1. The case of an Israeli-American backpacker who has been jailed in Russia for allegedly smuggling a small amount of cannabis that she had in her bag continues to dominate headlines in Israel on Tuesday, as Naama Issachar’s mother alleges that the Kremlin is holding her daughter to use as a “bargaining chip.”
- Naama Issachar was caught with 9.6 grams of marijuana in her checked luggage while transiting from India to Israel at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in April.
- The 26-year-old was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail by a Russian court on Friday, with Moscow reportedly seeking an exchange of a prisoner set to be extradited by Israel to the United States for her release. Jerusalem has blasted the sentence as wildly disproportionate.
2. Russian and Israeli media have reported that Moscow is seeking a swap to stop the US obtaining custody of Aleksey Burkov, detained in Israel since 2015 for alleged cyber crimes and credit card fraud.
- Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin have appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to release Issachar, while numerous social media campaigns and protests have been launched on her behalf.
- Her mother, Yaffa Issachar, gave several interviews to Hebrew-language media outlets on Monday in which she described receiving “threatening” messages from someone purporting to be a friend of Burkov.
- “He said, ‘Let’s join forces and get him out,'” she told the Kan public broadcaster. “I didn’t answer him,” Yaffa Issachar said. “What has Naama and nine grams got to do with a hacker in jail in Israel.”
3. A friend of the Issachar family told the Haaretz daily that people claiming to be Burkov’s associates were increasingly pressuring them to help secure his release from jail in order to help Naama. Dor Tzur said family members and friends in recent weeks had been contacted relentlessly on Facebook by dozens of Burkov’s “friends,” who said Naama could be released if the Russian was released.
- “We got lots of appeals, mainly from [Burkov’s] close friends, some of the profiles looked fake and all of them were Russian,” he said. “We received some aggressive, violent messages saying she would rot in jail, “
4. The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Tuesday that Israel was set to extradite Burkov to the US in the coming days as scheduled, despite a request from the Kremlin that he be returned to Russia instead. According to the report, diplomatic officials in Jerusalem told their Russian counterparts that it was impossible to stop Burkov’s extradition since the Supreme Court had already approved the move. Yedioth said that Netanyahu was concerned that preventing Burkov’s detention at the last minute and handing him back to Russia could harm relations with Washington.
- Multiple Hebrew-language news outlets have reported that US intelligence agencies believed Burkov is tied to Russian intelligence, and was involved in the Kremlin’s efforts to influence the American elections process. US and Israeli officials told Haaretz the Secret Service was involved with Burkov’s arrest and was present during his interrogation by Israeli police in 2015.
5. Yaffa Issachar also pleaded with Russian authorities to release her daughter, telling the Yedioth daily that Naama was exhausted, fed up and confused after Friday’s sentencing.
- “Every mother wants to protect her daughter, this is a fundamental quality for us. This ability was taken away from me brutally. Because [she] has become a bargaining chip,” she said.
6. The other major story dominating Tuesday’s headlines was the ongoing Turkish invasion of Kurdish-held areas of northeastern Syria that Ankara launched after US President Donald Trump pulled back American troops from the border area.
- The US pullback from Syria reportedly caught Israeli officials off guard and sparked concern in Israel that it too could be abandoned by its most powerful ally.
- According to reports, there is particular fear that Iran could be emboldened in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq by what appears to be an increasingly hands-off American policy in the region.
7. While Israeli officials have stopped short of openly criticizing Trump, the American pullback from Syria has pushed some to question Netanyahu’s close alliance with the US leader.
- Haaretz’s Amos Harel excoriates Trump for the move that he said has “produced tremors that have completely changed the situation in Syria and is already affecting the strategic picture across the entire Middle East.”
- In a front-page analysis, Harel warns Israel that it could find itself facing off against Iran alone thanks to the “worrisome” and “chaotic way the president conducts business… [who] only seems only committed to himself.”
- In Yedioth, Ben Dror Yemini seemingly hits back at Trump’s efforts to downplay the withdrawal of US forces, writing that “if that wasn’t a betrayal [against the Kurds] then I don’t know what is.” The columnist also condemns the international community for failing to prevent atrocities against Muslims, writing that “this time it’s again the Kurds who are facing a wave of war crimes, and the world is silent.”
8. Even writers for the traditionally Trump-friendly Israel Hayom appear concerned the sudden shift in alliances in the region may negatively affect Israel.
- Middle East studies professor Eyal Zisser writes: “The withdrawal of US forces from northern Syria and their abandoning the Kurds to Erdogan’s mercy brings an end to Washington’s involvement in Syria. a failed intervention that lacked purpose and may prove to have disastrous consequences for the region.
- “The US is likely to discover, just like Israel did when it withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza, that it’s very easy to remove its forces from Syrian soil, but the problem isn’t going away that easily,” Zisser warns. “IS won’t leave America alone, and they will continue to pursue it, even to US soil.”