Let’s do launch: 7 things to know for February 24
Israel media review

Let’s do launch: 7 things to know for February 24

Virus takes a backseat to violence, with rockets and airstrikes on the Gaza border flying almost as fast as the threats, thanks to some body snatching and Hamas dealing

The smoke trail of a rocket, fired by Palestinian terrorists, flying over the Gaza Strip, on February 23, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
The smoke trail of a rocket, fired by Palestinian terrorists, flying over the Gaza Strip, on February 23, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

1. My threat or yours? A week before elections seems like a good time for Israel to careen from potential disaster to potential disaster. A flareup on the Gaza border that has snowballed into body snatching and airstrikes has quickly shoved the coronavirus off the top of the news agenda.

  • Instead, the south is in focus after a barrage of rocket fire on the area Sunday evening and again on Monday, following a border incident in which the army killed an Islamic Jihad man it says was trying to plant a bomb along the border, and then went in and grabbed his corpse with a tractor.
  • Though the night passed “mostly quietly,” in the words of more than one Israeli report that ignore the noise made by Israeli missiles, fears are rampant that the battle is not over, amplified by the army’s decision to close roads, trains and schools in the area adjacent to Gaza.
  • “The defense apparatus and home front command are girded and ready,” reports Kan, in what is apparently meant as a message to Islamic Jihad to back off.
  • A security coordinator for an Israeli community in the Eshkol region near the Gaza border tells Army Radio that the road closures may also be a way of Israel “threatening” Islamic Jihad that it’s prepared to keep fighting. “The time has come to give Islamic Jihad a strong blow,” he says.
  • Foreign Minister Israel Katz tells the station that the elections a week away won’t keep Israel from launching a large operation, if need be.
  • Channel 13 news reports on unspecified Palestinian media saying that talks overnight to stop the fighting have failed, leading to fears of the fighting getting worse.
  • Shortly after noon on Monday, the fears come true, with a fresh round of rockets on the south.
  • The threats continue, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling reporters in Ariel that a Gaza operation will be bigger than any of three others over the past decade-plus.
  • And Islamic Jihad is also getting in on the threats, vowing to avenge the blood of its dead, apparently by hitting an Israeli playground with a rocket.

2. Back to Damascus: Newspapers and news websites were filled Monday morning with Israel’s reprisal attacks on Gaza and Syria overnight, which killed two people in Syria according to Islamic Jihad. While strikes on Gaza are anything but rare, attendant strikes on Syria are, as is Israel admitting to them.

  • Channel 13 news reports that Islamic Jihad and Hamas were both prepared for strikes in Gaza, so predictable are they: “The terror groups evacuated posts and senior members went underground over fears that Israel would try to carry out assassinations. The estimation in Gaza was that there would be more than one round of strikes by the IDF overnight, and so Islamic Jihad made use of small rocket launch crews.”
  • Army Radio compares the double strikes in Gaza and Syria to reported Israeli attacks in Damascus at the same time as it took out Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata in Gaza in November.
  • That strike targeted the home of senior Islamic Jihad official Akram Ajuri and ended up killing his son. Haaretz reports that Islamic Jihad is claiming that the IDF yet again failed to kill Ajouri, despite reports of his demise on social media.

3. A terror group we can deal with: As for Hamas, it is yet again seen as sitting on the sidelines of this clash amid ongoing talks with Israel.

  • Channel 12 news notes that though Islamic Jihad claimed the border bomb attack attempt was coordinated with Hamas, Hamas itself “has maintained quiet and downplayed the [incident] in interviews, seemingly because it wants to stay on Israel’s generous side.”
  • Haaretz delves into the package of goodies the group is slated to receive: “Government and defense officials are examining the option of increasing the amount of imports from Gaza in light of the spread of the coronavirus in China, promoting the establishment of an industrial zone near the border, increasing the number of entry permits for Gazan workers and permitting entry of materials currently banned due to security concerns into the Strip.”
  • Both tabloids Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom see the flareup as an attempt by Islamic Jihad to stop Israel and Hamas from reaching an agreement.
  • “An attack against the arrangement,” reads the top headline inside Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • “Israel offered a wide-ranging arrangement and was prepared to enact a series of measures to ease the blockade unseen in Gaza since Hamas took power,” the paper’s Yossi Yehoshua writes. “It just forgot one thing, to demand that it enforce quiet from all terror groups, especially Islamic Jihad.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Yaov Limor writes that “this time as well, Islamic Jihad is responsible for the mess. Just like every time over the last year and a half (and before the last elections in September) the group is trying to torpedo every attempt to make progress between the sides.”

4. Invasion of the body hoarders: Islamic Jihad, though, says that the flareup was due to Israel’s decision to send a bulldozer in to snag the corpse of an Islamic Jihad agent it killed while he was trying to plant a bomb on the border.

  • The retrieval of the corpse was apparently part of Defense Minister Bennett’s plan to “hoard” the corpses of Palestinian terrorists in order to use them as “bargaining chips” in negotiations for the release of two Israeli men, and the remains of two fallen Israeli soldiers, who are being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
  • But video of the vehicle grabbing the body as Gazans tried to rescue it looks about as bad as it sounds.
  • Haaretz fails the breakfast test by plastering a large and gruesome picture of the tractor picking up the corpse on its front page, above the fold.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth’s Shimrit Meir writes that the “difficult images … shocked Gaza into a feeling of collective humiliation.”
  • Kan’s Gal Berger notes on Twitter that the video “spread in Gaza like wildfire,” and questions why Israel would try to snag the body: “Beyond the way it was done, the question must be asked why endanger soldiers to snatch parts of a random terrorists’ bodies? Did someone really think that this would be a bargaining chip for the captives and bodies [held in Gaza]?”

5. No southern comfort: The pain of southerners amid the on-again off-again rounds of violence is also highlighted in the papers.

  • “Someone needs to wake up those who are responsible for our security,” Israel Hayom quotes a Sderot resident writing on Facebook. “Incendiary balloons, rockets, infiltrations by terrorists, this isn’t an episode of ‘Fauda.’ What’s happening here is W.A.R. And we have been abandoned.”
  • Yedioth also headlines a story with a claim by southerners of being “abandoned.”
  • Army Radio reports on the strange case of a neighborhood in Sderot where there are no rocket sirens and at least two rockets have hit in the past year. A resident tells the station she thinks the area is considered an “open area,” and is thus unprotected.
  • The city says there are no sirens because there are no public buildings on which to mount them, and the army says it protects all areas of Sderot, even new neighborhoods.
  • The focus on the human aspect also means lots of interviews with kids, many of whom are not quite TV- or radio-ready.
  • “Are you worried,” a Channel 13 reporter asks a young girl in Ashkelon after a fresh volley. “I guess,” she shrugs.

6. G’bye mate: Gaza is forever, and the coronavirus is also not going away, though Israel appears to be trying to get rid of anyone who might know someone who knows someone who has it.

  • Hundreds of South Koreans are being booted from the country after an outbreak back home. Currently they are being isolated at the airport in Tel Aviv ahead of being sent back to Seoul on special flights, with no drink service and flight attendants avoiding all but the most essential contact with them.
  • “We don’t understand Israel’s treatment of us. We know there are fears and we really want to go home, but we are not lepers,” one person tells Ynet, missing a perfect chance for a “Parasite” tie-in.
  • Health Minister Yaakov Litzman tells Army Radio that Italy and Australia may be next on his ban list, which is kind of awkward considering President Reuven Rivlin is Down Under right now adorably petting koalas.
  • “We are not afraid to enforce quarantines,” he says, essentially saying “we are not afraid to be afraid.”
  • Channel 12’s Arad Nir asks Litzman what his beef is with Australia but offers a theory as to why the minister, who in the past has been accused of helping suspected pedophile Malka Leifer evade extradition to Australia, may want to throw another quarantine on the barbie: “In Australia, leaving for Israel today was Nicole Meir, one of the victims in the Leifer case … Nicole is supposed to attend a hearing here on Liefer’s fitness to be extradited.
  • Walla reports that in conversations with experts “again and again the claim came up that the ministry is creating a public panic with restrictions that are not proportional to the actual situation of the virus’s spread.”

7. Sick of voting yet? Yedioth reports on officials worried about what the panic will do to elections on the horizon: “Even if there is no massive outbreak, the worry is that some will use public fears to their own ends and send out fake notices of outbreaks in order to lower turnout in certain areas. In a case like this, the Central Elections Committee and Health Ministry will need to combat the unfounded rumors in order to make sure that there were no voters who were afraid to exercise their right to vote based on false information on social media.”

  • But Netanyahu tells Radio Jerusalem that he sees no reason to postpone elections over the virus.
  • By mere coincidence, Sunday saw two new polls by Kan and Channel 12 that both showed Likud overtaking Blue and White in seat count, for the first time in seemingly forever.
  • The Kan poll also finds that 14 percent say they are afraid to vote because of the virus.
  • But it notes that what matters isn’t the size of the party, but how the blocs use it: “If the results of the poll are also those of the election … someone will have to break a promise, or Israel will be headed to its fourth round of elections.”
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