Israel media review

Looking for Hezbollah in the rubble: What the press is saying on August 6

As Beirut residents pick through the wreckage, Israelis appear to be doing their own search to find traces of the terror group and clues as to its future

Lebanese soldiers search for survivors after a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, August 5, 2020. (Hassan Ammar/AP)
Lebanese soldiers search for survivors after a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, August 5, 2020. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

1. Where does Lebanon go from here? The aftermath of the Beirut explosion is continuing to reverberate through the Israeli press, as the nation takes stock of where Lebanon — but mostly Hezbollah — may go from here and undergoes its own internal battles over humanity bumping into a history of enmity.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth, which somewhat downplayed the disaster a day earlier, now allows it to dominate the tabloid’s front page, including a dispatch from a writer in Beirut.
  • “Neighborhoods are destroyed. The whole port is erased. … on the street, people have still not escaped from the initial shock. They are going around their destroyed homes, refusing to leave. Trying to pick up pieces between the ruins and heaps of shattered glass,” writes Nicola Moutran.
  • Despite apparently using a pen name — normalization with Israel is still illegal — he notes that even Hezbollah seems to be softening somewhat.
  • “I know many Lebanese my age have no problem making contact with you, but far from the eyes of Hezbollah,” he writes, without saying what that age is. “But now it seems like this time Hezbollah has decided to lie down before the Lebanese people. We are getting buffeted now from all sides, from the economy, from the coronavirus, and from this terrifying catastrophe.”
  • In Haaretz, Zvi Bar’el rattles off Lebanon’s various woes while giving a more hopeful outlook: “Lebanon, in shock and engulfed in national mourning, has already been through disasters and wars that almost led to its demise – the terrible civil war that raged for 15 years, the 18-year Israeli occupation, the Second Lebanon War that devastated the economic infrastructure and the war in Syria that went on for nine years and dealt a mortal blow to Lebanon’s economy. Lebanon survived all of these and most of the time stood up again, even if unsteadily. It must be expected that this same ‘Lebanese spirit’ and this same Beirut to which the national singer Fairuz devoted one of her moving songs, will rise from the ashes once again.”
  • Lebanese people are already starting to protest (despite one columnist predicting that Lebanese people will be too busy to demonstrate) and push for change as they pick up the pieces.
  • “Following Tuesday’s blasts, rather than pointing fingers directly at Hezbollah or any one political actor, many are reviving the slogans of last October’s anti-government demonstrations: ‘All of them means all of them,’ meaning the whole government must go,” writes ToI’s Aaron Boxerman.
  • Analyst David Daoud tells him that he predicts those protests could end up becoming sectarian, though it’s unclear if national anger will turn against Hezbollah: “There is talk on social media, among my contacts, of anger against Hezbollah, but this is already from people who are predisposed to dislike Hezbollah.”

2. Missing the cedars for the terrorists: In much of Israeli coverage, though, any government malfeasance plays second fiddle to Hezbollah’s links to the disaster.

  • Army Radio quotes a Lebanese refugee whose sister is still in Beirut — and missing since the blast — pointing a finger straight at the terror group: “This was no accident, Hezbollah kept these materials at the port because they control all of Lebanon. I don’t know why, maybe they were keeping it to send to Syria, maybe to use against Israel.”
  • Israel Hayom buries its Lebanon coverage on page 14 somehow, but runs a column from Haifa woman Helen Nasser Assad, who grew up in Lebanon in an SLA family.
  • “What has happened is not just another disaster. A church collapsing on its congregants mid-prayer, a father killed while tending for his baby, brothers losing their lives together, numerous people injured. A terrible illustration of another outbreak, of the bomb ticking inside the state and society in Lebanon,” she writes. “Don’t treat it as another humanitarian disaster or multiple casualty incident. Don’t take it out of context. See it as a clear signal, a call to awaken, a desperate call: the Lebanese people are under the fascist occupation of Hezbollah, and the Lebanese society needs the world’s help.”
  • Ynet’s Ron Ben Yishai predicts that the explosion may actually end up hurting Hezbollah and stabilizing Lebanon: “Absurdly, the disaster could bring the Middle Eastern country into the fold of the West and away from Iran’s influence because Hezbollah would not be in a position to reject assistance from Western powers. After the tragedy, Hezbollah will be trying to appear a protector of the country bringing the organization and capabilities – developed in anticipation of a war with Israel — into play by providing immediate medical, logistical, and even financial assistance for the victims.”

3. Yeah, but we’re the real victims here: Some in Israel are also having a hard time believing that just ammonium nitrate was responsible for the blast.

  • Walla’s Amir Buhbut reports that “sources in Israel claim that it’s still not clear what caused the chain reaction of explosions at the Beirut port, but point to the fact that [Hezbollah] held storehouses at the port with dangerous materials for military and fighting purposes — despite it being a totally civilian area.”
  • He also writes that Israeli defense officials are “extremely worried” about aid being offered by Syria and Iran, and worry that “Hezbollah could take advantage of the regional tensions to smuggle in arms, ammunition and special materials that can aid its precision missile program.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Oded Granot continues to push the idea that the storehouse may have housed not ammonium nitrate but Hezbollah missiles: “As opposed to other past incidents, Hezbollah was not quick in its broadcasts to blame Israel. It didn’t hint at sabotage and didn’t threaten to ‘get rid of those responsible’ for what happened in the Port of Beirut. Even if someone succeeds in proving that it indeed was a weapons storage belonging to the organization, and there is still no certainty that it is, this could not have come at a worse time for Nasrallah to admit so. The reason is simple. Deep from his bunker in the Dahiya neighborhood in south Beirut, not far from the port in flames, Nasrallah is busy trying to put out at least three other fires that he is seen as responsible for, and their potential for damage is just as huge as what happened in the port.”
  • Writing for Channel 12, former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin writes that the disaster should teach the Lebanese to be worried about what other disasters Hezbollah may bring upon them. He notes that “Israel’s military strategy calls for bombing thousands of sites in Lebanon in a single day if war breaks out. That means the destruction seen from Beirut is analogous to what is likely expected across Lebanon in a matter of a few days in the next war. This is another reason to ask what Lebanon will gain from war with Israel, even if Hezbollah causes painful damage to Israel? How will this advance Lebanon’s interests.”

4. Cedar row: But who can think of bombing Lebanon, when we are trying to show them friendship and solidarity, including by displaying the Lebanese flag on Tel Aviv City Hall, which sparks both warm fuzzy feelings and an outcry of protest.

  • On Twitter, Haaretz Noa Landau calls it a “rare moment of solidarity.”
  • A Tel Aviv resident tells AFP that “innocent people were killed and our hearts go out to them. This has nothing to do with politics. This has nothing to do with borders … This has to do with people to people and Tel Aviv is a city that loves people.”
  • Not everybody is on board though. Ultra-Orthodox daily Yated Neeman runs a picture of the city hall on its front page, calling the move an illegal act (though that is not at all clear).
  • Israel Hayom runs the picture under a headline “Humanity or enemy country?” quoting right-wing politicians opposing the display.
  • Ynet quotes Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman also bashing the move: “When the prime minister instructs the head of the National Security Council to offer the Lebanese government immediate assistance, including the transfer of the injured to Israeli hospitals, this is a welcome humanitarian step. When the mayor of Tel Aviv decides to light up the city hall in the colors of the Lebanese flag as a sign of solidarity, it is a step of treason.”
  • Minister Ofir Akunis tells Army Radio that the flag-raising is “a provocation from a man who has failed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic,” referring to Mayor Ron Huldai. “The man is despicable. After 22 years, the time has come for a change.”

5. Love unrequited: Plenty of people on the left, as well as Lebanese, join the opposition to the display as well, seeing it as hypocritical.

  • “If you thought the backlash to the Tel Aviv municipality projecting a Lebanese flag on the side of its building was strong inside Israel, try the backlash inside Lebanon,” notes a ToI story on Lebanese saying no thanks to the display of solidarity.
  • “Using the hashtag ‘We don’t want it,’ many Lebanese expressed their rejection of both Israeli solidarity and offers of medical aid. Some also shared remarks by politician Moshe Feiglin, leader of the Zehut party, who had said that the Beirut port blast was a “wonderful celebration,” the story reports.
  • “Not a week had passed since Israel threatened to destroy infrastructure in Lebanon if Hezbollah dared avenge the killing of one of its fighters in a limited military action on the border, and Israel the destroyer becomes Israel the merciful. Would you accept humanitarian aid from such a country? Is there a more sickening show of hypocrisy?” asks Gideon Levy in Haaretz.
  • “Sorry to be that guy but Mayor Ron Huldai’s decision to put a Lebanese flag on Tel Aviv City Hall won’t undo decades of Israel’s destruction/war-mongering in Lebanon, nor whitewash the mayor’s policies against asylum seekers, Palestinians, and working class Mizrahim in the city,” tweets Ido Konrad from +972.
  • In Electronic Intifada Tamar Nasser calls the display and offers of aid another instance of what she calls “blue-washing,” (which others have called rubble-washing), trying to paper over its “crimes” by helping others out after a disaster: “Israel is exploiting the tragedy to erase its own crimes against Lebanon, distract from military occupation and polish its image.”
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