Rain of terror: 9 things to know for January 9
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Israel media review

Rain of terror: 9 things to know for January 9

A wet winter storm is the latest national plight, leading to hand-wringing over the lack of response and praise for a hero killed after jumping right in to save others

A military truck evacuates residents through a flooded road in the northern city of Nahariya, on a stormy winter day, on January 8, 2020. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)
A military truck evacuates residents through a flooded road in the northern city of Nahariya, on a stormy winter day, on January 8, 2020. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

1. Trouble with torrents: A wet winter storm is dumping buckets of rain on parts of the country, wreaking deadly havoc on deluged cities.

  • Pictures of flooding dominate the media landscape, portraying an Israel that looks more like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina than anything the Jewish state has experienced on this wide a scale.
  • Photos and videos show cars trying to ford flooded roads, people being carried on the backs of others or getting rides in the shovel of a front loader.
  • “The deluge and the catastrophe,” reads a headline in Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • “There’s massive damage to homes and cars,” Channel 13 reports from the Beer Tuvia area of the northern Negev, “and the police are trying to block roads so people don’t get injured.”

2. A river runs over it: The rains are striking the center and south of the country today, but on Wednesday, it was Nahariya and Haifa that got the brunt of the storm, with news channels offering almost nonstop coverage of heavy flooding — by Israeli standards — especially in Nahariya.

  • Pictures in newspapers and other media outlets show cars smashed in and other damage to the city as the waters receded. According to locals, the flooding occurred as rains caused the Ga’aton River to overflow.
  • “From overhead Nahariya looked like Venice,” writes Yedioth. “But there were no gondolas and no pastoral view. Instead there were dozens of cars left on the sides on the main road going through town, sidewalks were empty of people, there was widespread ruin and as night fell and waters were drained, a layer of mud was left on top of everything.”
  • Israel Hayom dubs Nahariya the “land of rivers” — nahar means “river.”
  • Several headlines call the city “under siege” with residents being told on Thursday to stay off streets again as rains continue.
  • “This is what Nahariya looks like now,” tweets Army Radio’s Doron Kadosh. “Wonder if the third caretaker government has the budget to repair the city that’s been turned into a ruin.”

3. The hero who jumped right in: Moti Ben Shabbat, who died while pulling a family out of a car that got caught in a flooded street in Nahariya, is widely feted as a hero.

  • In Walla, a kashrut supervisor who was the last person to see him alive says that Ben Shabbat “was always giving of himself.”
  • He compares him to the biblical figure Nahshon son of Aminadav, who was the first to enter the Red Sea before it split. “He was always the first to jump in.”
  • “He just jumped right in the water,” friend Raviv Cohen, who happened to be at the scene picking up his child from daycare, tells Channel 12 news. “I was shocked by his courage.”
  • The channel also broadcasts a video of a man showing a clip on his cellphone in which he says Ben Shabbat can be seen in the background helping elderly people out of a flooded car.
  • Ben Shabbat’s partner, Haya Weizman, tells Army Radio that “he [saved] whole worlds, but the world could not save him from these evil waters, which are called blessed rains but for me will always be accursed.”

4. When it rains, it pours: Ben Shabbat was the seventh weather-related fatality of the winter, leading to many questions about why Israel can’t protect its cities and citizens from rainstorms.

  • Some see the problem as a new challenge thanks to climate change, which cities are unable to keep up with.
  • “What’s causing the flooding inside cities is the strength of the downpours which fall in a short period and overwhelm the various infrastructures which have trouble dealing with those amounts of precipitation,” notes Channel 12.
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial says that massive downpours that used to happen once every 50 years are becoming the norm: “According to all forecasts and models, the situation is only going to get worse. Given this, we need a change of approach. Just as in the past it was thought that the solution to traffic jams was to build more roads while now we understand that the solution must also include functioning public transportation, we must realize that merely widening drainage pipes won’t solve the problem.”
  • That point is driven home by a picture published by Yedioth showing sandbags piled up next to a building in south Tel Aviv where two people were killed in a flood on Saturday. According to the paper, a new drainage plan for the area was drawn up but not implemented.

5. Drain the swamp: Others see the problem as one of a lack of leadership. Army Radio asks how it is that Israel is a “power” and a “cyber empire,” at least until the rain starts.

  • The mayor of Nahariya is quoted in Israel Hayom placing the blame on the fact that the government has yet to enact a plan, already drawn up, to deal with regular flooding of the Ga’aton river, which fills with water coming down to the coast from the western Galilee mountains.
  • “The stream can’t handle the flow unless the government deals with the problem on the mountainside,” he’s quoted saying.
  • Religious affairs minister Yitzhak Vaknin, a Nahariya native, tells Walla that the problem with the Ga’aton should have been solved long ago: “True they say that it’s the volume of water, but the issue with the Ga’aton jumping the banks has come up not for the first, second or third time, and they need to invest money and deal with the problem.”
  • Luckily, the government is on the case, or at least having a joke. Kan reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the national emergency response center and asked officials what they need that they are missing. After the respond that they don’t have enough vehicles to get out to trouble spots, Netanyahu replaces that they will soon have “People-drones” presumably meaning hoverboards or something like that. But as anyone who has seen “Back to the Future II” knows, hoverboards don’t work on water (unless you’ve got power).

6. This ain’t exactly the Mississippi: While the rains are bad, the flooding is real and there are tragic weather-related deaths, there is also a sense of the coverage being a little sensationalist.

  • A video of a worker being carried out of a bakery in Gan Yavne also makes the rounds as a “rescue.” What’s less than clear is why the worker needs to be carried out awkwardly by firefighters in knee-deep water, other than to keep his clothes dry.
  • Another video shows a Kan reporter across the street from a group of people “stuck” on a sidewalk. Eventually the reporter takes the plunge, and strolls easily across the street with his cameraman to interview the people, who are actually just waiting for the bus, or maybe an army truck to give them a ride home.
  • Another video shows workers in a flooded store using squeegees on water up to their calves, in an almost comical attempt to keep the water out.

7. The Quds are all right: The other big story in the news continues to be Iran. On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump basically said he was ready for things to calm down, declaring that Iran “appears to be standing down,” after the killing of general Qassem Soleimani.

  • The Islamic Republic has continued to put out threats and claims of more to come though, as well as calling an ineffective rocket attack on Iraqi bases housing US troops a victory.
  • Despite the bombast, some see the fairly low intensity attack as a sign that the Iranians indeed intend to move on. In Israel Hayom, columnist Avraham Ben Tzvi writes that Iran’s response “indicates self-restraint, rather than a desire for a no-holds-barred conflict.”
  • “It appears that despite the heated rhetoric, Iran’s leadership has chosen to mitigate the risk levels and … to send a message that the regime doesn’t want to jump into the abyss for the time being,” he writes.

8. A drone up its sleeve: Some, though, believe that Iran may not be done with its revenge campaign.

  • “It is premature to conclude that the assassination, and Iran’s lax response, are tantamount to defeat, showing Iran’s vulnerability to an attack aimed at its nuclear sites. It’s far too early to eulogize the Iranians, who could still cause major regional damage if they so desire,” writes Amos Harel in Haaretz.
  • In the New York Times, Ronen Bergman and David Kirkpatrick write that Iran has more potent weapons than just missiles.
  • “Tehran and its allies may still be plotting less overt forms of revenge for the American killing last week of the Iranian military commander Qassim Suleimani. Many analysts contend that Iran and its militant allies are reverting to their pattern of covert or indirect attacks that leave no clear evidence of Iranian responsibility,” they write.
  • “Their offensive capability is drastically greater than the defensive capability that is arrayed against them. Their ability to inflict significant damage makes the cost of war with Iran quite severe,” London-based analyst Jack Watling is quoted telling them.

9. Make mine proxy: In Yedioth, Shimrit Meir writes that Iran may have gotten in its licks, but there’s still the small matter of the proxies.

  • “All the sides, including the Arabs, are interested in calm, but there are still two open sores: revenge by the Shiite militias for the assassination of their commander alongside Soleimani, and the long-term revenge which Iran and Hezbollah have defined as the removal of American troops from the Middle East, starting with Iraq.
  • However, Channel 12’s Ehud Yaari claims that the militias, including both Hezbollahs, are actually standing down: “Iran has ordered the commanders of the Shiite militias in Iraq to not go through with their threats of carrying out a series of attacks against the 5,000 American troops in the country.”
  • He adds that Iraq’s Kataeb Hezbollah is calling for “de-escalation,” and Lebanese Hezbollah is not about to go to war over this.
  • “[Hassan Nasrallah] has no intention of exposing Lebanon to attack, and he’s already proved he knows how to say no to Tehran.”
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