Of caves and caving: 6 things to know for July 8
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Of caves and caving: 6 things to know for July 8

Israel watches the Thai rescue drama with the rest of the world, as Syrian rebels give in and Netanyahu caves on caving to the Poles on the Holocaust law

One of two ambulances leaves a cave in northern Thailand hours after an operation begins to rescue trapped youth soccer players and their coach, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, in northern Thailand, July 8, 2018 (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
One of two ambulances leaves a cave in northern Thailand hours after an operation begins to rescue trapped youth soccer players and their coach, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, in northern Thailand, July 8, 2018 (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

1. As the effort to rescue the 12 boys and their soccer coach from a cave in northern Thailand begins, all eyes in Israel and around the world are turned to the operation, expected to take several days. (As of this writing, unconfirmed reports are filtering through Hebrew media of two or four boys coming out of the cave.)

  • Several Israeli news outlets have dispatched correspondents to the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai province (it always seems to be the tropical locales, like Guam, that the Israelis are sent to, and never Siberia) to report on the rescue operation, and while there, they are able to focus on the side angles provided by the few Israelis aiding in the rescue operation.
  • Israeli rescuers Raphael and Shlomi Aroush, who have lived in Thailand most of their lives, tell the Ynet news site that they expect only a few boys to be rescued Sunday.
  • “If it’s successful they will continue. We are dependent on the weather,” they say, apparently in unison. “The whole crew is very optimistic. They took the best crew in the world, everyone knows it’s not a normal dive, it’s something nobody in the world has experience with and we are hoping for a good end.”
  • The comments run in stark contract to Raphael Aroush’s assessment that “it could end in catastrophe” after a former navy seal died while doing a preparatory dive in the cave on Friday.
  • On Saturday, Israel’s ambassador to Thailand visited the site to see what help Jerusalem could offer.
  • Israel’s Channel 10 news quotes Hilik Magnus, known as the man Israeli backpackers turn to for rescue when in hairy situations around the world — including Thailand. “Israel has a lot of experience in dealing with situations like this, and beyond the resourcefulness and technology, has what to offer in cases like this,” he says.

2. Closer to home, though, Israel is in need of international help of its own to rescue the Gaza Strip from sinking further into a humanitarian quagmire.

  • Israel Hayom reports that rehabbing Gaza will be the first part of the regional peace plan being put together by the Trump administration, which will move ahead with it even without the approval of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who is against reconstructing Gaza as long as it is under Hamas rule and who refuses to speak to the Americans.
  • The paper, basing its reports on diplomats in Israel, the PA and around the Arab world, reports that the Saudis, Jordan and Egypt, as well as other Gulf states, are quietly endorsing the plan, along with Israel.
  • “The Gaza program explains the IDF’s restraint regarding the terror kites, Hamas’s lack of willingness to escalate tensions that could lead the south into war, and Hamas head Ismail Haniyeh’s invitation to Cairo for a series of meetings and discussions with senior Egyptian defense officials, taking part in mediations to calm the situation in Gaza,” the paper reports.
  • The report also notes that the plan s supposed to lead to a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
  • The report largely dovetails with one in The Washington Post on Sunday, though where Israel Hayom trumpets the fact that the administration is “going over the head of Abbas,” officials in the Post say the focus on Gaza is because they can’t make any headway with Abbas.
  • “They know the Palestinians are not willing to consider [the larger proposal], so they are starting to put more attention on the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” an Israeli official is quoted saying.

3. The northern border may also be headed for calm, with rebels striking a deal with Russian-backed Syrian forces and essentially conceding the Daraa region.

  • The rebels still control a wide swath of land around Quneitra and near the buffer zone adjoining the Israeli Golan Heights, and tensions with Israel could skyrocket as Russians and Syrians move to take the zone.
  • Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el notes that they can’t retake the area without using force in the DMZ, which Israel will not allow, and so it may end up being up to Jerusalem to find a creative solution.
  • “One possibility is that Israel instruct the militias to leave the Golan Heights in exchange for a Syrian-Russian commitment not to harm them. Another option is that Israel agree to mixed Russian-Syrian policing units setting up a safe transit corridor for the militias and thousands of refugees who’ve recently arrived in the Golan after fleeing the fighting in Daraa,” he writes.
  • There’s the matter of Iranian entrenchment in Syria to deal with as well, which Israel Hayom columnist Eyal Zisser says nobody seems to want to touch.
  • “This is work Israel has decided to take on itself,” he writes.

4. It’s not known if the fact that Israel Hayom, a paper normally solidly in the corner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corner, turned against him over the Polish Holocaust law Friday was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But by Sunday, the premier appears to be backtracking on the law, saying he’ll listen to historians.

  • In Yedioth Ahronoth Sunday morning even columnist Shlomo Pyoterofsky, normally the paper’s token Netanyahu defender, calls what is going on a “license to lie.”
  • Media watchdog the Seventh Eye pointed out that even though Israel Hayom seemed to be critical of Netanyahu, its coverage was almost devoid of mentions of the premier, effectively delinking him from the agreement he bragged about signing just a few weeks ago, a tactic also used by Pyoterofsky, who doesn’t mention Netanyahu at all.
  • In Israel Hayom on Sunday, Netanyahu’s name is totally missing from coverage of the ballyhoo, both in its news story about continuing anger at the Poles and in a column by a Holocaust survivor, though Shlomo Ahronson does write that he is “disappointed the prime minister would have a hand in a statement like this, a statement that’s just simply a disgrace.”

5. Netanyahu’s name and fingerprints are all over a story in Haaretz that looks at Israel’s attempts to build a friendly bloc within the EU’s more eastern realms, where nationalists (like those who pushed the Polish law) have been gaining, thus driving a wedge into the continental alliance already riven by internal debates over migrants and other issues.

  • “Israel has been exploiting this internal, complex and delicate European dissent in recent years in order to change the way decisions about its policies are made in the EU. Observers in Brussels point to a chilling effect created by the alliance between Israel and the V-4 [Poland, Hungary, The Czech Republic and Slovakia] on the ability to issue joint statements in the name of all 28 EU members,” the paper reports.
  • The paper also reports that Israel’s desire to bolster ties with Poland as part of this effort was behind Netanyahu wanting a quick resolution of the Holocaust law rift, which critics saw led to the Israel essentially caving to the Polish narrative.

6. One danger of tying your fortunes to a specific internal bloc is that you drive those out of the bloc out of your corner, a process that’s taking place in the US as well, where analysts say Israel is increasingly becoming a partisan issue. ABC news reports that Democrats are being more vocal than ever in their criticism of Israel, and may see political gains from the move.

  • The channel notes that New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who came out of nowhere to win the Democratic primary for a seat in the house, claimed victory despite vocal criticism of the Jewish state over Gaza.
  • “More people are seeing the need to speak out and be a bit more frank with their criticisms. We are seeing a surge of response from progressives on this issue,” the paper quotes Mal Hyman, who ultimately lost his primary, as saying.
  • It also cites researcher Shibley Telhami, who has been tracking polling on this issue for decades and has also noticed a shift.
  • “Democrats, even separate from the partisan issue, have basically seen [the Palestinian] issue as part of their value system,” he’s quoted saying. “They increasingly see their values as not a part of the values of Israel.”
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