Obama, Obama, Obama (oh, and Netanyahu, too)
Hebrew media review

Obama, Obama, Obama (oh, and Netanyahu, too)

Everyone’s talking about Obama’s AIPAC speech. Just not very optimistically

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

US President Barack Obama addresses the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, DC, March 2012 (photo credit: AP/Cliff Owen)
US President Barack Obama addresses the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, DC, March 2012 (photo credit: AP/Cliff Owen)

Two stories dominate the Israeli news this morning: US President Barack Obama’s speech at the AIPAC conference in Washington, and the unfolding Harpaz affair.

Obama’s speech on Sunday was the talk of the media, who  nonetheless retained an air of skepticism.

Various quotes from President Barack Obama’s speech fill headlines, most of which demonstrating his hesitancy, rather than will, to use force. Maariv chooses “Now is not the time for bluster.” Yedioth Ahronoth opts to cite Obama’s quoting of Teddy Roosevelt: “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” Israel Hayom writes: “Action? ‘When the time is right.'” Haaretz writes, “Obama: we will use force against Iran if necessary, but there is time for diplomatic pressure.”

Boaz Bismuth in Israel Hayom remains skeptical about Obama’s intentions vis-a-vis Iran. Although the president makes it clear who the good guys and the bad guys are in this standoff, “his speech still didn’t clarify how we’ll prevent a nuclear Iran,” what new sanctions will be levied, or where the red line will be drawn.

Sima Kadmon says in Yedioth Ahronoth that despite the tough talk about Iran, “he has not budged a millimeter in his stance that the only way to prevent a nuclear weapon is to convince Iran to give it up on its own.” What will remain of Obama’s guarantees, Kadmon asks, after the November elections?

While many in the Israeli press see Obama’s speech as a precursor to Monday’s talk with Netanyahu, Nadav Eyal writes in Maariv that it was directed at garnering the Jewish vote more than anything. He, too, criticizes Obama for — to spin the president’s words — not bringing anything new to the table about Iran.

From criticism of Obama’s speech, the press immediately got to speculating about Monday’s meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama.

In advance of Monday’s summit, Israel Hayom hopes Obama’s intensified tone on Iran will result in substantial promises. Maariv predicts that Netanyahu will insist that “the time has come for action.”

Yedioth Ahronoth says that Obama will again ask Netanyahu not to attack Iran, and Netanyahu will have to decide whether to align with the US, or blaze a trail without Israel’s strongest ally.

Clash of the titans

A draft report on the Harpaz affair surrounding the succession of the IDF chief of staff in late 2010 surfaced on Sunday. The convoluted story — worthy of a Greek drama — pits Defense Minister Ehud Barak against former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and a supporting cast of various senior military and political figures is swept into the damning maelstrom of intrigue and accusation.

Haaretz leads its front page with the headline: “Harpaz: ‘Tell me what Ashkenazi wants.’ Weiner: ‘Only that [Yoav] Galant won’t be chief of staff.'” Yedioth Ahronoth describes the clash of Barak and Ashkenazi as “unfriendly fire,” and criticizes the former for delaying the appointment of Ashkenazi’s successor, and the latter for “harming the confidence in senior officers.”

Israel Hayom says there was an “warlike atmosphere” between the two titans of Israel’s defense industry. Maariv quotes State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss’s report: “The war between the offices [of Barak and Ashkenazi] affected the security of Israel.”

Lost and found

Eshel Silberstein, the air force cadet who worried the nation by not reporting to base on Sunday morning, was found Sunday night.

After a manhunt that enlisted the Israel Police, IDF canine units, and volunteers from the soldier’s town, prison guards on leave in Eilat recognized him on the promenade in Eilat. Police officers located him and took him into custody — exhausted and confused, but unharmed.

According to Yedioth Ahronoth, Silberstein left his house Saturday evening in uniform. At a gas station not far from his home he changed into civilian clothes, withdrew 1,000 shekels from an ATM, disassembled his M-16, and discarded the firing assembly in a garbage can.

Although his peers in the pilot training course said Eshel was emotionally sound, Maariv reports that his family revealed that he underwent a personal crisis before enlisting and disappeared for a week.

Questions remain as to what Silberstein’s intentions were, but the country breathed a collective sigh of relief to hear that no ill came to the young man.

Tanks, planes, and ninjas

Free Syrian Army fighters trained in ninjutsu can’t do much against tanks and planes.

Yedioth Ahronoth writes about Syrian fighters bombing civilian targets, and the flight of refugees to Lebanon to escape them. Seven thousand reportedly fled Homs towards the Lebanese border seeking sanctuary, but only a fraction made it. Those who fled the battle-scarred neighborhood of Baba Amr were shot at by snipers on rooftops.

Israel Hayom also reports that Assad’s troops are bombarding processions of refugees fleeing the combat zones. Tanks encircle northern and southern cities, and combatants and noncombatants alike are assaulted from the ground and the sky.

Maariv reports on Iran abetting Syria’s crackdown on the opposition, and growing concern that the conflict will engulf the entire Middle East. American officials worry that the Sunni-Alawite conflict in Syria could develop into wider infighting among Muslim sects.

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