1. Bigger than Baghdadi: Ostensibly Israel had nothing to do with the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and PMF head Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, but it’s watching what’s happening in Iran/Iraq and preparing for blowback all the same.
- Like pretty much everywhere else, Soleimani’s killing has led the news agenda in Hebrew since the rumors were confirmed in the middle of the night, thanks to some bling on his severed hand.
- In Israel, the killing of Soleimani especially is seen as a massive earth shattering event.
- “There are generals more senior than him, but there’s no general in the Iranian space who has influence like he does. He did what he wanted and was quite close to [Ayatollah Ali] Khamanei,” former Mossad head Danny Yatom tells Army Radio.
- Another former Mossad man, Ram Ben Barak, tells the station it’s the biggest assassination since Israel took out Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh in 2008.
- Walla News calls the hit “the most significant military action by the US in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.”
2. In the crossfire: Prof. Eyal Zisser tells Kan that “this was a dramatic and significant strike … it’s hard to see the Iranians not responding.”
- As far as that response goes, Israel sees itself as right in the line of fire: “Anyone who wants to start popping champagne doesn’t understand that this could lead to an attack on Israel,” tweets MK Ofer Kassif, echoing some of the language used by Democrats accusing Trump of pushing the region into war.
- Israel’s kind of getting ready. On Friday morning, the army announced it was closing the Hermon ski resort and reports in several news sites indicate that the army is also upping its readiness along its northern borders.
- Channel 12 news writes that Israeli officials are in touch with American counterparts about girding for whatever response may come.
- Reflecting fears rampant in Israel, the rest of the region and the world, the channel’s New York correspondent Yuna Leibzon notes all the World War III hashtags trending. “Not worrying at all,” she writes wryly.
- Kan’s Roy Sharon claims that “Israel is a convenient and available object through which to get revenge, and Iran’s long-standing beef with Israel was open even before the assassination.”
3. No need to fret, yet: Still, many analysts, especially outside of Israel (or at least non-Israelis) see a strike on the Jewish state as fairly improbable.
- Policy wonk Ilan Goldenberg says that Hezbollah will be loath to go to war over Soleimani.
3. Hezbollah probably won’t want to start a war with Israel. More likely you see targeting of Americans and US assets in the Levant especially Lebanon. But don’t fully discount LH firing rockets into a israel.
— Ilan Goldenberg (@ilangoldenberg) January 3, 2020
- Israel-based Raf Sanchez of The Telegraph agrees that Iran is more likely to look at where it’s had success before — Saudi Arabia.
Iran has limited options in terms of retaliating directly against the US. It can continue the harassing attacks against US personnel in Iraq.
It has a lot of scope to attack Saudi Arabia as a way of indirectly punishing US. Israel is a much harder target for Iran or its proxies.
— Raf Sanchez (@rafsanchez) January 3, 2020
- Greg Carlstrom of The Economist says that Iran doesn’t want to go to war at all and all the prophesies of doom are a bit much.
Many of these "Trump just sent America to war!" takes seem overwrought, at least for now. Iran doesn't want a shooting war it would lose. The fallout from this lands on people in the region, none of whom at this point have much reason to trust in American support.
— Gregg Carlstrom (@glcarlstrom) January 3, 2020
- And no matter what, at least Israel isn’t in the condition of Iraq, where things will truly hit the fan.
From an Iraqi perspective the news tonight fills me with dread of what’s next. There’s so many questions about how this will impact Iraq and what will happen to protests and the movement for reform & justice. What we have seen before is that when US-Iran butt heads Iraq gets hurt https://t.co/n5RSAQJBIu
— Sajad Jiyad سجاد (@SajadJiyad) January 3, 2020
4. Killing in the name of: So if Trump was not trying to start a war, what was he hoping to accomplish?
- In Walla, Guy Alastair surmises that the assassination is meant to “send a message to Iran and to disrupt its attempts to put a foothold in the area.”
- Kan also calls the assassination a big step in pushing back against Iran’s attempts to get footholds around the region.
- Channel 13’s Nadav Eyal writes that the assassination is the most important strategic decision US President Donald Trump has made since coming to office. “He went at 150 KM/H from an incomprehensible compromise with Iranians to starting a process that is the closest thing to going to war.”
5. Who are you really, Qassem: Profiling the man, Haaretz says that “Despite having had only six weeks of military training, Soleimani is considered the most influential person in the Revolutionary Guards – even more so than its commander Mohammad Ali Jafari.”
- Getting inside Soleimani’s head, Channel 13’s Zvi Yehezkeli writes that he may have been worried about Israel taking him out, but didn’t think anyone could get to him in Baghdad.
- “Soleimani felt very free and comfortable in Iraq, he didn’t think the Americans would assassinate him. In general, he estimated that if someone would hurt him it would be Israel, and so he didn’t take precautions when going around the Iraqi capital,” Yehezkeli writes.
- Israel Hayom’s Netta Bar calls him “the head of the snake,” but describes him in almost laudatory terms.
- “With fundamentals, precision and not a little charisma, Soleimani, the son of a poor farmer from western Iran, managed to build a system of political alliances and win several proxy wars where he inserted his people into Middle Eastern streets,” Bar writes.
- Others are really just obsessed with Soleimani’s ring on his bloody severed hand, like Channel 12’s Mako news website, which blows it up huge on its front page to make sure everyone who makes the mistake of cruising there loses their breakfast.
6. On the immunity train: Soleimani is big news, but he’s not all the news, and Netanyahu’s legal woes are still lurking in the back of the news agenda.
- A poll published by Kan shows that the needle hasn’t moved much for or against the Likud leader, with 52 percent still against immunity, while another 28% are for it and 20 are undecided.
- In Haaretz, Yossi Verter writes that Netanyahu knew immunity was a bad option, but now that he’s there, he’s going to try and make it work, which means turning the election campaign into one where Candidate Immunity will essentially be on the ticket.
- “The 50 million shekels (about $14.5 million) that the state has allocated to the party will be invested in an attempt to brand the problematic immunity concept, which even in right-wing realms doesn’t enjoy great popularity, to put it mildly. It’s his Achilles’ heel. It will be the centerpiece of the campaign,” Verter writes.
- Meanwhile, the race is on to see if the current Knesset can push to convene a committee to discuss and reject immunity. In Israel Hayom, columnist Gideon Alon casts doubt on whether that will be possible, even if the Knesset speaker allows it to go ahead, with Netanyahu doing everything to stall for time.
- For proof he points to the fact that Netanyahu’s lawyers asked the attorney general for the full case file to bring to the panel and essentially drag it into the nitty gritty.
- “One would have to be naive to think that with only 59 days left, they’ll have enough time to reach a decision about Netanyahu,” he writes.