Israel media review

Helsinki according to Putin: 7 things to know for July 17

The leaders of the US and Russia seem to have had a blast during their meeting in Finland, and some in Israel are thrilled by the pair’s security commitments to the Jewish state

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and US President Donald Trump shake hands before a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and US President Donald Trump shake hands before a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

1. The Israeli media focuses almost its entire coverage on two things: US President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the volatile situation along the Gaza Strip security fence.

  • After the summit in Helsinki, Trump took special care to stress that his meeting with the Russian leader was good for Israel, even going as far as to add that Putin was a strong supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel Hayom can’t get enough of these comments, its writers complimenting the US leader and hailing him as a hero.
  • The excitement even leads the paper to report on its front page that the two leaders had accepted Israel’s position regarding southern Syria, despite Trump and Putin’s avoidance of specifying exactly what future arrangements in the region would include in terms of the presence of Iranian forces near the border. When terrorist forces are wiped out in south and west Syria, Putin said, “the situation on the Golan Heights must be restored to what it was after the 1974 agreement, which set out the terms for the disengagement of forces between Israel and Syria.” Putin said this would “restore quiet to the Golan Height, bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel, and also provide security to the state of Israel.”

2. Other Israeli news organizations, however, are confused and even critical of some of the US president’s unorthodox comments during the summit.

  • Ynet dedicates an entire article to the various American news sites, politicians, and public figures who condemned Trump’s “shameful” and “disgraceful” words after he refused to challenge Putin over interference in American elections.
  • For example, Republican Senator John McCain said Trump’s seeming acceptance of Putin’s denial was a historic “low point” for the US presidency and the Helsinki summit between the two leaders a “tragic mistake.” Meanwhile, former intelligence chiefs who served under then-president Barack Obama were scathing in their criticism of his remarks. John Brennan, who served as CIA director between 2013 and January 2017, called the president’s comments “treasonous.”

3. It comes as no surprise that liberal-leaning media bodies such as CNN and MSNBC are critical of Trump and his comments as well, but it’s not every day that a Fox News analyst joins in on president-bashing.

  • “Putin eats Trump’s lunch in Helsinki — This is no way to win against Russia,” writes Douglas E. Schoen on the organization’s website. “While President Putin laid out a clear framework for advancing Russian interests within the context of US-Russia relations, Trump appeared to have had little plan, alternating between vague promises of improving our relationship with Russia and spending too much time on US domestic affairs, notably the 2016 presidential election,” he continued. “Instead of holding Putin accountable for his election interference, he referenced his defeat of Hillary Clinton.”

4. Meanwhile, back in Israel, as the IDF’s 162nd Armored Division takes part in an exercise simulating a war in the Gaza Strip, the country’s leaders vow to deal the Hamas terror group a severe blow if necessary, following a significant flareup over the weekend and continued airborne arson attacks from across the fence.

  • Many in Israel and in Gaza are warning that another war in the Palestinian enclave is imminent in light of increased violence along the border. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who visited the military exercise in southern Israel, confidently states that Israel is prepared to “defeat any enemy.”

5. Not everyone is convinced or reassured by these comments, however, particularly given his now-infamous quote that said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would be killed by Israeli forces within 48 hours upon Liberman becoming defense minister.

  • “The government should tell the public the truth,” writes Amos Harel in Haaretz. “Blazing kites are no grounds for war.” Harel asserts that the army does not believe that the situation in the Gaza Strip justifies a military operation, but that comments such as Liberman’s may lead to an unnecessary clash. “If Hamas misreads the picture, Israel may end up missing the kites,” Harel says.

6. Still, arson attacks from Gaza in recent months have burned thousands of acres of forest, agricultural lands and brush in southern Israel and caused many millions of shekels in damage and many in Israel are growing impatient over the lack of response.

  • As part of the effort to combat these attacks, Israel announced that it would limit the flow of goods into the Strip. According to Liberman, between Tuesday and Sunday, no fuel will enter Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, and while the entry of food and medicine will continue, it will require explicit permission from Israel.

7. The new restrictions join those imposed by Israel last week, when it halted exports of Gazan produce and stopped most goods from going into the Strip through Kerem Shalom. The military said the closure would continue as long as Palestinians persist in launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.

  • Kerem Shalom is the only cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel. The Strip has been subject to a strict blockade for the past 11 years that Israel says is necessary to prevent terrorist groups from bringing weapons into the Strip. Egypt also tightly controls the Rafah border crossing into the Sinai.

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