1. Rockets and repercussions: Gaza is once again in the spotlight of the media conversation, thanks to a growing pitter-patter of rocket fire on the south in recent days.
- After several nights of bombing stuff and dusting off its hands, Israel on Saturday night went a step further and said it would be suspending cement imports into the Strip — apparently only the second time it’s done so since 2014.
- Ynet reports that in response to the bombings and restrictions, Hamas issued a statement saying the measures will “only increase our resolve to continue our legitimate struggle against Israel, and will not stop measures by the Palestinian people to push for our freedom by expelling the occupiers.”
- Despite the threat, Kan reports, Israeli defense officials think Hamas will keep a lid on violence and keep tensions from snowballing. At the same time, though, they are ready for “an escalation during the election.”
2. Calm is for suckers: In Walla, Amir Buhbut writes that Hamas official Yahya Sinwar can “read Israel like an open book,” and knows it is just as committed to not going to war, giving him room to put pressure on Israel.
- Buhbut surmises that Hamas is also motivated by the fact that the US peace plan has turned much of the Arab world against dealing with Israel, so it certainly does not want to be seen as trying to reach a deal behind the scenes: “It’s quite afraid of being portrayed as in league with Israel especially now. So now the times of tension have led the Hamas leadership to take off the bridle and allow popular terror and rocket fire.”
- Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes, “The impression is that contrary to predictions, Hamas is less committed to quiet. Maybe it isn’t ready for it. In any case, it’s clear that Hamas is preserving room to maneuver, using limited violence.”
- “This is a dangerous gamble for the organization; sooner or later Israel might feel obligated to respond more harshly. It can’t be ruled out that Israel’s attacks could become more aggressive in the near future,” he adds.
3. Red alert: Yedioth Ahronoth, going for the human interest element, interviews the Sderot mom who was hurt along with her newborn baby while running for shelter Thursday night, which she notes was “baby’s first siren.”
- “Our house is two stories and the shelter is on the lower floor, so you need to run down. I took the baby … and right as I hit the bottom stair I slipped, but with a mother’s instinct managed to turn around so I fell on my back. We both took bumps on the head,” says the mom, who declined to be named.
- Despite her efforts — and she blames herself, she says — the baby got a cracked skull, but the paper reports she is recovering.
- And as is tradition, the mom gives her political views, saying she’s given up on the system, and has long ago stopped voting for Netanyahu. “I don’t even know if I’m going to vote. The Trump plan makes me laugh. It’ll never work. All this happening in the south will never stop.”
- Channel 13 reports that despite the tensions, some 20,000 Israelis headed to the northern Negev over the weekend to check out the height of anemone season, which covers the land in a carpet of red flowers.
- The tourists are nice, but for the army it presents a particular challenge as all those open areas where rockets sometimes land are now filled with people taking pictures for Insta, and the siren system, which is designed to only go off when a rocket is actually headed for a populated area (to avoid unnecessary cases like the one above) needed to be rejiggered, the channel reports.
- “After the rocket fire, the army dispatched soldiers to open areas with ‘red alert’ siren systems,” the channel reports.
- Life ain’t exactly a bed of roses for those in Gaza either, explains Mohammed Al Taluli, a young journalist who recently escaped the Strip and joined the sea of refugees heading for Europe.
- “Mohammed says he was aware of the dangers taking a boat might have entailed but preferred risking his life, as the possibility of going back to Gaza scared him more than the waters of the Aegean,” Russian mouthpiece Sputnik reports.
4. From Russia with second thoughts: In Israel Hayom, Yoav Limor writes that Israelis near the Gaza border are “hostage” to the political deadlock.
- He also devotes a good chunk of his column to blaming the media and public for spending so much time obsessing over freed backpacker Naama Issachar, which is pretty rich considering his paper is a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, who seemingly pumped every ounce out of that affair for electoral points.
- “The leadership and media spent much more time on the fate of one girl who broke the law than on the fates of tens of thousands of citizens who are victims of a situation that can be solved,” he writes.
- He’s not alone comparing the two and seemingly waking up from the Issachar-induced spell the country had been under. Speaking to Channel 12 news, Leah Goldin, whose son Hadar’s remains are being held by Hamas in Gaza, asks “How can he [justify] mov[ing] heaven and earth for Naama [Issachar] – a criminal who received a pardon – while doing nothing to return the soldiers.”
- The channel’s Rina Matzliah also uses poor Naama as a cudgel to make her point about politicians who refuse to make any actual progress on important things and instead just play games to build the biggest tent possible: “They are staying silent because the matter at hand is a core issue, an essential issue. Why get tangled up in that when you can just take another selfie with Naama?”
- Channel 13’s Barak Ravid notes another problem with the high profile Issachar case: “This may turn out to send a problematic message to other countries, who will understand they can squeeze Israel and gain the attention of its leadership by kidnapping a citizen.”
5. Rejectionism for the win: Al Monitor reports that Netanyahu was insistent he would have visited Russia to talk over the US peace plan with Vladimir Putin regardless of Issachar.
- After the talks, a source told the outlet’s Marianna Belenkaya that Russia would wait to hear what Arab League had to say before passing likely negative judgment on the plan.
- “For all the restrained remarks, Netanyahu’s visit comes at the right time for Moscow. The Russian president has got a chance to display his recent penchant for serving as a peacemaker and broker, notably on the Arab-Israeli track, which Moscow dismissed long ago as hopeless. Putin now has the chance to make some gains rather than follow Trump’s lead,” she writes.
- The plan might also work in the Palestinians’ favor, writes ToI’s David Horovitz, surmising that it will further entangle Israelis and Palestinians, creating a one state reality in which Israel will eventually lose the demographic battle: “Abbas’s late and unlamented predecessor Yasser Arafat never recognized an imperative to come to terms with Israel and legitimize it as a Jewish state because he was confident that the Palestinians would prevail over Israel by sheer weight of numbers. Wait long enough, and don’t compromise on territorial demands, he determined, and eventually the Jews will constitute a minority between the river and sea.”
6. Mask of the red death: The Chinese coronavirus has yet to hit Israel, but the worldwide scare accompanying it sure has.
- On Saturday Israel refused to let a group of Chinese tourists in, and said no non-Israeli who has been to China recently can visit either. Netanyahu followed that up with a cheerful speech about the fact that Israel can’t stop the virus from coming.
- It could try a little harder, though. Yedioth runs a first-person account from its China correspondent who flew back to Israel on Friday, and despite fears of being quarantined, was barely even glanced at the passport desk.
- “Don’t you want to ask where I’ve been, how I’m feeling” he says he asked the customs agent. “Buddy, it’s gonna be Shabbat soon,” someone else in the line yelled to him and the agent told him to scram without even looking up.
- Others are not so careless. When he calls his sister for a ride (he figured he would be taken to the hospital so didn’t arrange transportation) she refuses, but promises to leave food for him outside her door. “And my boss left me a message warning me about coming within three kilometers of the office.”
- News of the first death outside of China leads several news sites Sunday morning, amid a general sense of dread.
So I guess I'm going to reread World War Z to prepare
— Judah Ari Gross (@JudahAriGross) January 30, 2020
- But Israel Hayom’s correspondent, who is still hanging out in Beijing, seems to be on the side of the customs agent.
- “The coronavirus has caused a huge panic, and may be a bit overblown. Take for example Beijing, a city of 22 million, with a few million left around the holidays, of whom 168 have been infected so far,” he writes. “This is almost zero percent of the city’s population, which goes to show that the situation is more or less under control.”