Invasion of the blame-snatchers: What the press is talking about on August 4
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Invasion of the blame-snatchers: What the press is talking about on August 4

Despite tensions in the north, the army would prefer not to point fingers at Hezbollah; and ministers and others appear to find a punching bag in Ronni Gamzu

Cows and Israeli military tanks during an exercise in Golan Heights near the border with Syria on August 4, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
Cows and Israeli military tanks during an exercise in Golan Heights near the border with Syria on August 4, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

1. From the north come tensions: Tensions on Israel’s northern border are slowly escalating, as they are wont to do from time to time, though Israel appears to be having trouble elucidating who the tensions are with.

  • “Tensions in the north, the IDF prepares for days of battles,” reads the top headline in Israel Hayom, though talk of war may be a bit premature, and the headline sounds like a sort of threat.
  • Kan also reports that “preparations” in the north are continuing, though it does not say what the preparations are for.
  • The reports come as Israel struck at Syrian army positions in retaliation for an attempted cross-border bomb attack early Monday morning, in which Israel apparently killed the four would-be assailants.
  • “The assassination has no effect on the level of readiness in the north. The IDF is not planning on pulling back forces from the Golan border or Lebanon border. The army is locked and ready,” writes Channel 12’s Nir Dvori. “This is demanding much patience and strategizing, and the high level of readiness is continuing.”
  • Speaking to Army Radio, former general Yossi Kupperwasser says he doubts Syria will hit back. “The chances [Bashar] Assad will respond are low. He is still busy with efforts to bolster his rule in the rest of the country.”
  • Nonetheless, Walla’s Amir Bohbot writes that the very idea of the tensions is enough to provide a blow to Israel, showing that deterrence on the border is “cracking.”
  • “Hezbollah has managed to put Israel into a posture of bracing for retaliation for 10 days without shooting a single round,” he writes.

2. Don’t poke Nasrallah: Reports of a strike on an Iran-backed militia base are also widely, though shallowly, covered by the Israeli media, and while no direct connection with the tensions in the north are made, they are treated as part and parcel of the same shadowy fight.

  • The bombing, which came hours after the border attack, dovetails with what pundits in Israel see as a general reluctance by the brass to blame Hezbollah, as had been practically de facto in the past, instead pointing a finger at Iran and its other proxies.
  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel notes that a statement sent out by Defense Minister Benny Gantz initially blamed Hezbollah, though it was quickly retracted and replaced with one that did not.
  • (In actuality, according to ToI’s Judah Ari Gross, the issue appeared to have been the transcription of comments made by Gantz, in which he clearly did not say Hezbollah, but it was mistakenly inserted into his comments.)
  • “If it were indeed an Iranian-backed unit behind the incident, then it was probably a response to a series of recent airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria attributed to Israel,” writes Harel.
  • Yedioth’s Yossi Yehoshua notes that opposed to Monday when the army killed all four bomb-planters, during an alleged attack from Lebanon last week the army purposely did not kill the alleged infiltrators in order to keep tensions with Hezbollah in check, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gantz both made loud displays of blaming Hezbollah, making the army uncomfortable.
  • “This time, Netanyahu and Gantz held back from blaming Hezbollah and also did not threaten the group and Lebanon as they did last week, especially Gantz,” he writes. “The army preferred to continue its strategy of giving Hezbollah a ladder to let it climb down from the limb it’s gone out on, especially when Nasrallah is quiet, but discovered that the defense minister was continuing with his threats that in their view caused damage.”
  • Israel Hayom, often seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, isn’t holding back though, with Yoav Limor writing that “Israel cannot afford to be the first to blink. If Hezbollah insists on playing a game of chicken on Lebanese soil – so be it.”
  • “Sustaining normalcy in northern Israel under these conditions is tough. It takes nerves of steel and patience. Moreover, the more time goes by, the less legitimate a strike on Hezbollah seems, as we move away from the original context,” he adds.

3. Ronni on empty: Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu is finding himself under intense criticism, with the several media reports on ministers browbeating him during a cabinet meeting.

  • “He said empty slogans and general principles without any practical suggestion. He appears to be a little incompetent,” one unnamed minister is quoted as saying by Army Radio.
  • Health Ministry head Chezy Levy is quoted by Channel 12 news saying that he “does not think [Gamzu] is incompetent.”
  • But he also indicates that he does not agree with Gamzu’s drive to do away with most restrictions on economic activity and movement: “A lockdown is a tool that can bring down morbidity, but it’s clear to all the price of a full closure. After a discussion with experts, we are bringing a box of tools that can bring down infections — will it be a partial or full lockdown, or just a closure of cities [in trouble]? These are all options that need to be discussed, including via cost-benefit terms.”
  • Ynet’s Itamar Eichner boils the issue down to “Gamzu wants to ease restrictions, ministers want to bolster them.”
  • He also notes that a presentation from the National Insurance Institute Monday expressed veiled support for a full lockdown in the last two weeks of August.
  • Israel Hayom writes that this is the first disagreement between Gamzu and Netanyahu: “The prime minister emphasized that the step needed now is bringing down the morbidity rate, and so first of all an organized plan must be presented that tackles this urgent problem.”

4. Did you pack your own virus? Gamzu’s decision to allow in thousands of students, and especially 12,000 yeshiva students, is also not winning him any awards, at least from the non-Haredi community.

  • “While the whole public is doing its best to enlist in such an important battle [against the virus], it’s surprising, and more than that infuriating, to hear that coronavirus or not, special benefits for yeshiva students are again on the table,” writes Sarit Rosenblum in Yedioth. “We have enough coronavirus sick of our own, some of them roaming the streets and spreading the virus though they’ve been ordered into quarantine, and we have no need to bolster them and import tens of thousands of procured players.”
  • She does however defend Gamzu noting that the decision was made before he took office, and his role was to try to minimize the damage where possible.
  • An editorial cartoon in Haaretz shows a Haredi man wheeling his coronavirus-crammed luggage through Ben-Gurion airport as Gamzu looks on. Some Haredi journalists, though, decry the cartoon as anti-Semitic.
  • Hadrei Haredim reports that among various condemnations, Shas MK Moshe Abutbul went as far as writing Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel to demand he step in (though it’s unclear what he could do).
  • “Just today there was a cartoon from Amos Biderman, as if the Haredi public is spreading the disease and bringing coronavirus luggage from abroad, I view this extremely severely!!”
  • Biderman responds by pointing that the paper Yated Neeman itself published a cartoon recently showing a Haredi “suicide bomber” getting on a bus with the virus, meant to point fingers at the Jerusalem Faction hard-liners within the community.
  • Meanwhile, if Netanyahu was hoping the decision would earn him plaudits from the Haredi community, he’ll need to think again. The top story on the front page of Haredi newspaper Hamevaser Tuesday is a blistering criticism of the government for failing to explain its reasons for locking down areas.
  • “What are the criteria? Why are you hiding them? What is such a secret with these criteria that are meant to be clear and fine-tuned,” fumes journalist Yaakov Lustigman in an open letter to Netanyahu accompanying the article on the front page.

5. Escape from Planet Balfour: Netanyahu may be too busy snortling at funny pictures of protests outside his official Jerusalem residence to notice. Yedioth Ahronoth leads off its front page not with northern tensions or health concerns but rather a column meant to retort to Yair Netanyahu saying he shows his premier father reports of “the aliens at the protests.”

  • “I try not to show him too-crass things from the protests, because in the end it is unpleasant, but you know, it entertains him, the truth is that it even gives him some strength,” Yair Netanyahu told Galey Israel Monday.
  • He later clarified his statement that he was laughing at the funny and ridiculous costumes some protesters wear, not calling them actual aliens. A number of pundits, though, point out to him that the issue isn’t that they were called aliens, but that they were being mocked.
  • “No Yair, we are not aliens. We’re not your private jesters. We are residents of this area. Israelis. We come in peace — but since it seems you are out we will settle for health, welfare, a working economy, dealing with the coronavirus crisis and mostly some sort of detente, something — the first in too many long, divisive years — between us,” writes Ronen Shaked in the Yedioth column.
  • “The crisis at the center of our protests is not something that you, at this stage, can understand. You are too far away. Floating somewhere on the mothership in space, cut off from the weighted strength of Israeli humanity and solidarity.”
  • “I’m shaken,” writes Tehia Dov in Haaretz. “It seems the spoiled rich kid and his elected dad are sitting together in the house on Balfour, popping champagne, scooping pistachio ice cream and laughing.”
  • The Ice.co.il news website points out that some protest organizers have decided to take Yair’s idea and run with it by planning to turn Balfour into Burning Man.
  • “An alien protest at Balfour,” organizer Doron Tsubari is quoted writing on Twitter. “There’s no TV station, newspaper or other news outlet that will be able to compete with pictures from the protest of hundreds of aliens during prime time. It will open news broadcasts around the world. There’s never been a thing like it.”
  • Israel Hayom essentially ignores Yair’s comments and the ensuing backlash, but it does manage to run a full page column from Eral Segel calling the protests a “Woodstock of hatred.”
  • “They are not a rational political event, but an emotional one,” he writes. “They are a religious ceremony, a mass catharsis, in which hatred is celebrated at the barricades, a ceremony in which it is permissible to compare the prime minister to Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu or Louis XVI, and we all know how they ended up.”
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