Hebrew media review

Sinister Syrian suspicions resurface

The Hebrew press speculates about Syria’s chemical weapons and the composition of the next Israeli government

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

The Iron Dome missile defense system in action, November 15, 2012 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
The Iron Dome missile defense system in action, November 15, 2012 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

With the madness of the general elections receding in the rearview, Israeli politics can return to its normal state of abject panic over the increasingly degrading situation in Syria. The big issue in Monday’s papers is the deployment of Iron Dome batteries in northern Israel and revived concerns of Syria’s chemical weapon stocks falling into the wrong hands.

Yedioth Ahronoth reports on the threat of Syrian chemical weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah and the deployment of an Iron Dome anti-missile battery near the northern city of Haifa. It says that deployment of multiple Iron Dome batteries in northern Israel of late is “just one of a list of signs testifying to the intensifying security tension on Israel’s northern border.” High-level security meetings among IDF brass and between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro indicate heightened concern over Syria’s stability.

Columnist Alex Fishman reports in the paper that until now Hezbollah had stored its advanced weaponry in Syria, but in recent months, “because of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad’s undermined position, the organization understands that the weapons cannot stay there.” Once those arms reach Lebanon, they will be buried underground and will be impossible to find, he says.

“If chemical weapons are brought into Lebanon,” he says, “it is reasonable to assume that Israel will not hesitate — and will attack.”

Israel Hayom says the concern among the Israeli security establishment is that the Syrian chemical weapons may not only fall into Hezbollah’s hands, but into those of the Syrian rebels as well. It quotes Netanyahu saying that “there is an accumulation of threats and the reality continues to develop as a turbulent area, [and] we need to be prepared for any development.”

It says this latest round of concern over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile came in the wake of the Iron Dome deployment, reports in the Arab press of rebels pressing toward chemical weapon production plants near Aleppo and a-Safira, and increased air force activity on Israel’s northern border.

Columnist Boaz Bismuth writes that although there is a “world consensus” that the acquisition of chemical weapons by terrorist organizations is “pretext for war,” it “does not guarantee that this consensus will bring about real action.” He points to the world’s inaction thus far in Syria as proof.

Haaretz writes that Netanyahu’s warning about regional instability comes as he is trying to form a government with “the broadest coalition possible.”

“One could thus see the prime minister’s announcement as an answer to both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lapid: Only a broad government can respond to the sensitive security situation. With 15 ministers from Likud-Yisrael Beytenu, including Yuli Edelstein and Limor Livnat, none of our enemies would dare start up with us,” it writes.

The paper asks rhetorically whether Netanyahu is “exploiting a security development for political purposes,” and responds that he is. “The prime minister clearly has no problem with leveraging a security threat for political gain,” Haaretz says.

Maariv reports that the Yesh Atid party, which rose to political significance with 19 seats in last week’s elections, said it would not ease its demands regarding universal draft, even if it meant not joining the government. According to the paper, the three issues Yesh Atid will not back down from are drafting the ultra-Orthodox, reducing the number of ministers in government, and restarting negotiations with the Palestinians.

One thing the new Yesh Atid members will give up is their foreign citizenships. The paper reports that Karin Elharer, the party’s No. 10, will give up her French citizenship upon becoming an Israeli legislator. Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett will renounce his American citizenship on joining the Israeli parliament, as will Likud politician Moshe Feiglin and a handful of others.

Haaretz reports that the Shas party has been sending mixed messages about the issue of drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the IDF. Its headline reads: “[Shas leader Aryeh] Deri signals to Lapid: We are prepared for far-reaching steps for participation on the draft issue.” At the same time, Deri said that forcing the ultra-Orthodox into the military would cause an unprecedented schism in Israeli society.

Yedioth Ahronoth quotes source close to Lapid and Bennett saying that the two party leaders agree on many issues and that they may attempt to form a government with Likud-Beytenu. Should such a coalition form, it writes, “cooperation between them would allow [them] to put pressure on Netanyahu.”

Maariv gives top billing to the unrest roiling in Egypt in the past week in which at least 40 died and hundreds were injured, and quotes protesters in Cairo threatening to launch a second revolution. It quotes one of the Cairene activists saying that recent days reminded him of “the final days of Hosni Mubarak.”

“No one can stop us, Egypt is heading toward another revolution and it’s impossible to turn the wheel back. Security forces are cooperating with the Muslim Brotherhood. They think that they can stop the protests, but the fire is already burning and will continue to burn until the completion of the revolution,” he says.

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