Punkwashing: 8 things to know for September 3
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Israel media review

Punkwashing: 8 things to know for September 3

Israel’s punking of Hezbollah appears to pay dividends, with the terror group still insisting it scored a kill, allowing the sides to back down after coming incredibly close to war

An Israeli soldier examines the remains of a rocket near the village of Avivim on the Israel-Lebanon border, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
An Israeli soldier examines the remains of a rocket near the village of Avivim on the Israel-Lebanon border, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

1. Lone wolf: Israel may have gotten away with a ruse against Hezbollah, but a slew of reports in the aftermath of Sunday’s cross border exchange show how close the sides could have come to war.

  • Footage published by Hezbollah affiliated Al-Manar TV shows a member of the terror group firing a Kornet anti-tank missile at an IDF vehicle. The footage also shows a second missile fired at the Wolf APC and then a plume of smoke, in what the channel celebrated as a successful hit.
  • But not so fast. CCTV footage from the entrance to Kibbutz Yir’on shows the jeep narrowly getting away as at least one missile explodes behind it. “The footage shows how close the Wolf was to being hit,” Channel 12 notes.
  • According to Haaretz, there were five soldiers inside the Wolf at the time.
  • As my colleagues at ToI note, “The Ze’ev is an armored vehicle but is not able to withstand a direct hit by the powerful Kornet missile. The absence of injured or dead soldiers in the attack was thus chiefly a matter of sheer luck and not clever tactics.”
  • Military officials are probing to find out why it was driving on a road that had been restricted amid fears of such an attack, Walla reports, writing that they had left themselves exposed.
  • The site also notes that Hezbollah could have easily just fired at civilians in the town, but chose to hit soldiers instead. “The incident didn’t really end this way because of some miracle. There was a lot of thought here, a lot of planning,” a defense official are quoted saying.

2. Minutes from war: “Israel is happy with itself, but was nearly dragged into war by technical mistakes,” reads a front page headline in Haaretz.

  • “Since Israel’s military responses are dictated to a large extent by the number of casualties, the country might have been dragged into a serious escalation despite its declared interest in calm,” the paper’s Amos Harel writes.
  • According to Channel 12 news, had the missiles managed to actually harm soldiers, Israel would have responded with wide-ranging airstrikes aimed at taking out Hezbollah’s missile program.
  • The report claims air force jets were flying over the Mediterranean Sea armed with dozens of tons of explosives in preparation for a counter-strike.
  • “The fact that [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah missed and didn’t kill any Israelis saved Hezbollah from the destruction of its precision missile program,” a source is quoted telling the channel.
  • Whether this is true or just more carefully calibrated bluster coming from Israel meant to enhance its deterrent is not clear.

3. Can’t fool us: In the meantime, Hezbollah seems to be content with holding to the line that it did manage to inflict serious losses on the Israeli enemy, even if Israel says all it hit was an empty APC, and that it fell for a ruse involving the evacuation of dummy soldiers.

  • In a celebratory speech, Nasrallah hailed what he termed the end of Israeli red lines on defending the border, allowing his terror group to attack inside Israel with almost no response. “Despite all the preparations and fake targets the enemy scattered along the border, we waited for our target and when it came, we hit it, without any doubt.”
  • So excited are the group’s supporters that a couple even name their newborn Avivim, after the Israeli town near where Hezbollah hit an APC, Lebanon’s al-Jadeed reports. One has to feel for the poor girl, who will now go through life with a beautiful Israeli name. Perhaps she can start a support group with Jordan-born Yitzhak Rabin Namsy, who was named to honor the Israeli leader who signed a peace treaty with Amman.
  • After an RT Arabic reporter tours the Avivim base and finds it mostly abandoned, al-Manar jumps on it like white on rice. “The correspondent also showed another empty room with doors kept open, noting that may indicate that the base was surprisingly evacuated after Hezbollah’s retaliatory operation,” the station reports
  • ToI’s Adam Rasgon notes, though, that other Lebanese are not shy about picking up the Israeli narrative that Hezbollah was fooled.
  • The evacuation operation was “illusionary and preconceived to make Hezbollah believe that casualties had fallen and the operation succeeded,” popular daily An-Nahar reports.

4. Pity the fool: Israel’s decoy operation is also mocked by some in Israel and elsewhere.

  • “Israel vs. Hezbollah,” one person tweets, above a video of a duck playing dead, a common sentiment.
  • “The disclosure by the Israel Defence Forces of disinformation tactics has set off a debate about whether the ‘fake news’ will undermine its public relations strategy in future,” writes Richard Spencer of The Times of London.
  • As for why Israeli came clean about the operation, it seems to have been inevitable, given that Israel is a democracy with a supposedly free press.

5. Mad about Ayoub: Why supposedly? Well, there’s the little problem of the government’s media czar having been the same man who called for boycotting Channel 12 and accused its owners of a “terror attack on democracy.” No, not Ayoub Kara, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • In a recording broadcast by Channel 13 news, Netanyahu can be heard screaming at then-communications minister Kara, insulting him and demanding that he shutter the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, the public body that oversees cable and satellite stations in Israel.
  • The recording suggests Netanyahu was still intimately involved in directing matters at the Communications Ministry in late 2017, despite having relinquished the communications portfolio earlier that year amid an ongoing criminal investigation into his alleged collusion with major media outlets.
  • “Ayoub, have you gone crazy,” is splashed across more than one front page Tuesday, borrowing the most piquant quote from the recorded diatribe.
  • “We’ve never heard the prime minister like this: Yelling at the top of his lungs at a minister, fuming over credit given to another minister and mostly, demanding to intervene on something in the media industry, despite being forbidden from doing so,” Yedioth reports.
  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter compares Netanyahu to “an addict … returning to the scene of the crime.”
  • “He never stopped meddling for a moment,” he writes.

6. Wasn’t me: Several Likud MKs blame Kara, but the ex-minister who ended his term beefing with Netanyahu denies involvement.

  • Kara tells Channel 13 news that some third party must have hacked into his phone and recorded him. “I didn’t know there were these recordings. It’s very easy to tap a conversation and record it, and it seems my phone was tapped this whole time.”
  • Speaking to Kan, he blames “evil people,” and calls for an investigation.

7. Gevaldsmacked: As noted by the Seventh Eye, while most media outlets play up the story, Israel Hayom pushed it as far back as possible, giving it just a few column inches.

  • Instead, the paper leads with a hodgepodge of election news.
  • “In the Likud, panic is growing, and this time, it’s justified. None of the polls to date have shown the right-wing bloc beating the Left, and if that is how the election actually plays out, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government could be in real danger,” writes the paper’s Mati Tuchfeld.
  • Is it really real this time? Some see the panic as just more of Likud’s tried and true “gevalt” maneuver, in which it telegraphs panic to push supporters to the polls.
  • Walla news notes that Netanyahu has begun attacking the Shas party, calling it Netanyahu’s “new gevalt campaign.”
  • The ultra-Orthodox Kikar Hashabbat website notes that going after Shas is a new thing for Netanyahu. “Even in the last elections, Bibi was careful to avoid funneling votes from Shasnikim.”

8. Pact rat: Meanwhile, Yedioth reports that Netanyahu is looking to neutralize another possible challenger from the right, Otzma Yehudit, by promising to lower the threshold for next time around to make it easier for the party to get in.

  • According to the report, Likud people are pessimistic any deal is possible and Otzma leader Itamar Ben Gvir calls the Yedioth story “fake news.”
  • “No one spoke to me about any withdrawal deal,” he tells the Galey Yisrael radio station. “They fell hard for fake news. There was no deal and there won’t be one.”
  • The report comes after two polls showed Otzma inching toward the electoral threshold, snagging 2.9 or 2.8 percent of the vote. A poll published by Walla news on Tuesday, though, shows the party slightly back down to 2.7%.
  • In Israel Hayom, token lefty Yossi Beilin writes that Netanyahu was wrong to forge a deal with Moshe Feiglin to get him to drop out, calling the Zehut leader and far-right winger a “ a lawbreaker, who has now been given legitimacy after Netanyahu said he saw Feiglin as part of the next government.”
  • “This move should send a signal to the younger lawbreakers – those who are busy with seditious activity, those who threaten violence, those who incite to violence, and those who employ violence – that anything goes,” he warns. “If they just wait a few years and gather a few thousand votes, the establishment will embrace them.”
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