1. One episode of the investigative TV program “Uvda” has produced two major bombshells: 1) An interview with former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, in which he says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the army and the Mossad to get ready for a possible strike on Iran; and 2) The claim that Netanyahu asked the Shin Bet to wiretap the spy chief and the head of the army.
- According to Uvda and Pardo, both requests, dating to 2011, were met with wide resistance and never actually happened.
- In Israel’s domestic press, the wiretap revelations, which were reportedly part of a crackdown on information leaks, are bigger news, getting front-page coverage in two of the three major dailies.
- Yedioth Ahronoth calls the request “unprecedented” and quotes sources close to then-Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen saying he “sees safeguarding information as important, but explains that ‘the Shin Bet is not supposed to use these extreme methods against people at the heads of the army and the Mossad.’
- Haaretz notes that despite the revelation, Pardo described his working relationship with Netanyahu as positive. “I had no problem having incisive conversations with him,” he’s quoted saying, though he was also harshly critical once he heard the revelation.
- The Prime Minister’s Office denied the report, but as The Times of Israel’s Judah Ari Gross notes, the denial appeared to acknowledge that at least some aspects of it were true.
- “It is a total distortion of the systemic efforts that are made occasionally in order to protect sensitive information of the utmost importance to the security of Israel,” part of the statement reads.
2. The international press, though, is much more interested in Pardo’s revelation that Netanyahu wanted to get a strike force ready, before Pardo objected that he did not have the authority to give such an order, which would mean war. Coverage extends from the Western press all the way to Iran.
- Iran’s state-run Press TV runs a fairly straightforward report on the revelation, tying it to Netanyahu’s more recent drive to pass a law that would give him the authority to declare war. But then it also adds: “The regime in Israel, which has a long history of waging wars and occupying sovereign states, has been trying to portray Iran, which has not attacked any nation for hundreds of years, as a threat to world peace.”
- Israel Hayom, seen as close to Netanyahu, also reports on the Iran revelations, but highlights opposition not to the prime minister, but to Pardo for daring to question the premier’s order.
- “If intelligence officials or army people started questioning orders [to attack], I think it would do major damage to Israel’s deterrent,” the paper quotes Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan saying (echoing the reasoning behind the law Netanyahu had been trying to push).
- The paper’s columnist Amnon Lord goes a step further, attacking Uvda and host Ilana Dayan, as well as Pardo, for joining in their witch hunt of the prime minister: “Ilana Dayan has turned Uvda into her life’s work dedicated to character assassination of the Netanyahu family… the show has become a forum not only for airing past grievances against the dangerous Netanyahu, but has also created a tsunami of delegitimization against the government and its leader.”
3. It’s a two-way street, as proved by past comments from the Netanyahus against Dayan. On Thursday, though, the Netanyahus’ ire was turned against Haaretz for a report claiming that the PM’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, had lunged at outgoing senior aide Eli Groner during an argument.
- Citing unnamed sources inside the PMO, Haaretz claimed that Sara Netanyahu become violently angry during a dispute over the funding of renovations at the prime minister’s private residence in Caesarea, and lunged at Groner, forcing him to push her off.
- The Netanyahus shot back with a low-quality video clip, classily filmed while making a shiva call to the family of a soldier killed recently, in which Sara attacks “the delirium of lies that have been going on for over 20 years.”
- Yedioth’s Nevo Ziv writes that he finds it hard to believe they didn’t record the video in front of a mourning notice for the soldier on purpose as a way to cynically piggyback on sympathy for the army.
- “Sure, the photographer didn’t notice, the digital media team didn’t notice, the spokespeople who sent out the video to newsrooms didn’t notice — not one person from the staff of people surrounding the prime minister noticed the problematic background that mixes in a fallen soldier with a political campaign,” he writes.
4. With several days of calm on the Gaza border in the books, some reports look at how close it got to turning out much worse, or not at all.
- In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that Israel’s decision to shell an Islamic Jihad post — which killed three people and set off the day of hostilities — in response to an explosive found on the fence, did not go according to protocol. The decision, he writes, “was made at a local, tactical, operational level, and apparently without the explicit approval of all the responsible echelons.”
- At the same time, had the mortar shell that landed next to a kindergarten been launched an hour later, when kids were there, “the localized decision to fire a few tank shells could ultimately have brought Israel and the Palestinians into a genuine war.”
- The paper also quotes a senior defense official saying that Israel is closer to war with Gaza than at any other time since 2014, but it’s because of the humanitarian situation — meaning Israel can also reach a long-term understanding with a desperate Hamas — to avoid war. “Hamas is ready to talk about everything to save itself,” the officer says.
- Yedioth’s Sima Kadmon writes that the flare-up could also have become a lot worse if not for Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman suddenly being able to restrain himself.
- “It’s not an accident” that Israel didn’t kill any Gazans in the counterattacks, she writes. “If Israel had so desired, Gaza would be bleeding. But the man who promised that Ismail Haniyeh would be assassinated if he didn’t return the bodies of soldiers in 48 hours, who during the 2014 war wanted to take down Hamas — that man is defense minister. And as Ariel Sharon said once, when he was asked about finding restraint against terror: The things you see from here, you don’t see from there. And Liberman is here.”
5. Israel Hayom, citing reports out of the Gulf and the Syrian opposition, reports that tensions between Moscow and Tehran are at an all-time high, with Iranian troops retreating from near the Golan and Russia demanding they leave the country altogether.
- “The Iranians have suspected for months that Russia wants to be the only major player in the Syrian arena, without backup or a second in command. As long as the Syrian regime was in trouble of falling to the rebels, the Russians were happy to enjoy the support of the Shiite militias, the Iranians and Hezbollah on the battlefield, but now the time has come for them to leave,” columnist Oded Granot writes in the paper.
6. An interview that US Ambassador David Friedman gave to The Times of Israel‘s Raphael Ahren and David Horovitz, in which he said Republicans support Israel more than Democrats, is raising a ruckus for its blatant politicization.
- J Street has released a statement calling on senators to investigate Friedman since he has “clearly broken his promises to senators to behave diplomatically and prudently in his new post and to put aside his own personal agenda.”
- Jewish Democrats are also crying foul: “It is truly unprecedented for a sitting US ambassador to Israel to engage in explicitly partisan rhetoric and behavior. Ambassador Friedman must remember that he is not the head of the Republican National Committee or the Republican Jewish Coalition political organization,” said former congressman Ron Klein (D-FL), who chairs the Jewish Democratic Council of America.
- Far from backing down, the White House seems to be backing Friedman even more, with the Associated Press reporting that the US may give him control over the consulate that deals with Palestinian affairs.
- “Any move to downgrade the autonomy of the US Consulate General in Jerusalem — responsible for relations with the Palestinians — could have potent symbolic resonance, suggesting American recognition of Israeli control over East Jerusalem and the West Bank. And while the change might be technical and bureaucratic, it could have potentially significant policy implications,” the AP reports.
7. In Haaretz, TV critic and controversial left-wing bugbear Rogel Alpher responds to his arch-nemesis Roseanne Barr getting her comeuppance, over a year after she called him a “privileged fat skinhead” on Twitter.
- One might think the skinhead barb would be most offensive, but Alpher seems mostly bothered by the slur about his weight, accusing the TV star of fat-shaming him.
- “I didn’t stand a chance against you on your home court, Twitter. You and your followers didn’t even care that my weight is unrelated to my arguments regarding the rise of Jewish fascism in Israel. Or that fat-shaming is an ugly act, since it expresses blatant discrimination against a person because of a physical trait — just like your repulsive racism toward Valerie Jarrett,” he writes. “Neither you nor your followers cared that, instead of confronting me in a professional manner, you pathetically avoided addressing the topic of my tweet, seeking only to humiliate me… In a single moment, I lost all my professional respect for you. When I expressed doubt as to whether you were the real Roseanne, you made it clear that you were ‘as th heart attack ur fat ass is due anytime now.’”