Root root root for whoever: 8 things to know for June 14
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Israel media review

Root root root for whoever: 8 things to know for June 14

Excitement in Israel over the World Cup is strangely high for a country with no one to cheer for, and history is turned on its head

In this May 16, 2018 file photo, a boy buys a Ramadan decoration depicting the Egyptian Liverpool soccer player Mohamed Salah in Sayyeda Zeinab market in preparation for the holy month of Ramadan, in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)
In this May 16, 2018 file photo, a boy buys a Ramadan decoration depicting the Egyptian Liverpool soccer player Mohamed Salah in Sayyeda Zeinab market in preparation for the holy month of Ramadan, in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

1. The last time the world got together for a global soccer tournament, Israel was searching for three kidnapped (and in turns out murdered) teens and rolling toward war with Gaza, which began about halfway through the World Cup. This time around, there’s little to distract the country from the tourney (especially now that the North Korean threat has been taken care of, apparently).

  • Israel isn’t sending a squad to the tournament, but as an episode earlier this month of Argentina canceling a friendly went to show, the country is still soccer obsessed enough that it doesn’t matter if the home team isn’t playing. They’ll root root root for anyone, and excitement is at a fever pitch.
  • For an idea of the level of obsession over this sports tournament, populist tabloid Israel Hayom, the most widely distributed paper in the country, devotes its first 9 pages to the tourney, including most of the front page. In contrast, the August 5, 2016, edition, when the Olympics kicked off (which Israel did have a horse in) garnered all of a two-page spread deep inside the paper.

2. Coverage in Israel’s other papers is more muted. “It’s hard to explain the strong feeling of the World Cup,” Yedioth Ahronoth’s correspondent in Russia writes, inadvertently admitting the limited news value of the sporting event.

  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer manages to squeeze some news value out of the tourney by looking at how Russian strongman Vladimir Putin managed to strong-arm his way into the bid but may have mellowed since he hosted the Sochi Olympics four years ago.
  • “Even though the World Cup is spread over 11 host cities, the state investment is reportedly some $12 billion … much less than the sums wasted in Sochi – the most expensive sports tournament of all time, at an estimated $50 billion. There has also been less of an effort to paint the World Cup in nationalistic colors, and even the xenophobic Russian hooligans seem to have been reined in. Some hope that, after 18 years in power, this is a more laid-back and pragmatic version of the Russian leader. After all, he has just won another six-year term with the expected landslide. He has secured, it seems, the survival of the Assad regime in Syria, while the world has given up all hope of seeing Russia retreat from the areas it conquered from Ukraine – including the Crimean Peninsula,” he writes.

3. Putin does want to make sure his games are not marred by hostilities in Syria, though, and Israel Hayom reports that the Russian leader has appealed to Israel, Iran and anyone else to make sure to keep things quiet for at least a a month in the war-torn country.

  • The paper reports that while the messages sent by Russia did not explicitly mention the World Cup, it’s clear that’s what driving them. What’s less clear is how the parties involved will respond.
  • “Iran is continuing with its activities, and Israel will need to choose whether to stick in the immediate term to its zero tolerance policy regarding Iranian entrenchment. Israel indeed has taken care to report to the Russians on its activities via a coordination mechanism created between the armies of the two countries, but its safe to assume in the coming weeks it will act with extra sensitivity,” the paper reports.
  • In London-based pan-Arabic website Al-Araby (or The New Arab), Sam Hamad compares the Mondial to the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Berlin, given Russia’s bombings in Syria, not to mention Crimea, meddling in elections, poisoning spies and everything else.
  • “This is a world cup filled with Syrian blood. Russia’s effective one-party state makes it impossible to separate this sporting carnival from Putin’s global panoply of PR designed to normalise all its actions, including the Syrian genocide,” he writes.

4. In a sign of how far the world has come since those days of the Hitler-hosted Olympics, Yedioth Ahronoth reports that German soldiers may soon be posted to Israel to be trained on using the Heron-TP drone, after the Bundestag approved a billion-dollar arms sale following years of delays.

  • The paper notes that German soldiers have come in the past to learn about the Heron-1, but now will establish a permanent force of about 100 on the Tel Nof air base to train on and maintain the more advanced Heron-TP, and will pay Israel some $200 million for the privilege. The force is not expected to begin serving in Israel.
  • On the other side of the fence, TOI’s Judah Ari Gross notes the historical resonance of IDF paratroops brigades training in Germany and Poland.
  • Taking part in an exercise in Germany and Poland, where many Nazi death camps were located, alongside the US Army, which helped liberate some of them, had “great meaning” for the Israeli troops, said Maj. (res.) Ido Sharir, an operations officer from the IDF Paratroopers Brigade.

5. In Haaretz, researcher and writer Shrenik Rao reports on another Israeli defense deal that is still in what he describes as an “on-again-off-again soap opera,” India’s purchase of Spike anti-tank missiles.

  • While Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he is pushing for domestic arms manufacturing, his policies point to more of a desire to bring in foreign investment and private money, though with elections coming up, he needs to be seen as putting India first, Rao writes: “Any attempt to acquire weapons from a foreign player will be seen as jeopardizing India’s indigenous weapons manufacturing program.”

6. Wednesday night saw the UN again condemn Israel, this time over Gaza border violence, and in the General Assembly, where the US cannot protect it.

  • The US’s failed attempt to get the world to also condemn Hamas garners some attention, as with this Washington Post headline that notes that “UN Assembly blames Israel for Gaza violence, but not Hamas.”
  • TOI’s Raphael Ahren says there’s a silver lining, though, in that the initial attempt to get the Hamas amendment into the measure actually passed, before Algeria got it disqualified on a technicality.
  • “It underlined that Israel’s enemies don’t automatically win every single vote in the international body, and showed that more countries wanted to temper the anti-Israel resolution they were about to support with a condemnation of Hamas than not,” he writes.

7. The world meanwhile, is still waiting for some proof that everything is actually okay following the Donald Trump-Kim Jong Un summit, though the president assured everyone in a tweet that they could sleep tight.

  • On Twitter, TOI’s Raoul Wootliff notes the similarities to a similar claim made by a certain British prime minister.
  • Haaretz’s Asaf Ronel has a hot take that Trump may actually have made the world safer in a backwards way, since the old way of trying to push off nuclear war, via a bankrupt non-proliferation treaty, was bunk anyway:
  • “Even most experts, including the most jaded, would admit that the bizarre meeting between Trump and Kim has made the danger of nuclear war more distant. And it bears keeping in mind that no agreement against nuclear proliferation, even if achieved after decades of effort, achieved more,” he writes.
  • A source close to Trump tells Axios that the president can change his mind on Kim at any moment, and it’s only flattery that may stave it off.
  • “The Saudis were smart, because what did they get for that flattery? I’ve talked to Trump multiple times since [his visit to] Saudi Arabia. And multiple times he’s [talked about] the swords, the red carpet, the palace, the pageantry, the royalty. All of it designed to tell Trump how important he was, and how important their relationship with him was to them,” the source is quoted saying.
  • Unlike the North Koreans, The New York Times reports, Tehran’s leaders want nothing to do with the orange-haired devil from the Great Satan.
  • “In reality, direct talks are not realistic under the current conditions,” an economist close to the Iranian government tells the paper. “He wants Iran to give up everything, without offering any incentive in return. Why should we sit down with him under such conditions?”

8. Trump’s mercurial personality may be on display in Haaretz, which reports that US officials are giving US President Mahmoud Abbas fresh backing after relations apparently turned sour, calling him “the only address” for a peace plan.

  • As for that peace plan, the sources say it will be released soon, though not that soon, and that it will simply be an opening gambit.
  • “We have said all along that we don’t want to impose an agreement. So presenting the plan as a ‘take it or leave it’ kind of document would be inconsistent with that,” one official is quoted saying.
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