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Israel media review

Shooting blanks: What the press says about non-lockdowns, non-doses and non-threats

The somehow still-looming Omicron threat brings with it worries of fresh restrictions (and a quarantine pandemic), a fourth shot gets frozen and Israel changes its tune on Iran

A dose of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at Lurie Children's hospital, November 5, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
A dose of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at Lurie Children's hospital, November 5, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

1. The Loch Down Monster: If there is anything Israelis dread more than a nuclear Iran or not arguing, it’s the big, bad lockdown. And if there’s anything the media knows, it’s that raising the possibility of one means instant drama.

  • So it is that for the last however many months, the possibility of a lockdown has been incessantly teased with each slight rise in infection rates, though usually with the same “nah not really” tone that a news anchor might use when asking “is an asteroid headed for Earth? Details at 11.”
  • With Omicron wreaking havoc in the US and Europe, and seemingly knocking on Israel’s door, the lockdown-mongers are back at it again, but this time it seems a bit more serious.
  • “Lockdown again on the agenda,” reads a headline on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, practically dripping with resignation.
  • “In the current situation, within two weeks we’ll have to lock everyone at home, or we’ll have a catastrophe here,” the paper quotes a senior Health Ministry official saying.
  • Israel Hayom states matter of factly on its front page that “As morbidity rises, so rises the possibility of a lockdown,” albeit without offering any evidence or details.
  • “There are dark days ahead,” Kan quotes a Health official saying.
  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that talk in a cabinet meeting of possible restrictions on movement, even limited to just the elderly, “sounded like a travel back through the time tunnel to the gloomy days of the first waves of the pandemic, nearly two years ago.”
  • But he notes that the question isn’t how many will be infected, but how serious the infections will be: “The key question that will determine the severity of the wave is the final proportion of the seriously ill. If the daily number of new cases increases by a factor of five, it will not be possible to take comfort in the fact that the number of the seriously ill among them has been cut in half, because the result will still mean a flooding of hospitals – the scenario that Israel has feared throughout the pandemic.”
  • What’s a lockdown if everyone is already in quarantine? Channel 12 news reports on the coming “quarantine pandemic” (yes, really), noting that 75,000 Israelis are currently in lockdown … er, quarantine, and if things don’t change “we’re on the cusp of a mass quarantine wave.” According to figures presented by Eran Segal from the Weizmann Institute (who is probably the most quoted man in Israel these days), the channel reports, the number will be up to 600,00 to 800,000 by next week.
  • But there’s an out: Currently anyone exposed to an Omicron carrier is supposed to quarantine for at least seven days, even if fully vaccinated. However, the channel seems to raise the hope that will change, noting that “in the past, an exemption from quarantine has been a huge incentive for Israelis to vaccinate.”

2. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t approve: Israelis excited about punching a fourth hole on their V card got some bad news, though, as the Health Ministry reportedly backed off its headlong drive to start shooting up the olds yet again.

  • Channel 13 reports that Health Ministry Director Nachman Ash decided to wait on the fourth installment to have a closer look at data showing that Omicron may not be that bad.
  • If more such data accumulates, Channel 13 reported, Ash may not back the government advisory panel’s recommendation from Tuesday night to offer the additional booster shots at this stage to medical personnel, over 60s, and at-risk groups, and instead send the matter back for further deliberation. This comes hours after Channel 12 quoted a senior health official as saying that there had been political pressure on a Health Ministry panel to approve the decision.
  • “Obviously there is pressure. There absolutely is.” the senior official claimed, according to the network. “When the boss decides that ‘A’ and not ‘B’ should be done, then there is a question as to whether one wants to present a position that goes against one’s boss.”
  • But Oren Simchoni, a member of the panel, denies that Bruce Springsteen or anyone else leaned on them. “It absolutely didn’t happen, definitely not from politicians. The swiftness of the decision came from the urgency of the threat. We have no time to spare,” he tells Army Radio.
  • Kan reports that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wants to start administering the additional booster shots as soon as possible, but acknowledges Ash has final say on the matter.
  • The network reports that the panel was forced to rely on a small amount of data available, and had to make a few leaps of faith as well, like assuming that 500,000 infected people had gotten three doses already and so could be considered as if they had gotten four doses: “According to them, there were no anomalous reactions to the fourth exposure.”
  • According to Haaretz: “The plan had been to discuss the issue only in another few weeks or even months, based on more complete information. But with omicron spreading, several committee members said they feared that waiting would be worse. ‘In another three weeks, it may be too late,’ one explained.”
  • It’s already too late, according to Israel Hayom, which says a “languid” vaccine campaign, especially for kids, means Israel is in deep doo-doo.
  • “The child vaccination rates are not going up and parents are sitting on the fence … thinking maybe they should wait,” Maccabi coronavirus unit head Dr. Arnon Shachar tells the paper. “The opposite is true. Ahead of this sharp round that Israel will soon meet, we need to get as vaccinated and protected as possible.”
  • ToI editor David Horovitz writes in an op-ed that we don’t really know anything about anything when it comes to this virus, which “appears set to continue to both slap us and make fools of us for a long time to come.”
  • Well there is one thing we know: “In a sea of confusion and misinformation, the imperative to vaccinate marks the island of wisdom and sanity — and the only credible means, for now at least, of avoiding anything approaching the kind of worst-case scenario this editor, at least, considered too outrageous to indulge less than two years ago.”

3. All options off the table: As Israel backs off the fourth shot, it also appears to be backing away from a first strike, against Iran. Yedioth leads off its front page with a story claiming that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have changed tack and are now trying to convince the US that it wants to deal with Iran via non-military means, in cooperation with Washington “so long as Iran does not break out quickly for the bomb.”

  • The report goes as far as to claim that Bennett ordered ministers to stop openly threatening a military strike on Iran.
  • That spirit of cooperation is also on display in an interview Lapid gives to The New York Times, in which he says Israel would be happy with world powers and Iran getting back to a nuclear deal, so long as it’s better than the old one.
  • “We have no problem with a deal. A good deal is a good thing,” he’s quoted saying. “Second best would be no deal but tightening the sanctions and making sure Iran cannot go forward. And the third and worst is a bad deal.”
  • Even the one threat he does muster seems more flaccid than previous saber-rattling: “The only thing I can say to you is that Israel has said many times: We have the right to protect ourselves from the biggest existential threats.” No “any means possible,” no “won’t hesitate,” no “whether or not there is a deal.”
  • This comes days after Haaretz reported that Israeli officials were anticipating the Americans coming around to their side.
  • “The United States is embarrassed,” the paper quoted a senior Israeli official saying. “They were surprised by Iran’s decision to toughen their positions in the last round and by Iran’s list of demands. The administration approached the talks in Vienna without having a clear alternate plan in case the negotiations failed. It is too early to know where things will progress from here.”
  • So what caused the sea change? For one, it could be that the world now knows Israel doesn’t have much capability to hit Iran, with new refueling planes on backorder for years.
  • Without the refueling planes, Tal Schneider writes for ToI sister site Zman Yisrael, an attack is impossible: “One can assume that the air force will be able to dispatch and refuel two or even three squadrons of jet fighters in one bombing run on Iran. These planes will be accompanied by more planes to take down enemy craft and deploy an electronic warfare and jamming system. But Israel’s refueling tankers are old, more than 50 years old.”
  • Israel’s so-called allies in the United Arab Emirates are also no longer willing to play war games with Israel, notes Channel 12’s Yaron Schneider: “The Arab state … now says openly that in its view, military threats are not the way to deal with Iran, and thus clarifies that normalization does not mean military cooperation between it and the US or Israel, toward a strike on Iran. Cooperation between Israel and the UAE in business, tourism and even security matters have already borne impressive fruit, but when it comes to the most sensitive regional issue on the table today, Abu Dhabi is shying away from direct military threats.”

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