1. Kicking butt and taking credit: A weekend media blitz by outgoing IDF chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot makes several headlines and is seen as a sort of “exit interview” after four years at the helm with no major wars.
- Chief among them is the scope of Israel’s campaign against Iran in Syria, which Eisenkot revealed to the New York Times and the Sunday Times.
- “We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit,” he’s quoted telling the New York Times, now taking that credit.
- He tells the Sunday Times that the IDF really stepped up the attacks in mid 2017.
- “We began attacking systematically a number of times each week. Without making any statements. Beneath the radar,” he says.
- He also tells the Sunday Times that some of the strikes took place near where there were Russian forces and for the first time admits that Israel gave Syrian rebels light arms “for self defense.”
2. Secret Santa: One major upshot of the interviews appears to be that facts that were previously censored or widely believed to be true were confirmed, like Israel arming the rebels.
- Yossi Melman in Maariv writes that Eisenkot’s “going away gift” is that Israeli journalists no longer need to attribute information like that to foreign media reports, though Eisenkot only told it to foreign media.
- Melman notes that letting some secrets slip is something of a tradition for outgoing chiefs — like former air force head Amir Eshel, who was the first to confirm any airstrikes in Syria upon his retirement last year.
- This raises the question, though, about whether the info really needed to be kept secret in the first place.
- “[Israeli] military journalists heard the same things [as the New York Times] and made sure to not publish it as agreed to. The censor also prevented it from getting out by claiming that it would hurt the country’s security,” Melman writes. “It seems that the secret-keepers find flexibility on the concept of security when it comes to someone they consider important.”
- Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that “there were no surprises” despite Eisenkot, whom he calls a “constant interview refuser,” now letting loose.
- Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yossi Yehoshua credits the army’s success in Syria with being the impetus behind “removing the ambiguity surrounding the strikes.”
3. Keeping it vague: Speaking to the Israeli press, Eisenkot was more tight-lipped and diplomatic.
- Asked by Channel 10 why Iran’s Qassem Soleimani is still alive, he answers only “That’s a question,” and then just shrugs when the interviewer persists.
- To Hadashot news he offers only the vague threat that “He who acts against us puts himself in danger.”
- And sometimes the interviews revealed more about those doing the questioning, like when Hadashot’s Roni Daniel asked why the army had not invaded Gaza and then added somewhat snottily “Is it because you couldn’t achieve anything?”
- No, answered Eisenkot. We didn’t go to war because we didn’t need to go to war.
4. Questions about Gaza raid: There are still plenty of things under military censorship, including much of a Hamas press conference about its finding in a Gaza operation that went awry.
- Eisenkot (who revealed that 16-20 Hamas members were killed and not seven as claimed by Hamas), denied the November operation was an army screwup, but rather a series of unfortunate events.
- Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor expresses doubts over that claim: “A different picture emerges from the info that has accumulated, raising serious questions about the operation, its approval, the way the forces were managed, its composition and also questions about structural changes to the operational unit and the command chain which may have had a hand in its failure.”
- The paper, seen as an organ for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, plays down the interviews as compared to the rest of the print press. Take from that what you will.
5. Likud likes Netanyahu, who knew? There was little new to come out of the Leumiada — nee Likudiada — an annual party for Likud supporters and party hoi polloi in Eilat.
- A straw poll conducted during the weekend confab showed that over 69 percent of respondents think Netanyahu should not resign if he is charged in any of three criminal cases he is suspected in, which is no great shock.
- The poll was anything but scientific, with questions worded with little thought given toward bias, according to reports. The Netanyahu question, for instance asked what should happen if “heaven forbid charges are brought.” And a question about bringing in the New Right had as one option “yes. We can’t risk burning votes.”
- The Likud is already polling at around 30 seats, but Israel Hayom’s headline on the event highlights Culture Minister Miri Regev’s goal of 40 seats. “Without 40 seats there will be a blocking bloc and it’ll be tough to build a coalition,” she’s quoted saying.
6. Fighting for poll position: Participants were also polled on their favorite ministers, though they weren’t asked to rank them, unlike other years, which Haaretz reports was likely to keep Regev and Minister Gila Gamliel from going after each other for the top spot.
- “It was clear that Regev and Gamliel were among the most popular figures at the Leumiada and were constantly surrounded by supporters. At an event where the candidates do everything to win, even if they never admit to it openly, the worry is that the results of the event’s polls will reflect the actual primary results,” the paper’s Noa Shpigel writes.
- Channel 10 news reports that in another poll, former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat and former minister Gideon Sa’ar both chose not to participate “in order to not risk finding themselves on the outside before the primaries.”
7. Cool with Kulanu: Who did find themselves on the inside was former Kulanu minister Yoav Gallant and current Kulanu minister Eli Cohen, who were both among the favorite cabinet members.
- Gallant “looked totally like a Likudnik,” Yedioth’s Yuval Karni writes.
- Apparently only dipping his feet to the water was another Kulanu lawmaker, Michael Oren, who nonetheless insists to Channel 10 “I’m no Likudnik — I very much appreciate Likud and feel at home here.”
- Asked if he’ll support the party, he refuses to answer.
- Covering the event almost like celebrity news, Yedioth reports that the big surprise was Moshiko Pesel, a former Big Brother participant, announcing he would run for the spot on the Knesset slate reserved for a Likud youth leader.
8. The taxman cometh: Rabbi Jill Jacobs writes in the Washington Post that her progressive T’Ruah organization has complained to the IRS and urged it to revoke tax exempt status for a number of right-wing Israeli organizations fundraising in the US, including the Heritage House hostel in Jerusalem, which hilariously banned her, the entire ToI staff and loads of other people last year.
- “The US fundraising vehicles named in our complaint send between $20 million and $23 million per year to far-right organizations in Israel, including many that directly identify with Kahane,” Jacobs writes.
9. Snow news is good news: Israel’s last few days of mild weather are expected to come to a freezing halt later this week with a winter storm swooping into the region, bringing what some say may be some of the coldest weather to hit the country in years.
- “While the exact details will be finessed in the coming days, widespread snow, rain, strong winds and plunging temperatures are expected to accompany the storm from Tuesday into Wednesday,” Accuweather writes, warning that snow or no, there will almost certainly be strong winds whipping about.
- There’s already plenty of snow on the Hermon mountain, which sent scads of Israelis scurrying to its slopes over the weekend as skies turned sunny. Too many in fact.
- Yedioth Ahronoth reports that some people waited in four-hour long traffic jams to get into the site. And once it filled up with 9,000 people, the cops shut it down and sent everyone else home, no matter how long they had just sat in traffic.
- “We went toward the place. We didn’t see the end of the traffic jam. I made a U-turn and we went back to the hotel,” one northern visitor tells the paper. “At least we got a nice weekend.”