He’s not messing around: 6 things to know for August 27
Israel media review

He’s not messing around: 6 things to know for August 27

Security officials and analysts are in agreement that Hezbollah isn’t planning on letting a Beirut drone attack go unanswered, whether or not Israel was behind it

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

People listen to a speech by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah being broadcast on Hezbollah's al-Manar TV channel, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday Aug. 25, 2019. (AP/Bilal Hussein)
People listen to a speech by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah being broadcast on Hezbollah's al-Manar TV channel, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday Aug. 25, 2019. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

1. We did this, so they’ll do that: Soldiers in northern Israel have been put on high alert over fears of a reprisal attack from Hezbollah or another Iranian proxy following Israeli airstrikes against Iran-linked targets.

  • An unnamed senior officer tells Channel 12 news that the IDF believes the Hezbollah terror group will attempt to attack soldiers or a military installation and not civilians.
  • “The Israeli response to an attack will be disproportionate,” the officer warns, in a quote emblazoned across the front page of the Netanyahu government-mouthpiece Israel Hayom.
  • Lebanese media reports that Israeli troops along the border with Lebanon left some of the posts closest to the security fence, apparently out of concerns over anti-tank guided missile strikes.
  • Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah continue to insist that Israel was behind a drone that targeted the terror organization’s media office in Beirut before crashing outside the facility. The group tells local media that the drone was rigged with explosives and aiming to attack its facilities.
  • Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon — of all people — attempts to put an end to the speculation, telling a crowd at a ceremony in Kiryat Malachi, “In order to avoid saying what we were behind and what we weren’t, I’ll just say that they’re attributing to us things that we had nothing to do with.”

2. Media center or “media center”? In one of the three op-eds leading Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page, defense analyst Yossi Yehoshua wonders whether the drone that crashed in Beirut was really targeting Hezbollah’s media center.

  • “It is likely that if Israel did in fact carry out that attack in the heart of Beirut – the first attack in Lebanese territory in 13 years,” it was not targeting just any ordinary media center “but possibly a missile factory,” Yehoshua writes, providing no evidence.
  • Channel 13 defense correspondent similarly speculates that the drone’s target in Beirut “was more meaningful than what Hezbollah has been claiming.”
  • Given the rather similar conclusions by the pair of senior reporters,  it is more likely that they were briefed by a senior security official in what in Hebrew is called “b’shem hakatav” or “in the name of the reporter.” Meaning, instead of attributing the analysis to the source that provided it to them, they simply state it as fact in their own words, using phrasing like “the speculation in Israel is…” This practice is all too common among Israeli  reporters, particularly among military correspondents who agree to the IDF’s terms during briefings in order to get as much information as possible.

3. Just do it already: Several security analysts are so sure that Nasrallah will retaliate that they’ve already started speculating on what will happen after the deed is done.

  • “What happens [afterward] largely depends on the results of Hezbollah’s retaliation,” writes Amos Harel in an above-the-fold analysis in Haaretz. “During the previous escalation between the two sides, in January 2015, Israel chose to ‘contain’ the situation after Hezbollah killed an officer and a soldier on Mount Dov in response to the killing of seven Lebanese and Iranians in an Israeli assassination operation in the Syrian Golan Heights. If the Hezbollah attack causes many casualties, Israel may respond with its own operation. In other words, tactical results can again dictate strategy.”
  • Yehoshua similarly cites the January 2015 incident and says the expectation in Israel is that Hezbollah’s target will once again be a military one.
  • In turn, the IDF announces that it has restricted the movement of military vehicles along some roads close to the Lebanese border.
  • Speaking at a cornerstone laying ceremony in Jerusalem Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Nasrallah to take a chill pill. “I hear what Nasrallah said. I encourage [him] to relax. He knows very well that Israel knows to defend itself and to respond to our enemies as they deserve.”

4. Racking up the mileage: But it’s not just the foiled drone attack in Syria and the UAV crash in Lebanon that’s being attributed to Israel, but also a bombing of an army base in Iraq that killed nine Iran-linked militants. In Washington, some administration members are convinced that Israel is testing its luck.

  • After a senior US official told the New York Times last week that Israel was pushing its limits with recent strikes in Iraq, Haaretz reports that the State Department has issued a statement distancing Washington from recent airstrikes in Iraq attributed to Israel, highlighting US support for “Iraqi sovereignty” and opposition to “external actors.”
  • Colin Kahl, national security adviser to former vice president Joe Biden, reacts to the State Department statement, saying “the fact that the Pentagon felt that it had to put out a statement like this suggests that they are concerned that alleged Israeli strikes on Iranian-backed militia in Iraq could endanger US forces.”

4. Frenemies? While Washington may not be too pleased with Israel’s (alleged) actions in Iraq, similar feelings of disappointment are reportedly growing in Jerusalem as it watches Donald Trump flirt with the idea of a sit-down with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

  • To say that Netanyahu is uncomfortable with the US president’s newly open-minded stance on Iran “is the understatement of the millennium,” Channel 13 reports, citing senior ministers and explaining that Jerusalem’s concern is that the US president will open a dialogue with Iran similar to the ongoing one he has with North Korea, taking pressure off Tehran.
  • “We have no interest in a negotiation between the United States and Iran,” one minister tells the network. “But our capacity to influence and confront Trump is extremely limited.” This, the network explained, was because Trump has “bear-hugged” Netanyahu so tightly that coming out against him is deemed impossible.
  • Former premier Ehud Barak, a Democratic Camp candidate, laments that Trump’s potential rapprochement with Iran is a “red light” for Israel, and warns that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was overly dependent on the US president and made vulnerable by Trump’s erratic policies.
  • While Trump’s remarks at the G7 indeed marked a drastic shift from Washington’s aggressive stance toward Iran, the US president appears to be more intently focused on an Axios report in which he is quoted suggesting firing nuclear bombs at hurricanes in order to stop them from hitting the US.
  • Among the several sources cited in the report was one official who said, “The briefer ‘was knocked back on his heels,’ the source in the room added. ‘You could hear a gnat fart in that meeting. People were astonished. After the meeting ended, we thought, ‘What the f—? What do we do with this?'”
  • Trump has twice tweeted out denials of the report, which evidently got under his skin.

5. No cameras for you: In a stinging defeat for the Likud party, which had been planning on sending some two thousand activists into Arab community ballot booths with recording devices in hand, Central Elections Committee chairman Hanan Melcer hands down a decision barring parties from arming their poll station representatives with cameras during the upcoming election.

  • In his decision, the Supreme Court justice — who had approved the cameras when they were sprung on him on election day itself in April — orders the establishment of a pilot program in which the Central Election Committee will employ a large team of polling station observers equipped with body cameras that will be turned on only in instances when there is a legitimate fear of voter fraud and when permission from Melcer himself has been granted.
  • According to the new rules, as the voting ends at 10 p.m., the pilot team of independent poll watchers will be stationed at specific stations flagged by the election committee as having shown inconsistencies in their vote courts during last April’s election.
  • After the last voter has left the station, these poll watchers will be required to film the entire ballot counting process. These officials will not be allowed to leave the station until the tally has been completed, Melcer said.
  • Melcer adopts the view of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who expressed skepticism regarding the legality of the Likud operation in April, when it is not already written in the current election law.
  • That being the case, Likud announces — in a statement expressing utter disgust with the decision — that it is looking into the possibility of passing legislation in the few weeks left before the upcoming election that would allow its polling committee representatives to be armed with cameras. Such a possibility seems exceedingly unlikely given that the Knesset has already been dissolved… thanks to Likud.
  • Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh lauds the ruling in a tweet, saying, “Likud’s loss is a victory for Arab citizens and the entire democratic arena. Right-wing voter suppression activists will have to sit at home – we will be sure to get out the vote.”

6. Going out with a bang: Netanyahu is reportedly pressuring two far-right parties, Otzma Yehudit and Zehut, to pull out of the upcoming September election to prevent right-wing votes from being “wasted” on the factions, both of which are expected to fall short of the electoral threshold to enter the Knesset.

  • Hebrew media reports that Netanyahu confidant Natan Eshel has pressed Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir, while Likud officials have offered Moshe Feiglin a ministerial post if he takes his Zehut party out of the race.
  • Ben Gvir and Feiglin have issued statements saying that they were not considering ending their campaigns.
  • Yedioth reports that during his meeting with Eshel, Ben Gvir put forward a number of demands in exchange for providing a “safety net” for Netanyahu. In the past, the term has been used by right-wing lawmakers to refer to their willingness to ensure the premier will be granted immunity in the criminal cases he is facing.
  • In exchange for the “safety net,” Yedioth says that Ben Gvir demanded a “ceasefire” of Likud’s attacks on Otzma Yehudit regarding the likelihood that the far-right party won’t pass the electoral threshold. This would include an agreement from Likud to avoid targeting potential Otzma Yehudit voters during a last minute “gevalt” campaign.
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