavirus ward and see what’s happening there.”
  • Or she can just turn on Channel 12, which broadcasts a report from Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital’s COVID ward, which is struggling to keep up.
  • “This wave is much more complex,” one nurse says. “The sick people have more complications. The respiratory problems are more complex. The fear is in their eyes. It’s not easy to see.”
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