Israel media review

Refugees at the gates: 6 things to know for June 29

Israel fears things can get sticky on the Golan border; female tank crew members are feted, but ground forces are seen as the ‘sister nobody wants to dance with’

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

A displaced Syrian girl from the Daraa province fleeing shelling by pro-government forces carries a toddler in a makeshift camp in the province of Quneitra, southwestern Syria, near the border with the Golan Heights, on June 22, 2018. (AFP/Mohamad Abazeed)
A displaced Syrian girl from the Daraa province fleeing shelling by pro-government forces carries a toddler in a makeshift camp in the province of Quneitra, southwestern Syria, near the border with the Golan Heights, on June 22, 2018. (AFP/Mohamad Abazeed)

1. It’s a crisis that’s been simmering for several days, but it took until Thursday night for Israel to take full notice of the potential humanitarian disaster developing along its frontier with Syria in the Golan Heights.

  • Overnight, the military transferred aid to Syrians fleeing the regime’s Russian-backed offensive on Daraa massing near the border (technically a ceasefire line) as part of what they are calling a Good Neighbor operation.
  • The aid comes as Israel has upped its level of alert on the Golan, fearing not a direct confrontation with Syria but rather spillover effects from the assault on Daraa, Haaretz reports.
  • “At this stage, the IDF sees no need to significantly increase its forces in the Golan. But both the army and the government will conduct frequent situation assessments of developments in Syria,” the paper notes.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth notes, though, that the army believes the offensive on Daraa is a prelude to a larger operations, with the refugees heading for the Golan now “just the tip of the iceberg.”
  • A Syrian news site reports that five children died from scorpion bites after fleeing the Daraa area toward Jordan, which is currently refusing to allow in refugees, compounding the potential crisis.

2. Nativist Israel Hayom reports that the government does fear masses of Syrians will try to rush the border and seek refuge in Israel, which has never allowed in Syrian refugees except for medical aid.

  • A senior official tells the paper: “The utmost interest of the State of Israel continues to be not to stick its head into the quagmire of the Syrian civil war, thus Israel will not intervene in the war even if [Bashar] Assad acts to take over the areas on the border with Israel.”
  • According to Yedioth, though, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told his Russian counterpart in May that Israel would intervene if Assad tries to break the ceasefire understanding of 1974, which set up a no-man’s land between Israel and Syria.

3. The success of a pilot program putting women in tanks is celebrated in the press, after four women complete the IDF Armored Corps training, upending the traditional belief that an all-female tank crew could handle the physical rigors of managing the machine.

  • “The four fighters made history,” reads Israel Hayom.
  • “Four girls, one corps and a whole army can put up a V for victory sign on the mission that started over a year ago and ended yesterday on the Armored Corps parade grounds at Latrun,” writes columnist Ariella Ringel Hoffman in Yedioth.
  • As The Times of Israel notes: The pilot program has faced considerable criticism since it was announced in November 2016, with former commanders of the IDF’s Armored Corps railing against the plan and calling it a conspiracy by left-wing “freaks” to weaken the military.
  • Despite the women graduating the course, some remain unconvinced. Thee nationalist Israel National News website quotes a rabbi who heads a pre-army academic program saying that, “I have no doubt that in the moment of truth in war, a tank crew of girls will be able to survive on their own.”

4. The men aren’t doing so hot either, according to Haaretz’s Amos Harel, who reports on an ombudsman report that finds serious flaws in the army’s readiness for a war in Gaza.

  • Harel says he spoke to several former commanders who feel the same way as Yitzhak Brik, who authored the report, particularly regarding how much the military has invested in its ground forces.
  • “For several decades, the ground forces have been the unwanted sister in the family, compared to the air force, intelligence and technology divisions,” he writes.
  • “Nobody wants to dance with her at the ball,” he quotes one former officer saying.

5. Prince William is gone, which allows the press to look back on the historic trip and what Israel got out of it, namely some good ol’ legitimacy.

  • “The joy BDS activists felt after the Argentinian soccer team canceled its planned friendly match in Jerusalem would have quickly evaporated this week as they saw the prince shaking hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a street named after Arthur Balfour, the former UK foreign secretary who paved the way for modern Israel’s creation,” writes The Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren.
  • That joy was somewhat tempered by London continually reminding Israel that it views East Jerusalem as “occupied Palestinian territory.”
  • In Yedioth, columnist Nahum Barnea tells a story from an Israeli official who accompanied an unnamed British minister on a visit here. During the visit, they got permission to drive from Tiberias to Jerusalem the fast way, meaning through the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. The only condition was that the minister could not get out of the car.
  • “Along the way, they got stuck behind a convoy of soldiers. The minister wanted to get out and speak with them. The envoy said no way. The minister insisted. ‘You can tell them I got out to take a piss,’ he said and got out.”

6. A different side of the West Bank comes out in an article by The Times of Israel’s Jacob Magid looking at revelations into a 188-page court document detailing Shin Bet interrogation methods against two Jewish terror suspects from the Duma firebombing case.

  • Despite officials insisting no torture was going on and no suicide attempts, the papers paint a very different picture, he writes.
  • “They’re beating me, bending my back, laughing at me, looking at me with contempt. What the hell am I supposed to do? How can I protect myself? I’m screaming like a retard, crying like a baby as they laugh, ‘Murderer, murderer!’” he quotes one suspect, an unnamed minor, telling a judge in a hearing. “I told them to kill me rather than do this to me. Give me poison. I’m begging you, Your Honor, I cannot do this anymore.”
  • The papers also reveal that the suspects were sexually harassed and that the Shin Bet went as far as staging an elaborate prison fight in which the teen’s cellmate pretended to stab an Arab prisoner. The cellmate then demanded the suspect, who had seen him “smuggle” in the knife, give him information so they would each have something on each other. The gambit failed.
  • What is extraordinary for Jewish prisoners is all too common for Palestinian suspects, says Khalil Zaher, an attorney for the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI).
  • “We often see similar cases in testimonies we collect from Palestinians interrogated by the Shin Bet,” Zaher says. “A religious suspect will often hear sexual innuendos and threats made against him and his family members.”

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