1. Count the rockets: The press is at familiar full-on almost mini-war footing Wednesday, the second day of intense fighting with Gaza after Israel eliminated Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
- Much of the news is simply centered on tallying the various tolls of the “escalation,” the word adopted to describe the round of fighting (as of this writing): some 250 rockets fired at Israel; dozens of airstrikes in Gaza; 23 killed in Gaza, many of them fighters; 48 people treated in Israel for injuries, most of them indirect; and endless comments from politicians and talking heads about who is to blame and what the days ahead may bring.
- The rocket fire, though, remains the main focus.
- “Barrages without stop,” reads a headline in Walla news, reporting on the near-regular volleys of rockets aimed at Israeli communities.
- Kan Radio claims that the rockets “are not stopping for a second,” publishing a constantly updating map with all the rocket fire.
- “Heavy fire on the Gaza envelope and Ashkelon,” is Haaretz online’s top headline, next to a dramatic picture of people taking cover.
- “Rockets on Israel,” reads a non-very informative one in Channel 12 news’s Mako website, next to a misleading picture of explosions in Gaza.
- But what Channel 12 and a number of other sites do have are special pop-ups that alert readers, no matter where they are, any time there is a rocket alarm, not unlike the tornado warnings this writer used to see on TV as a child in the Midwest.
2. Won’t anybody think of the children (and mattresses)? While the the only deaths and almost all serious injuries have occurred in Gaza, Israelis news outlets are playing up the human toll of the attacks at home.
- Yaniv, a worker at a Sderot Mattress factory hit by a rocket and destroyed in the ensuing fire, tells Kan that seeing the damage is “heartbreaking.” “It’s a terrible sight. I worked here 18 years and we survived all the previous rounds. My heart is with Sderot. I ask how we are supposed to start the day, how can we recover from this?”
- A family in Netivot that escaped unscathed when their house took a direct hit connects it to the memory of their daughter, who died of cancer five months earlier, and who used the bomb shelter as her bedroom.
- “Anytime I want to remember her, I go into her room, the shelter,” her mom tells Yedioth Ahronoth.
- Army Radio morning show host Rino Zror sets up shop in the home of Ilana Swissa, who lives in Kfar Azza near the border, one of the most heavily hit communities, though he pointedly does not rush for the bomb shelter and instead keeps vigil over the equipment.
— גלצ (@GLZRadio) November 13, 2019
- “Life here is great when there are no threats,” Swissa tells him. Her daughter comes on to pronounce that she and her family are protecting Israel by living on the front line.
- Channel 12 news, meanwhile, builds a genre out of rushing for shelter in the middle of live shots.
- A live standup in Ashkelon in which two tween sisters expressed optimism turned scary quickly as a siren began to wail, with the cameras catching the sisters, journalists and others running for cover next to whatever wall they can find, followed by the booms of the rockets being intercepted.
- Later, the same reporter interviews a girl as they both lie on a sidewalk waiting for a rocket strike.
— החדשות (@NewsChannelIL) November 13, 2019
- The channel calls it a “live taste of the tough reality for residents of the region.”
- On Kan TV, 10-year-old Tzuri says he and his friends are already used to all this, having already lived through Protective Edge and other rounds of violence.
3. Are we done yet? Tzuri also asks a general on the TV station’s panel when the fighting will end, which the officer admits nobody knows.
- That’s not to say nobody claims they know, though. Minister Aryeh Deri tells Army Radio that the escalation will last a few more days only, if that.
- “[Islamic Jihad] want to show that they are still around despite taking a big hit,” he tells the station.
- ToI’s Judah Ari Gross and Stuart Winer report that the army believes the Islamic Jihad terror group will continue firing rockets at Israeli cities and towns — but a smaller number, in order to maintain its arsenals and potentially keep fighting for several more days.
- And though Israeli officials are claiming they want the fighting to end, there are signs that they are preparing for a longer fight. Kan reports that “artillery units have been deployed along the border, as part of preparations for the possibility that operations against Islamic Jihad may widen.”
- Haaretz notes that commando units have also been deployed to communities near the Strip out of fears that the terror group could attempt an infiltration.
- On the other side, an Islamic Jihad spokesperson tells Hamas-linked Shehab that “there is no talk about mediation. It is not appropriate to talk about that with all due respect to any Arab efforts [to restore calm]. When we complete the response, it is possible to discuss calm.”
4. A baddie, but not a biggie: Several news organizations try to look at how much of a blow the assassination of Abu al-Ata was for the organization.
- Yedioth’s Shimrit Meir writes that the way Israelis spoke about him, one would think they killed the Gazan Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “But not quite. He was an accomplished Gazan fighter who before us was mostly known among Hamas and Islamic Jihad forces as a troublemaker.”
- “Despite the significant assassination, the real danger toward Israel from Gaza still stands, and is bolstered by support for Islamic Jihad from Iran,” Channel 13’s Zvika Yehezkeli writes.
- Haaretz’s Zvi Bar-el notes that the killing gives Islamic Jihad a chance to fall more in step with its masters and shed any mavericks at the top.
- “Abu al-Ata’s killing doesn’t significantly hurt Islamic Jihad’s leadership or military potential. It has enough experienced commanders who can step up, and the organization is expected to announce replacements soon. The question is whether Islamic Jihad’s political leaders will use Abu al-Ata’s death for a reorganization that will prevent the group from straying from commitments like the one it gave Egypt regarding rocket fire on Israel,” he writes.
5. Keeping Hamas on the bench: As for the prospects for the violence escalating to the point of all-out war, Israelis see that ball squarely in Hamas’s court.
- Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea calls the strike “the most surgical possible” for being pinpointed enough to not kill many bystanders and to also keep Hamas from feeling obligated to get involved.
- “As of yesterday, Hamas was not shooting. It let Islamic Jihad shoot more than 200 rockets, but kept from shooting itself. War is raging in the skies over Israel and Gaza and Hamas is holding fire. That should tell us something about its thinking,” he writes.
- ToI’s Avi Issacharoff notes that Hamas, which was enjoying relatively good times in Gaza and does not want war, faces a dilemma now.
- “If Hamas tries to stop Islamic Jihad at this stage, before the region gets hotter still, it will be accused of collaborating with Israel,” he writes. “But if it allows Islamic Jihad to run wild with massive rocket fire, that is likely to lead to a harsh Israeli response, which in turn will draw in Hamas. And very quickly, Hamas and Israel will find themselves entering a major round of conflict of the kind last seen in the summer of 2014.”
- Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor writes that “Israel, too, seeks to distinguish Hamas from Islamic Jihad, so as not to paint it into a corner. If Hamas remains on the sidelines and if it manages to rein in jihad activists seeking to avenge al-Ata, then the calm, such as it is, on the Israel-Gaza could be restored. If not, escalation is in the cards.”
- However, Kan quotes Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum saying that all the resistance forces are working together. “The attempts to drive a wedge between the groups won’t work.”
6. Minority out, unity not quite in: Analysts are also taking a long hard look at how the fighting is affecting the political arena and coalition talks, and whether it will lead to a unity government.
- What everybody seems to agree on is that the fighting makes the idea of a minority government headed by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and backed by the Arab-led Joint List pretty much null and void.
- “The political negotiations cannot be unaffected by what is going on in the country on a normal day, let alone when we are almost at war,” a Blue and White MK tells ToI’s Raoul Wootliff. “We are not saying that this was done with the intention of putting us in a corner, but there is no question that it impacts our options.”
- Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer dismisses the idea that the timing of the killing of Abu al-Ata was politically motivated to force Gantz into a unity government, but notes that it’s possible Netanyahu is still using it to make hay.
- “Since last week, [Netanyahu] knew that the killing of Abu al-Ata was imminent, and it’s hard not to connect this with the way he and his proxies have been ramping up the incitement against Israeli-Arab politicians and the possibility of their support for a Gantz government,” he writes, noting that hours before the attack Netanyahu sent two rare late-night tweets on that theme.
- Channel 13’s Sefi Ovadia writes that there have been backroom talks between Netanyahu and Gantz, with chances for a unity government somewhat better than before.
- “In the end, Gantz will be the one who needs to make a decision, since Netanyahu will not give up on [the rotation] or his bloc — even if it means a unity government. It seems he’ll only make the decision at the last moment, when he has to.”
- In Zman Yisrael, ToI’s sister site, ShalomYerushalmi isn’t sure a unity government is in the offing, even if a minority one is off the table. A senior Blue and White source tells him either the party will split or Israel will go to elections, but Yerushalmi insists that there is still a chance that Avigdor Liberman “will return to the right-wing camp and avoid elections after the package of concessions he got from the ultra-Orthodox. Trust that they’ll build the narrative they need for the day they need.”
7. The bridezilla war: There is also the other kind of unity, weddings, and on Tuesday it seemed like everyone in the south had a wedding or birthday that was suddenly getting shot down by the rockets.
- The airwaves and social media have been filled with sad stories of brides who had planned this day and would now have to cancel, or had to scramble to find a new venue, or kids forced to celebrate their birthdays in bomb shelters, if at all.
- “This happens to me almost every year,” 10-year-old Noya Levy from Ashkelon complains to Channel 13 news, which reports that though she thought she wouldn’t have a birthday at school, her friends came to her house and surprised her anyway.
- “The bride is crying, my mom can’t even anymore. We’re hoping for the best,” Netanel Abergil, who was slated to get married in Netivot and who made the rounds of a number of media organizations, is quoted telling Kan.
- India’s News 18 reports that a picture of a little boy forced to spend his birthday in a bomb shelter went viral as a symbol “of the suffering and torture that kids both in Palestine and Israel have to endure on a regular basis.”
- “Most lauded Shoham for putting up a brave face during such crisis, while others wished him on his birthday and hoped for a better and brighter future for him and others like him.”
- “Who will help me find Shoham to tell him that if he ever comes to India he’ll have a million friends to celebrate with him,” an Israeli diplomat in India tweets.
8. Others won’t have to wait for their happy ending: Channel 12 news reports that Eurovision queen Netta Barzilai made a surprise appearance at a wedding in Beersheba where Efrat and Eliran, another couple that had been featured in a sob story, had to move after their Ashdod wedding was nixed.
- Barzilai, who gave a free concert at the wedding, says she had to do her own makeup and costume for the first time because nobody would come with her down south. “I saw you on TV crying, and I just couldn’t, so I called my manager and I told him, I’m going,” Barzilai is quoted telling the bride.
- Walla meanwhile claims that people seem to have more sex during stressful times of violence.
- “When people come together, they produce oxytocin, a hormone of love and calmness. So people get together more, which leads to sexual relations. An orgasm is also very calming. If you want to calm down, you should have as many orgasms as possible, which release four times the oxytocin as normal,” sexologist Shelly Proffer Rosen tells the site.
9. Fright city: People were likely shacking up in Tel Aviv as well, which saw rocket fire for the first time in over five years.
- Reporting on the laid back city suddenly being thrust into war, ToI’s Melanie Lidman writes that the rocket salvo “cast an unusual and eerie quiet over the city streets.”
- “Coffee shops normally bursting with customers began to slowly fill toward mid-day, though the streets and parks remained fairly empty. With schools and many offices closed, parents struggled to entertain rambunctious children while juggling work messages and remote meetings,” she writes.
- Haaretz’s Judy Maltz writes that it “felt like Shabbat,” with stores shuttered — even Dizengoff Center mall, for the first time in ages.
- “A stroll through the streets of central of Tel Aviv early Tuesday morning revealed that this was clearly not a normal workday,” she writes. “Traffic was not as heavy as usual; the number of commuters passing through the turnstiles at the Hashalom train station — a major public transportation hub — was unusually low for this time of day; and there was none of the usual hustle-bustle in the streets.”