1. Missile fishing in the Yemen: As if Israel needed any more threats to worry about, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added a new one to the roster Monday, warning that Iran is trying to set up missiles in Yemen to attack Israel.
- The statement, made initially during a meeting with US Treasury chief Steve Mnuchin, manages to attract widespread media attention in Israel, where most appear to take the warning seriously.
- “Threat from Yemen: Iranian missiles against Israel,” reads the main front page headline in Israel Hayom.
- While a number of news organizations note that Yemen is twice the distance from Israel as Iran, which would seem to raise the question of what Tehran’s strategy is in attacking Israel from further away, few express much skepticism over the claims.
- Yemen is some 1,800 kilometers away from Israel and Haaretz notes that last month, Iran Revolutionary Guards’ air force chief claimed that the country had developed a new missile that could carry a warhead 2,000 kilometers.
2. Serious worries: Netanyahu’s remarks come after he and some defense officials warned several times over the past weeks that Israel is facing a serious threat from Iran, though some have dismissed the pronouncements as political spin meant to pressure Blue and White into compromising for a unity government.
- On Tuesday, though, there are signs that even some skeptics are taking Netanyahu’s words seriously.
- Yedioth Ahronoth notes that the US pullout from Syria and Washington’s lack of willingness to respond to alleged Iranian attacks in the region have led to the assessment that “Iran has bolstered its confidence and ability to carry out a non-retaliatory strike against Israel, and not just as a response to attacks on Iranian sites attributed to Israel.”
- Walla’s Amir Buhbut notes that the threat of Iranian missiles from around the region has led “defense officials to pass messages demanding upped deployment of air force weaponry and various air defense systems, especially David’s Sling, which is designed to shoot down advanced threats.”
- In Israel Hayom, former deputy national security adviser Eran Lerman writes that “the possibility of a new escalation, either via a direct attack by the Revolutionary Guards or Iranian intelligence or via a proxy like Hezbollah, Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq or the Houthis in Yemen, is realistic.”
- Not helping his case that the warnings are not political spin, Netanyahu repeated the Yemen warning later Monday to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, adding that the threat would require moving money from civilian offices to the military, which requires the formation of a government, ToI’s Raphael Ahren reports.
3. Missiles or misled: The Yemen claim does spark some skepticism.
- Former national security adviser Giora Eiland tells Army Radio the statement is “strange. As far as we know, Iran does not have precision missiles that are able to go 2,000 kilometers and strike Israel, certainly not in Yemen.”
- Reuters does note that Netanyahu’s pronouncement was “short on details,” and writes that “there is scant public indication [the Iran-backed Houthi rebels] possess weapons capable of traveling the some 2,000 km (1,240 miles) to Israel.”
- Nonetheless, a government source is quoted telling the organization, “This will cause Israel to be extremely vulnerable and this is something that we cannot just sit by and watch happening,” hinting at the possibility of action.
- The Yemen claim wasn’t the only head-scratcher, with Netanyahu repeatedly using the words “statistical missiles,” which is not a familiar term in English or Hebrew. What the premier apparently meant to describe were imprecise missiles, which can make up for a lack of accuracy by being shot in large numbers to increase the probability that one hits the target.
- That, or he was referring to a 1961 technical paper on sea-to-air munitions.
4. More fears: It’s not just missiles from Yemen that Israel is worried about. According to the Kan broadcaster, Israel has begun stepping up security at some missions around the world out of fears of an Iranian attack.
- At the same time, Israel seems unconcerned about being the victim of a revenge attack by the Islamic State group following the death of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
- Asked by ToI whether Israel would follow suit after Egypt, the UK, the US and others took measures to increase security over Baghdadi’s death, a spokesperson with the Prime Minister’s Office, which is responsible for anti-terror warnings, says only “Nothing on that.”
5. No more smiles: At the same time that Netanyahu was meeting Mnuchin, Benny Gantz was meeting Jared Kushner and other US officials for the first time.
- Yedioth Ahronoth, running pictures of Kushner meeting Netanyahu and Gantz side by side, calls it “rotational diplomacy.”
- But more interesting to most Israelis was Gantz’s meetings with other political parties, including Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman, at which he revealed that his meeting with Netanyahu did not quite go swimmingly.
- “Gantz meets Liberman: Likud is preventing serious talks,” reads a front page headline in Haaretz.
- Yedioth notes that while Gantz and Netanyahu seemed happy in a photo-op of their meeting, “it seems the smiles were premature.”
- Israel Hayom plays up Gantz’s warning that he could explore other options, seemingly hinting at a minority government, and Likud’s response that “Blue and White is dragging the country into new elections.”
6. Bad call: Netanyahu and Co. were even more fired up about the confiscation of media advisers cellphones as part of a probe into suspicions of harassment of a state’s witness.
- Haaretz reports that Netanyahu called the move “a terror attack on democracy.”
- Israel Hayom takes it even further, with a front page headline accusing he country of “going the way of Turkey.”
- “As the prosecution sees it, there is no more freedom of the press in Israel,” the paper’s Caroline Glick charges.
- In Yedioth, Amichai Eteli writes that the police were wrong to confiscate the phones, because of the slippery slope it may lead to. “Maybe now they will confiscate the phone of anyone caught texting and driving. Any random phone could be a gold mine for the police,” he warns. “That’s now this works. Most of the public follows most of the laws most of the time. That’s the departure point and the price of the loss of privacy is very heavy and will damage the basic right of democracy.”
7. The good son: While Netanyahu’s son Yair has perfected the art of being his dad’s attack dog and troller-in-chief, his brother Avner appeared to prove Monday that the apple fell quite far from the tree.
- Avner, who is normally media shy, stepped out of the shadows briefly to appear on the season premier of “The Chase” quiz show, and while he didn’t win, he managed to win over some with his understated performance, including responding to a question about what his father does by simply calling him a “public servant.”
- “Avner was likable and a good sport,” Yedioth’s Einav Schiff writes.
- In Haaretz, Shani Littman writes that it’s hard to believe Avner wasn’t pushed into making the appearance, but writes that his performance “did more for his father than praise from Miri Regev.”
- Walla TV critic Amit Slonim writes that the performance showed what we are missing with Avner staying out of the spotlight, comparing him to the Godfather’s Michael Corleone: “He didn’t ask to be the son of Bibi and Sara, or the brother of Yair, but that’s his reality. … As in the Godfather, in the story of the Netanyahu family, the youngest son is the good and successful son who goes off to war and is pushed out of the family business.”