Hebrew media review

Pride and discontent

The Israeli press hails the troops and laments the military results, as Operation Protective Edge seemingly comes to a close

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Israeli soldiers near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip as they return from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on August 05, 2014. (Dave Buimovitch/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip as they return from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on August 05, 2014. (Dave Buimovitch/Flash90)

With the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip, the implementation of a 72-hour truce, and the ongoing Cairo negotiations, the Hebrew newspapers on Wednesday have mixed feelings about the apparent – and somewhat anti-climactic – end of Operation Protective Edge.

The unfailingly patriotic Israel Hayom waxes triumphant, Haaretz offers a  vision for future Israeli-Palestinian relations while simultaneously critiquing Israel’s military and diplomatic performance, and Yedioth Ahronoth hails the troops but doesn’t conceal its crushing disappointment with the operation’s conclusion.

Yedioth’s first pages are dedicated to a column by veteran reporter Nahum Barnea, summing up the sense of “disappointment, wasted opportunity” shared by the troops and southern residents alike. “In the past eight years, we’ve been through four operations against terror organizations: the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Cast Lead 2009, Pillar of Defense 2012, and Protective Edge 2014. All were characterized by a huge disparity between the expectations and the results. The sequence of disappointments is troubling,” he writes, considering the IDF’s military advantage. Perhaps Israeli expectations are too high, he argues, or perhaps all campaigns have a price.

With regard to the present operation, he writes: “The Israeli government started the operation without a strategic plan, and left it without a strategic plan. Much as it was careful not to implement anything in the years between the wars, it was careful not to implement anything during the wars. It went with the flow. There is a huge difference between military confrontations and sporting events. In sports, there is a winner and a loser. In war, that isn’t always the case. There are wars in which both sides lose.”

The paper’s Yossi Yehoshua argues that the IDF will have difficult questions to answer, now that the operation is over, about what he says is its troubling underestimation of the tunnel threat.

“The summary of event shows that the IDF has a problem in assessing the problem, in preparing troops for the missions, and enforcing rules and discipline,” he writes. Notwithstanding the critique of the higher echelons of the IDF, Yehoshua praises the soldiers themselves: “’We must salute the fighters of Generation Y, who proved they are just as good as their predecessors,’” he writes, quoting a high-ranking commander who fought in Gaza.

The appreciation for the troops is central in Israel Hayom, whose front page headline reads: “And thanks to our troops!” and whose first spread, dedicated to the “return of the exceptional [soldiers],” features pictures of the troops alongside an op-ed titled “And to our heroic children, we say thank you.” Further in the paper, Israel Hayom declares an unequivocal victory: “The mission is complete,” it writes.

Despite the fanfare, the paper’s Yoav Limor paints a somewhat more nuanced picture of the results, citing both the Israeli and Hamas gains and losses. His sense of the public reaction to the ceasefire, however, is one of shared celebration.

“It was difficult to spoil the sense of satisfaction in Israel yesterday from the results of the fighting in Gaza. From the highest levels of the political realm, and until the last fighters, the message was unified (and expected) – we’ve won. The reality is slightly more complicated. It will take time until the results of the campaign will be fully clear, primarily until it we know if the central aim of the operation was secured,” namely, long-term quiet in the south, he writes.

Over in Haaretz, the paper’s editorial calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lift the blockade, rebuild the Gaza Strip, recognize the Palestinian unity government and cooperate with PA President Mahmoud Abbas to restore the peace talks.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognizes the opportunity that has been given to Israel to reshape its relations with some Arab states. He must adopt a broad view that will not settle for an ad-hoc agreement on the Gaza Strip alone but will also resuscitate the peace process, which might now include both territories within the Palestinian Authority,” it writes.

Meanwhile, in contrast to the hopeful tone of the editorial, the Israeli government faces serious criticism on the diplomatic and military fronts.

The paper’s diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid lambastes Netanyahu’s “political passivity that he excels at,” arguing that the prime minister squandered opportunities throughout the operation for “creative and sophisticated diplomatic initiatives.”

“Such moves could have isolated Hamas, mobilized the international community on Israel’s behalf, rebuilt Israel’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority and strengthened the moderate forces in the region. Netanyahu preferred not to pursue them,” he writes.

“Netanyahu’s agreeing to a process of coming to an arrangement with Hamas basically takes Israel back to square one, perhaps even further back. True, the terror tunnels have been destroyed, which is a significant military achievement, but beyond that, how has the reality in Gaza changed? Israel has paid a heavy price but will almost certainly get no more than a temporary ceasefire in return.”

Unlike previous campaigns, the Israeli failure lies not with the military but with the politicians, he writes. “The failure is a political one — the lack of a diplomatic program. The responsibility for that lies with the government, not the generals.”

With regard to the military gains, the paper writes that the soldiers in the field had no prior training on the destruction of the tunnels, and faced challenges in locating and demolishing the tunnels, given their lack of preparedness.

On the public opinion front, a survey published by Haaretz shows that 51% of Israelis believe neither side emerged victorious, and 56% believed the operation was only partially successful in achieving the goals laid down by the government. However, despite that, Netanyahu, as well as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz were rated highly for their performance, with 33% rating Netanyahu as “excellent” and 44% as “good.” For Ya’alon, similarly, 33% thought his conduct “excellent” and 43% “good.” Gantz receives the highest marks: a full 53% believe he handled the operation excellently, and 30% say his handling was good.

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