1. Well that was a “close” one: Across the board, today’s headlines focus on a staged rescue operation of “wounded” soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a Hezbollah anti-tank missile, in a daring employment of psychological warfare.
- Yedioth Ahronoth gives the play-by-play, which begins at 4:15 p.m. when Hezbollah releases a statement announcing that a squad of its fighters — named after the two operatives killed last week in Israel’s foiling of an Iranian-planned drone attack from Syria — have taken out an IDF military vehicle near the Israeli border town of Avivim and that there are a number of soldiers injured and killed.
- Fifteen minutes later, the IDF issues a statement of its own confirming “several hits” to an army base as well as military vehicles near Avivim and saying that the army is engaging in retaliatory fire.
- During this time, the army dispatches a chopper to the scene and evacuates a pair of “bloodied” and bandaged soldiers, leading the pro-Hezbollah al-Mayadeen and al-Manar networks to report that a number of Israelis were injured from the anti-tank missile fire.
- But by 5:10 p.m. security cabinet member Yoav Gallant throws a wrench in whatever plans the army had in keeping the staged operation under wraps, telling Army Radio that no Israeli soldiers were injured in the incident. Moments later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructs ministers to shut their pie-holes on the matter. But after the IDF itself confirms at 6:20 p.m. that no soldiers were injured in the incident, the premier goes on TV to boast that no troops were even scratched.
- At 6:30 p.m. as Israeli return fire subsides, Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center issues a statement saying the soldiers arrived at the hospital, were briefly examined and released without requiring any treatment.
- Several hours of rumors ensue, including a report in al-Mayadeen that Hezbollah almost carried out an additional strike after spotting the IDF “risking the life” of one of its soldiers in order to fix the border fence, but held its fire when it realized that the soldier was of Ethiopian origin.
- By 9:30 p.m. the military censor authorizes the publication of stories detailing the staged rescue operation. End scene.
2. This isn’t over: While some analysts spent their time lauding the IDF for its rather convincing operation, which managed to fool Hezbollah for at least a few hours, others lamented that the incident may have ended the battle but not the war.
- Nobody believes Sunday’s incident prefaces prolonged calm. “Hezbollah could choose to maintain the fiction that it killed and/or maimed IDF soldiers, profess itself satisfied with its missile strikes, and go back to its longer-term, Iranian-financed planning for Israel’s ultimate destruction. Or it could prepare a second reprisal attack, for the drone strike on a core component of its missile manufacturing systems, in Beirut a week ago,” writes Times of Israel editor David Horovitz.
- Amos Yadlin, the former commander of Military Intelligence and current head of the Institute for National Security Studies think tank, tells Army Radio that sooner or later the IDF will have to stage a major operation to prevent Hezbollah from improving its missiles. “They [currently] have 50 precision missiles. Five hundred would be harder. Five thousand would be impossible.”
- The London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat reports that the anti-tank missile fire from Hezbollah was not in response to an alleged Israeli drone attack on the terror group’s Beirut stronghold last month. If that incident still “needs” to be avenged, the current round of violence may not yet be over.
- Citing sources linked to the terror group, Asharq al-Awsat says Sunday’s missile attack was meant only to exact revenge for an airstrike by the IDF last Saturday night that targeted an Iranian-led plot to bomb northern Israel with armed drones, killing several Iranian operatives, including two Hezbollah members.
3. Why the long face? Not about to let the pooh-poohers spoil the mood, other analysts point out the more positive angles of the staged operation.
- Oded Granot, from the Netanyahu mouthpiece Israel Hayom daily, writes that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was forced to settle for an outcome that had already been scripted in 2015, when several senior Hezbollah officials and an Iranian general were killed in an airstrike attributed to Israel. In response, the terror group conducted an attack similar to Sunday’s, firing several anti-tank guided missiles at IDF jeeps, killing two soldiers and injuring seven others. But this time, the army had “learned the lessons from the previous incident and managed to come out of Sunday’s attack unscathed.”
- Moreover, Granot argues that after Lebanese President Michel Aoun so clearly aligned himself with Hezbollah, Israel will have an easier time convincing the international community — which is increasingly recognizing Hezbollah as a terror group — that the Lebanese government “is a full partner” of the Iran-backed Shiite group.
- Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that Nasrallah was forced to label the strike as retribution for Israel’s Syria attack rather than for the one that had taken place on its own soil.
- “Nasrallah had to blur what happened at Dahiyeh because the information presented by Israel revealed sensitive and somewhat embarrassing details about the progress of Hezbollah’s ‘precision project.; When the organization smuggles in precision weaponry and tries to manufacture it on Lebanese soil, it is exposing the country to the risk of another war that could end with destruction unprecedented in its scope,” Harel writes.
4. The truth hurts: While there may not have been any casualties, the IDF may have placed the truth on the chopping block in order to execute the staged evacuation.
- Kan TV news rebroadcasts a recent interview with the IDF Israeli media spokesman Ronen Manelis, who when asked precisely about the readiness or otherwise of the spokesman’s unit to disseminate misinformation, promises that “everything that the IDF says in official statements is true” and that he would not issue “fake” news to either the Israeli public or “the other side.”
האירוע כולו תוכנן מראש כפעולת ל״פ על חיזבאללה, הפעולה הצליחה, חיזבאללה חישב שני פצועים במשוואה. אבל משהו לא עבד כמו בתכנון, והחור בסיפור הפצועים כבר היה בחוץ. וזה ההמשך https://t.co/JRfHf23JGF
— רועי שרון Roy Sharon (@roysharon11) September 1, 2019
- But hours earlier when details regarding the incident still remained hazy, IDF international media spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters that soldiers had been in the APC just 30 minutes before it was hit, leading many to assume that Israel had narrowly escaped a tragedy. But now, some are pondering whether the “30 minutes away from war” message was just as staged as the evacuation of the “wounded.”
- “Why did Israel expose its decoy operation, when it had worked so effectively? Was it because Rambam hospital refused to play along, and issued a statement saying that the two evacuated soldiers were released without requiring medical treatment? Was it also because somebody, somewhere in the military or political hierarchy, decided that it would be unconscionable to maintain the fiction — to tell the Israeli public that two soldiers had been injured when they had not?” writes ToI’s Horovitz.
- INSS researcher Sima Shine takes issue with Israel’s need to blab about the successful operation, in effect smudging the whole point of the exercise which had been to deke Hezbollah. “We protect our national security and rightly so, but why are we then running to blab about it to our friends? This seems like unnecessary arrogance based off of political considerations,” she tells Army Radio.
- Shine points out that with all the publicizing of the deception operation, it is unlikely that the IDF will be able to pull off such a stunt again. However, one must wonder how far she expected the army to take the faux rescue affair.
- Regardless of all the Israeli publications detailing the plan, al-Mayadeen and al-Manar are sticking with the Hezbollah narrative that the terror group indeed managed to injure Israeli soldiers. They run statements from Netanyahu declaring that no one was hurt, but they use the photos of the “wounded” soldiers on stretchers as proof that the premier is “lying.” While more mainstream Lebanese media sites were leading with the Israeli narrative, the episode is further proof that the truth is each side’s to make.
- Haaretz’s Yaniv Kubovich summarizes the Israel-Hezbollah tit-for-tat in a tweet recalling a 2004 European Champions League match between Denmark and Sweden in which both teams needed to score at least one goal and tie in order to eliminate rival Italy from the tournament. “After the first team scored a goal it immediately allowed the other team to score one of their own. Each side understood its part in the play. The game ended in a 2-2 draw and everyone came out satisfied.”
5. Here we go again: The Foreign Ministry confirms that two Israelis were arrested in Greece on suspicion of raping a 19-year-old German tourist.
- The arrests take place less than two months after 12 Israelis were arrested in Cyprus for the suspected rape of a British tourist before being released when the woman admitted that the sex had been consensual.
- In an apparent effort to avoid being seen as sympathizing with the alleged victim after the last incident ended in a retraction, Israel Hayom, Channel 12 and even Haaretz immediately chose to focus on the accused, interviewing their lawyers who call the claims “libelous” and leading their stories with that headline.
6. Extremists at the threshold: In the minimal time remaining following reports on the Hezbollah strike, TV networks release polls showing the far-right Otzma Yehudit party is nearing the electoral threshold of 3.25% of the national vote needed to enter the Knesset.
- A poll by the Kan public broadcaster had Otzma Yehudit winning 2.9 percent of the vote, while a Channel 13 survey gave the Kahanist party 2.8%. While still a few thousand votes shy, the results are an improvement from previous surveys by the respective networks that had it hovering between 1.8% and 2.5% of the vote.
- Part of that increased support likely comes from the supporters of the far-right Zehut party, which dropped out of the race last week in a deal between leader Moshe Feiglin and Netanyahu. However, Kan said its survey indicated that votes of Zehut voters had been evenly distributed among several other parties and had not impacted the overall shape of the elections.