The Middle East may be awash with turmoil, but, judging from the papers, over here the question that’s foremost in everyone’s mind is, “What’s next for the IDF?” The Friday editions of the major dailies offer some answers, broken down into three categories: money, manpower, and misguided.
On the financial front, papers are still reacting to the recently announced restructuring of the IDF to comply with budget cuts. Israel Hayom gives the weight of its reporting to the defense minister, who also happens to be a former IDF chief. Moshe Ya’alon was very supportive of the changes, saying, “In a few years, you’ll see a different army.” By far the most quoted line from Ya’alon across all the papers was one of the reasons he gave for backing the cuts: “A situation like the Yom Kippur War has become less and less relevant.”
The front page of Haaretz features Amos Harel, the paper’s military correspondent, who writes in support of the changes. He, like Ya’alon, sees less of a chance of a conventional army attacking Israel anytime in the near future — not Syria and certainly not Egypt (“the peace treaty is holding firm,” he writes). Despite headlines about the cuts, Harel points out that it is important to understand what’s being kept, and notes that IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz is bolstering the IDF’s strong points: the “air force, military intelligence, firing capabilities, and cyber warfare.”
Yedioth Ahronoth focuses less on the money and more on the manpower issues facing the IDF (specifically the ultra-Orthodox in the army). The paper’s front page shows the blurred picture of an ultra-Orthodox soldier who was attacked in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood. The event marked the second times in a week that an ultra-Orthodox soldier was attacked in the capital. “It was degrading,” said the soldier, who was pelted with bottles but was able to escape unharmed.
Next to the article about the attack, Yedioth reports that Ya’alon may cancel draft notices for yeshiva students who were set to enlist this August. The reason for the possible cancellation is that the draft equality bill, which was approved by the Peri Committee, has yet to be signed into law. While the paper hints that Ya’alon is going to cancel the orders, a message from the Defense Ministry states that no decision has been made.
Maariv bucks Friday’s trend of putting the IDF on the front page, instead giving a full page to videos filmed in Hebron of soldiers detaining a 5-year-old. In its first sentence, Maariv admits the obvious: “With pictures like these, no army is going to look good.” The photos the paper refers to show the boy, terrified and crying, being put into an army jeep. The IDF said that the child was throwing rocks at an Israeli vehicle. The human rights group B’Tselem, which released the footage, emphasized “that the age of criminal responsibility is 12 and therefore the security forces cannot stop or hinder children under that age even when they are suspected.” The IDF said it was looking into the incident.
X-Man 2: Israel Hayom vs. Yedioth
The pro-establishment Israel Hayom is still seething over Yedioth’s reporting on another possible “Prisoner X” earlier in the week. On Wednesday, Gonen Ginat wrote an op-ed lambasting Yedioth as a “disgrace” for revealing that the deceased Australian Mossad operative Ben Zygier wasn’t the only prisoner held anonymously in an Israeli jail for security offenses. In Friday’s paper, he again spends an entire page calling out the competition. Armed with a survey commissioned by Israel Hayom — which shows that some 52.6 percent of the public thought the story shouldn’t have been reported — Ginat takes his attack on Yedioth farther, essentially taking the paper to task for focusing on the negative: “They explain about terrible food prices, jumps in unemployment, more expensive fuel, military service is a waste, and on top of all the troubles of Prime Minister Netanyahu, the weather is hot and muggy.” Thank God for Israel Hayom, though, he says, because apparently the survey proves that Israelis love their country and are willing to let the security services do their jobs.
While Ginat didn’t go after Haaretz in his piece, he may have to do so next week, as the editorial criticized the handling of the security prisoner. “Human beings aren’t letters” is the title of the piece, in which the paper points out that the supreme secrecy used for the prisoners usually benefits the security services — not the country — and dredges up the painful memory of the previous Prisoner X’s demise. “Only after Zygier’s arrest and suicide were reported in Australia did disciplinary proceedings begin against the prison service personnel who were negligent in guarding him,” the paper writes. Haaretz argues that disappearing people is undemocratic and there must be a balance between human rights and the need to protect state secrets.
Rather than attacking other newspapers, Maariv uses its front page to reflect on the week since Morsi was overthrown in Egypt. Citing new battles between the Egyptian army and Islamic fundamentalists in the Sinai, Amnon Lord calls the peninsula “a perfect place for a civil war.” Lord cites analysis that Egypt sports a largely homogeneous population, unlike the divisions that exist in Syria, and that a civil war was unlikely. However, an influx of non-Egyptians among the Islamist militant groups in the Sinai leads Lord to believe it’s the perfect setting for a low-intensity war.