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Hebrew media review

Relationships of doom

Lebanon’s split with Iran and Hezbollah has pundits worried about war, but commentators also bemoan attempts to get the right and left together at the Rabin rally

In this photo taken on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, arrives for a mass funeral of ten Lebanese soldiers at the Lebanese Defense Ministry, in Yarzeh near Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
In this photo taken on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, arrives for a mass funeral of ten Lebanese soldiers at the Lebanese Defense Ministry, in Yarzeh near Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

After days during which Israel’s northern and southern border areas competed for which could be more tense, the north won out over the weekend, but not in a way anyone expected. A political crisis in Lebanon, with the prime minister quitting and accusing Iran and Hezbollah of wreaking havoc on his country and the region, along with Golan Druze protesting over the situation of their brethren across the border, have the full attention of the Israeli press Sunday morning.

Not surprisingly, much of the coverage of both events is pegged to how it will play out for Israel, and what it says about Iran’s grip on the region. But mostly the pundits just like handicapping what they mean for the prospects of war.

“For Israel, Hariri’s resignation merely increases the instability on the northern front and intensifies the danger of Hezbollah making rash moves if it becomes embroiled in a political crisis in Lebanon,” Amos Harel writes in a news analysis leading Haaretz’s front page.

But in the same paper, Zvi Bar’el says it’s a bit early to start heading for the bomb shelters.

“Hezbollah and Iran understand the threat posed by Hariri’s resignation quite well, and Iran’s response – that ‘the resignation was a plot by Saudi Arabia and the United States’ – reveals its fear of losing control of Lebanon, which until has now been run more or less to Tehran’s satisfaction. Still, it’s premature to envision disaster scenarios under which Hezbollah would exploit the resignation to attack Israel in order to demonstrate its continued control over the political arena,” he writes.

In Yedioth Ahronoth, Yossi Yehoshua says Hariri’s speech lashing out at Iran and Hezbollah could have been written by Israel, penning a column under the headline “He took the words right out of our mouth.” But as much as sabers may have been rattled, he also does not see war on the horizon, connecting the Lebanese political kerfuffle to the Druze protests on the northern frontier.

“In the interwoven web of interests, none of the actors in the region have any interest right now in war, though that does not mean war will not break out. Hezbollah needs quiet to deal with rehabilitating its forces returning to Lebanon from Syria, and it will be busy dealing with the internal political fallout in Lebanon,” he writes. “The Iranians don’t want to activate Hezbollah at this time, but rather to hold them in reserve for their original purpose, for emergency use against Israel in the event of an attack on their nuclear sites. Israel as well has no interest in starting a war, but the developments on the ground demand legitimate military operations, including those which may lead to war. So they need to manage these operations with the necessary caution and be ready for war, even if it’s not in the plans.”

It’s particularly in the case of the Druze village of Hader, under attack by jihadists, where Israel finds itself with no good move, given the large protests taking place by Druze on its side of the border and Israel’s commitment to protect them, writes Dror Eydar in Israel Hayom.

Druze men in the Israeli Golan Heights congregate near the Syrian border, waving their community’s flag, after they heard about a suicide bombing in the Syrian Druze village of Hadar, on November 3, 2017. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

“Israel’s alliance with the Druze is clear and unequivocal, but Hader is a hostile village, sworn to President [Bashar] Assad, and has already sent some of its own to act on behalf of Hezbollah to carry out attacks against Israel. So Israel’s support for Hader is not just support for the Druze, but is also aid to Assad in Syria’s internal fighting. Keeping help from Hader isn’t just an affront to the life of Israel’s Druze, some of whom have relatives in the village, but also helps the rebels, in this case al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the Golan; nobody in Israel has any illusions about what will happen if Hader is captured and the group will be a meter from Majdal-Shams,” he writes. “Anyone who wants to drag Israel into the Syria’s civil war — or even ‘just’ test its alliance with the Druze in Israel — needs only to attack Hader. This is bad news for Israel’s Syria strategy, since it takes control over what happens out of Israel’s hands and puts it into the hands of irresponsible parties in the Golan Heights.”

United we fall, divided we stand

The papers also look at Saturday night’s rally in Rabin Square in memory of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Traditionally a political event during which the left takes up the bullhorn against the forces that are the descendants of those that brought about the assassination, this year the theme was unity, with right-wingers sharing the stage, and Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth both target the milquetoast result.

In Haaretz, Gideon Levy’s account of the rally is headlined “They didn’t bother with trifles like peace and occupation,” and he pens what amounts to another obituary for what he sees as a feckless peace camp and Israeli left-wing.

Israelis attend a rally marking 22 years since the assassination of prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on November 4, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“A political movement that never raised a finger against the settlements, and which in fact is their founding father, woke up for a moment and fought valiantly against a settler’s speech,” he writes. “A rally that was never important or influential, that was merely the last toehold of a movement that has long been destroyed, has become a national event. The movement’s remnants cling by their fingertips to the rally as if it were an ancient religious ritual of memory and purification. They know why. Aside from the rally, not much remains. There’s just that big annual event, a sign that the peace camp is alive and well, battling for its principles and fighting over the country’s character. Death throes. Just as Rabin the man was far from Rabin the myth, the camp that is fighting over the podium in Rabin Square is far from its own self-image. It’s high time to stop lying.”

In Yedioth, Nahum Barnea slaps a “protest lite” label on the rally, bemoaning the lack of rage and tears that were emblematic of the first rallies in the years immediately following the murder and writing that unity is not the point.

“One people, or two or four, the question that stands behind the murder isn’t how many nations live here, but what are the rules of the game for political confrontations, who is the state authority and who is the sovereign. If there comes another point where the completeness of the land of Israel runs into a confrontation with the completeness of the regime, what happened the night of Rabin’s murder will happen again. There are enough people for whom the greater land of Israel is more important and their political influence has only gained since the killing.”

As if to prove his point, Israel Hayom, the most read paper in the country, seen as closely linked to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, runs a full page ad for a memorial service for a man who was the polar opposite of Rabin, right-wing terror leader Meir Kahane.

That same paper is the most supportive of the Rabin rally where right-wingers were given space and where political fury gave way to hugging it out.

And as if to prove Levy’s point about the flaccidity of the Rabin’s political heirs, the tabloid features a large column by none other than Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay.

Gabbay spends the lion’s share of his ink on a hagiography of Rabin and finishes things off by saying that the slain leader’s legacy is not political battles but rather national unity.

“As someone who entered the same post Rabin held as Labor leader three months ago, and as someone who sees Rabin as a model for leadership, I feel that one of the most important tasks for me and my colleagues is to repair the tears in Israeli society, to go back to talking about the shared kernel we have here and to return to the public the feeling that there’s someone taking responsibility, for good and for bad,” he writes. “Only if we do all that can we go back to making big decisions, creating the reality we live in here, staying secure without compromise and pursuing peace. That, to me, is the best way to honor Rabin’s legacy and to complete the massive work he undertook for Israel and was unable to complete.”

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