Israel media review

Hold me back, bru: What the press is saying about threats on Iran and from S. Africa

Israel aims its tough guy routine at Iran and the US, but as the threats trickle through domestically, some ask whether the bombast is credible

A scene from the film 'Dr. Strangelove.' (Screen capture: YouTube/United Artists)
A scene from the film 'Dr. Strangelove.' (Screen capture: YouTube/United Artists)

1. Deal us out: Israel’s attempts to flex its muscles internationally ahead of soon-to-resume indirect talks between the US and Iran on reviving the moth-eaten 2015 nuclear deal draw wide media attention… in Israel.

  • Israelis may not be the intended audience for the buckets of bombastic bluster being unsubtly barked by Israeli officials of late, but news outlets still scoop up every word as if Israeli threats on Iran will be a collectors’ item someday.
  • A number of news reports pump up comments from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and some others essentially saying Israel will act against Iran however it feels necessary, whether or not Washington and Tehran come together, as a bald-faced challenge to the US and its precious JCPOA.
  • “On the eve of renewed nuclear talks, tensions between Israel and the US,” reads the top headline in Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • The comments, which are echoed to some extent by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and many others, are directly tied by Channel 12 news to a report in The New York Times at the start of the week that the US tried to warn Israel that its alleged sabotage campaign in Iran was doing more harm than good.
  • But that is not stopping Israel from making itself heard, and perhaps trying to hit the US where it hurts most: its superiority complex. Kan reports that Israeli officials are worried the US won’t man up at the Vienna talks and will let Iran set the tone. “According to Israeli sources, Iran is the one running the talks now, and the US and Europe are just reacting to Iran’s action.”
  • The full-court press continues in Haaretz, which runs an interview in which Foreign Ministry chief Alon Ushpiz trash talks the nuclear deal, saying it is tantamount to telling Iran it can have the bomb. “ It gives legitimacy to an Iranian nuclear program the moment you tell [the Iranian regime] that from a certain point, you can conduct whatever research and development that you wish,” he says. “Do we agree with all of our partners all of the time on 100 percent of the things that are being discussed? The answer is no.”
  • Even old friends are joining in the no-deal chorus, as if Howie Mandel is trying to get their sister to sell the “Iran gives up” suitcase. “Independent strikes on nuclear sites, if Iran takes this path that endangers our existence, should and must be on the table — unequivocally,” former Mossad head Yossi Cohen tells the Ynet news site.
  • Speaking to Army Radio, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee head Ram Ben Barak warns: “If the powers return to a similar deal as the old one, it won’t stop Iran from becoming at least a nuclear threshold state — something Israel will not abide. We have warned the Americans about this and told them we won’t stand for it.”

2. There’s fighting in this war room: Ben Barak also says that Iran is just a few weeks from having enough uranium for a weapon, though actually gluing together the doomsday device may take a little longer. “It’ll take them months to get there, maybe even a little over a year,” he says.

  • On Twitter, one foreign correspondent spots some mixed messaging in the prophecies of doom being pushed by government ministers.
  • Kan’s Gili Cohen writes that Bennett himself is responsible for some of the confusion, given his apparent flip-flops on Iran and not repeating the alleged mistakes of his predecessor when faced with a drive toward a nuclear deal.
  • “Bennett’s harshest criticism of [Benjamin] Netanyahu is regarding the Iran nuclear program… Bennett alleges not just a difficult legacy but real wantonness, blurring the fact that all those he was in the cabinet, and even defense minister in 2019,” she writes.
  • Cohen also writes that the JCPOA deal isn’t so bad, providing enough quiet to let Israel deal with Iran in Syria, an assessment shared by Ben Caspit in Walla news. The two also both accuse Bennett of reprising Netanyahu’s “hold me back” policy on Iran, perhaps best illustrated in this “Wonderful Country” clip in which actors playing the prime minister and then-defense minister Ehud Barak try to convince Barack Obama to stop them from attacking Iran. (For those who’d rather skip the Hebrew, this skit has pretty much the same idea.)

תחזיקו אותי

"תחזיקו אותי" – האמת על תכנית התקיפה באיראן (שודר במרץ 2012)

Posted by ‎ארץ נהדרת‎ on Sunday, August 23, 2015

  • “This is ‘hold me back,’ the next generation,” Caspit writes. “The problem is that Israel’s threats in 2021 are a lot less believable than those from 2015. We need a commission of inquiry to examine how we got here. Who spoiled the military option. Who didn’t draw up alternative plans and didn’t try to coordinate aims and plans with the Americans.”
  • Haaretz’s Yossi Melman also levels some harsh criticism, calling Bennett, Gantz and IDF head Aviv Kochavi “ineffective” and “impotent.”
  • “Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is proving to be a weak leader who lacks an orderly plan. Netanyahu may have a one-track mind on the Iranian issue, but Bennett lacks even that. He doesn’t have a clue what to do,” he writes.
  • Netanyahu’s alleged mouthpiece, Israel Hayom, goes not after Bennett but rather President Biden, blaming him for pushing Gulf countries that had embraced Israel back toward Iran.
  • “Senior sources in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh are revealing the reason for the turn by Saudi Arabia and the UAE toward Iran and the zero-conflict policy. The anti-Iran alliance that came together under [former US president Donald] Trump — and which reached its peak with the Abraham Accords — has fallen apart and is no more for all intents and purposes,” the paper writes, doing a little blurring of its own.
  • The fight over Iran is not the only one being picked between Israel and the US, though the other major friction point, plans for a new East Jerusalem neighborhood, has seemingly at least been shelved for now.
  • In ToI, editor David Horovitz takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the old airport where the neighborhood will be located. Today it lies abandoned, but it was once an important hub of activity, including for movie stars who filmed Lawrence of Arabia in Jordan, which was then the occupying power there, before it fell into practical disuse under Israeli control.
  • “El Al tried to make the airport work for international flights, even attempting a ruse whereby arrivals would briefly kiss the tarmac at Lod Airport outside Tel Aviv before flying on to Jerusalem under a different flight number,” he writes, citing the research of historian Eldad Brin. “But these were plainly international flights to Jerusalem, and even closely allied countries, wary of granting any perceived legitimacy to Israel regarding the unresolved fate of Jerusalem, refused to have anything to do with the charade… The site is now largely used as a depot for buses plying the East Jerusalem-Ramallah route; they drive along a short section of what was once the runway before parking in neat rows in front of what was formerly the terminal.”

3. Cape of no hope: The idea of more airports in Israel is laughable anyway these days. Within hours of reports Thursday that the Eilat-adjacent Ramon airport would reopen to international travel next month, Bennett began ordering restrictions on flights to and from southern Africa amid fears of a new coronavirus mutation arriving from there.

  • Too late, with an announcement Friday morning that three Israelis have been found with the variant garnering wall-to-wall coverage. As it turns out, Israelis don’t need Iran to scare the bejeezus out of themselves.
  • “We’re at the start of an emergency situation, this is a super-variant,” reads the top headline on Channel 12 news’s website, quoting comments from Bennett and unnamed health officials.
  • In a flashback to the heady early days of the pandemic, when infected individuals had numbers and backstories published by the Health Ministry and closely transcribed by the media, the channel reports breathlessly on the search for a worker in Eilat feared to be a carrier, and the fact that she rode a bus.
  • Israel Hayom quotes health expert Nadav Davidovich saying that health officials are not being alarmist and that simulations show that the variant could be more contagious and less likely to be thwarted by the vaccine, though he cautions that “these are only computer simulations.”
  • In another sign of variant (or quarantine restriction) fears, Army Radio reports that more than 20 passengers scheduled to fly on an Ethiopian Airlines flight at midnight canceled at the last minute, following the new rules, after their bags had already been loaded on the plane.
  • “The variant is already here,” tweets Ynet editor Chicken Little Attila Somfalvi. “To go on with Hanukkah celebrations without strict limits, MDA COVID tests and without strict enforcement of the Green Pass would be a fatal mistake.”

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