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Israel media review

Maybe they won’t notice: What the press is talking about on August 3

Israel kills 4 would-be bombers on its Syrian border and then acts shy; infection numbers plummet, but so do tests; and one paper finds a ‘street’ where everyone loves Netanyahu

Military vehicles are amassed in the Golan Heights on August 3, 2020. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
Military vehicles are amassed in the Golan Heights on August 3, 2020. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

1. Revenge is a dish best served secretly: Security concerns (remember those) are again front and center after an exchange of heavy fire with Gaza and with Israeli forces taking out a group of four people it says were planting bombs along the Syria border fence.

  • While the reporting mostly just regurgitates what the army is saying, speculation in the press mostly centers around what the army is not telling us.
  • Despite the IDF waiting on pins and needles for something to happen on its northern border in revenge for an earlier attack (last week, Channel 12 news reported that the IDF was assuming an attack would begin before Thursday, though nothing happened), an army spokesman says it’s not clear if the bomb attempt was carried out by Hezbollah or was related to that promised revenge.
  • Israel Hayom takes it a step further though, making up a quote from the IDF spokesman that “we estimate that there is no direct connection to [Hezbollah head Hassan] Nasrallah — but are not ruling out the possibility.”
  • What the spokesman actually said, as related by ToI’s Judah Ari Gross, is that it was not clear. But speculation is rampant that Israel may be holding back to keep from pushing Hezbollah’s buttons.
  • “Israel wants to frustrate Hezbollah, not deliver a blow that will lead to an escalation,” writes Ynet’s Ron ben Yishai.
  • Walla’s Guy Elster tweets that he doesn’t believe Hezbollah, or one of their brothers in arms, was not behind it.
  • “There is no other option, even if it was one of the Iranian proxies in Syria. They do not operate against Israel without any approval.”
  • On Army Radio, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen says that “the link is not about coordination, but funding. The one standing behind all these operations is Iran.”
  • Walla’s Amir Bohbot, meanwhile, just wants to know what’s going on, tweeting: “Not calm. 1. Tensions and fears of an attack for 10 days on the border. 2. A rocket from Gaza. 3. The IDF claims: a cell planting bombs on the Syria border. On the other hand, the fences and lookouts proved their usefulness. * It cannot be that in the year 2020 10 days of tensions would pass and GOC Northern Command Amir Baram would not bother to give on camera explanations to the public once!”

2. Kill and disseminate footage first: The army clearly has a thing for playing coy. Overnight, while the IDF was refusing to confirm that the four alleged bomb-planters had been killed, spokesman Jonathan Conricus decided to wink at it by calling them “former terrorists.”

 

  • Elior Levy of Ynet notes that the video of the group being blown to smithereens by a missile, released by the army Monday morning, may undo all that hard work meant to keep Hezbollah from hitting back: “On the Gaza border they do things the other way. Almost all footage of terrorists is cut a second before the assassination itself in order to not give motivation for revenge.”
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel notes that the fact that the group was taken out, and not just scared away, probably points to it not being actual Hezbollah lettermen whom the group would try to avenge. “In Lebanese border incidents, Hezbollah deploys its own people. But prior experience shows that the group usually uses proxies in operations against Israel on the Syrian border. A group of several of its people, which has been dubbed the Golan File, works to deploy local squads as required for attacks in that area.”
  • Meanwhile, a pair of columns in Israel Hayom claim that Hezbollah is stretched too thin to think about revenge anyway, and “is trying to distance itself from activities against Israel in the Golan Heights to keep them secret, as if it were groups of local Druze opposed to the Israeli occupation,” in the words of Yoni Ben Menachem.
  • “Hezbollah, which has never been tested on two fronts simultaneously, is in a particularly tenuous position – especially in light of the incident on the Syrian border Monday morning – which could cause it to delay a response or avoid retaliating altogether, even if its own fighters were killed by the IDF,” writes Neta Bar in the second piece.

3. No tests, no problems: The other big story in Israel is of course the coronavirus crisis, and there are plenty of questions there as well. Numbers of new infections in Israel have suddenly dropped like a SpaceX capsule, but it’s unclear if this is a controlled splashdown with nice fluffy parachutes, or a terrifying descent into a murky unknown and a sea of numbers games.

  • On Sunday evening, the Health Ministry announced that just 421 new cases had been found since Saturday evening, marking the lowest single day-tally since late June.
  • At the same time, though, testing numbers have fallen off precipitously, to just around 7,500 each on Saturday and Sunday, according to preliminary figures (which will continue to change for several days until the Health Ministry gets its ducks in a row). While tests typically drop off over the weekend, they rarely fall so low. The drop-off comes after a week in which testing numbers also fell slightly, from around 28,000 a day to 25,000. The morbidity rate of those tested remains around 8%.
  • The question is what is driving the testing drop. Because Israel tightly controls testing, and only tests suspected cases where symptoms are present, fewer people showing symptoms would mean fewer people getting tested. Or it could be the military asking for a breather as it prepares to step into the contact tracing breach. Or it could be a change ordered from above.
  • Nobody really knows though, and the media does not really tackle the question, though some still have what to say about the funky numbers name.
  • “Finally the numbers are stable. The question is why they waited so long to lower testing rates,” jokes TV writer Reshef Shay on Twitter.
  • Army Radio notes that a report by Military Intelligence (yet another body tackling the crisis, which sometimes has different figures than the Health Ministry) lists the goal of getting to 400 infections or less by September 1. “The steps that have been taken so far have not led to a change in direction. Stabilization at most,” tweets the station’s Meir Marciano.
  • The media is much more interested in the number 17,000 — the number of students, most of them from yeshivas, that will be allowed into the country, though not interested enough to point out that a ministry statement on the move confusingly adds up 12,000 yeshiva students, 2,000 university students 5,000 Masa participants, 500 Naaleh participants and 1,500 others to equal 17,000, and not 20,000.
  • Channel 12’s Karen Marciano still smells something fishy: “Was this decision to allow thousands of yeshiva students into the country made in exchange for the ultra-Orthodox backing the opening of the economy over the weekend,” she tweets.

4. Number the numbers: The media has plenty of other coronavirus numbers to bandy about, too.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that 816 medical staff are coronavirus positive, the highest number since the outbreak of the pandemic, which it calls a “worrying” development.
  • It notes that the number of medical staff in quarantine has actually dropped to around 2,700, though “activities in some wards have been significantly affected: The internal medicine ward at Nahariya’s hospital and the mammography center at Laniado have been closed until further notice, and activities in two internal wards at Barzilai in Ashkelon have been curtailed.”
  • Later in the day, Ynet reports that Israel has acquired just 19 beds since the start of the outbreak, meaning coronavirus wards are made up of beds nabbed from other parts of overstretched hospitals.
  • Kan reports that 40 percent of people who downloaded the much ballyhooed Hamagen (shield) 2 contact tracing app have erased it “after finding no improvement.” The station also reports that many coronavirus hotels to house the sick and quarantining are half empty. Those for the general public are at 20 percent capacity, while those for the ultra-Orthodox are at 80 percent.
  • A macabre Channel 12 finds what it calls a “reason for optimism hidden” in numbers showing the number of coronavirus deaths in July nearly matched the death toll from the height of the first wave: those people were going to die anyway!
  • Firstly, the channel says, it’s just the olds. The average of those dying is 81, just a year shy of Israel’s average life expectancy. And let’s not forget that the Health Ministry’s own rules classify anyone who dies with suspected coronavirus symptoms as a coronavirus death. “This is not some manipulation by the Health Ministry, but rules used around the world.” And third of all, the number of deaths since August last year is about the same as the average that die in a year, meaning there is no “surplus fatality.”
  • Nearly the same exact story, with the same exact reasons, runs on Channel 13 news, leading one to believe that they are part of a concerted campaign by the Health Ministry, or perhaps new coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, showing that authorities are concerned about their image rather than just public health. What that means in terms of dropping testing (and infection) numbers, one can only speculate.

5. Can’t they all just get along: While the security situation and the coronavirus crisis are once again dominating the news agenda, there is still room for talk about the protests.

  • Israel Hayom leads its paper with a front page column in which Amnon Lord says the people gathering outside Netanyahu’s office are not protesting, but destroying society, accompanied by a picture of protesters kind of looking like they might raise their hands, or maybe are dancing.
  • “They know how to declaim mindlessly, but don’t know what democracy is. Their hard core within carries in body and mind the debris of Stalin’s radioactive garbage,” he writes. “They are taking advantage of the emergency created by the pandemic to place bombs in the most sensitive parts of Israeli society.”
  • The paper also rolls out a hot, buttery bucket of vox popcorn, letting the totally random man on the random “street” where apparently everybody loves Netanyahu tell the protesters that they are wrong (plus one token couple who support the protests).
  • “People are under pressure and don’t have a job, but I don’t think these protests are helping or are justified. This does not depend on the prime minister. They are just sticking the political aspect on top of the protests,” says Jerusalemite Kobi Romi. “I trust our prime minister Bibi Netanyahu. He understands finance and just like he saved us from the stagnation in 2002 he can save us from the current situation because of the coronavirus.”
  • Surprisingly, though, readers of other newspapers may find that opposition to the protests is not widespread. In Yedioth Ahronoth, Ben-Dror Yemini, a right-leaning Netanyahu critic, writes that the protests should not only belong to the left, urging his national-religious buddies to jump in and join the Balfour hootenanny.
  • “It’s true, the radical left has a presence there, with signs that say ‘dismantle the Border Police and even ‘ISRAHELL,’ borrowed from the lexicon of anti-Semites who dress up as anti-Zionists. But these voices are a small part of the protest. Almost all the protests until now have been marked by the endless display of Israeli flags. That’s the majority. That’s the central bloc of the protests. A Zionist and nationalist bloc.”
  • Zman Yisrael interviews protester Kosta Black, real name Kostantine Chesta, who has made a name for himself since leaving his Eilat apartment and becoming a “full-time demonstrator,” eventually finding a place to crash at an encampment inside Independence Park.
  • Chesta says he himself was once a Likud voter, and is now working to try and widen the protests among others from Netanyahu’s camp: “We’re going to speak with them. We speak with them and we agree on 90% of things. … I’m going to start going to people’s homes. To meet with them and to speak face to face. It can’t be that I talk to 100 friends who agree with 90 percent of what I say and nothing happens.”
  • He adds that friends have said they would like to come but are turned off by signs held up by protesters (though apparently not large gatherings.): “I tell them, bro, bring your sign and I’ll stand with you. And they will come. We have the same crises, the same dreams, we have so much in common, way more than what separates us.”
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