Speculation nation: 5 things to know for January 10
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Israel media review

Speculation nation: 5 things to know for January 10

A mysterious reported bombing is tied to Israel, a less mysterious prisoner release is tied to a Russian swap and, after the rains, the calculators come out

An Israeli F-35 fighter jet takes off during the "Blue Flag" multinational aerial exercise at the Ovda air force base, north of the Israeli city of Eilat, on November 11, 2019. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)
An Israeli F-35 fighter jet takes off during the "Blue Flag" multinational aerial exercise at the Ovda air force base, north of the Israeli city of Eilat, on November 11, 2019. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

1. Borders bombs and music: Hebrew media is awash with reports of a mysterious airstrike on the Iraq-Syria border near Albu Kamal, the site of previous airstrikes attributed to Israel against Iran-backed Shiite militias.

  • The reports are far from confirmed, based on a thin soup of tweets and second-hand reportage from “Arabic media.” Unlike strikes of the past, this one is not even accompanied by grainy video footage of explosions.
  • The proof of Israeli involvement is even more svelte, being based on an unnamed tribal leader from the area speaking to al-Mayadeen. Not that it’s not possible or even likely, but reporting Israeli involvement in a headline is a lot of weight to hang off a probability.
  • (One also wonders how these witnesses can identify the country of origin of screaming fighter jets overhead. Do they blast Hatikvah or Hava Nagillah while going on bombing runs, or do they look like the Air Israel plane from “Airplane!”?)
  • But that does not stop Hebrew media from playing it up. “Israeli planes attack Syria-Iraq border,” reads a Channel 12 news headline splashed across the top of its site. “Israeli planes attack weapons shipment on Iraq and Syria border,” reads one in Walla.
  • Both sites offset the cover-your-ass word “report” outside of the headline, giving the story even more unearned heft.

2. The old man and the free: As usual, Israel does not comment on the reports of sending missiles into Syria, but it does comment on the reports of sending Syrian prisoners home.

  • Jerusalem’s announcement of the release of the two Syrians, Sidqi al-Maqt and Amal Abu Salah, is accompanied by a statement calling the move a goodwill gesture for the repatriation of Zachary Baumel’s remains last year.
  • According to several reports, the two were supposed to be released earlier, but had rejected Israel’s demand that they leave the Golan and go to Syria.
  • Haaretz reports that “In November, Palestinians told Haaretz that Russia had advanced the release of al-Maqt in talks with Israel. Sources familiar with the talks told Haaretz at the time that the Russian military attache met with al-Maqt in jail and told him that he could be freed if he agrees not to return to the Golan Heights, and instead move to Damascus.”
  • Channel 13 reports that Israel backed off that demand, allowing the deal to move forward.
  • Israel Hayom ties the timing not to Israel backing off the Damascus demand, but rather the upcoming visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled for January 23.
  • “According to reports in Arabic media a month ago, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad asked Putin to get involved,” Ynet reports, “and Putin passed the request to Netanyahu, who accepted it, albeit under certain conditions. It’s not known what Netanyahu is getting in exchange for the apparent deal.”
  • Al-Maqt, a spying convict who has spent time in Israeli prisons before, is referred to across Hebrew media as “the old man of Syrian prisoners.”
  • Kan’s Roi Kais reports that upon his release, he thanked both Putin and Assad.

3. From Russia with Naama? Speculation is simmering below the surface that the deal could be related to efforts to release Israeli-American backpacker Naama Issachar from a Russian jail.

  • Channel 13’s Barak Ravid calls the story strange and says it may be a “gesture toward Putin,” but asked whether that relates to Issachar, refuses to engage in speculation. (Ravid had earlier been critical of government leaders getting the family’s hopes up.)
  • Ynet quotes a Syrian source in the Golan saying that “al-Maqt has been in jail for years and this always becomes political. We don’t know what Israel asked for or received in return for their release, but it’s possible that it’s related to the case of the Israeli held in Moscow.”
  • Walla calls Issachar’s case “the background” for the release, and notes that last week, Netanyahu and his security aide Meir Ben Shabbat met with Issachar’s mother to update her on efforts with Putin.

4. Make it rain: The rain is continuing to fall Friday, after a couple of days that have already smashed previous records.

  • Recent torrential downpours in northern Israel have broken a 51-year record of rainfall within a two-week period, the Israel Meteorological Service says. The IMS says that the Western and Upper Galilee have seen more than 400 millimeters (15.7 inches) of rain, causing major floods. Some meteorological stations have even recorded more than 450 millimeters (17.7 inches).
  • “Rains in Nahariya almost equaled the average for the whole season, and in some areas, they have already doubled the average seen to this point,” reports Channel 13.
  • The rains also mean the Sea of Galilee is on the rise. As of Thursday morning, the Sea of Galilee had risen by 23 centimeters (approximately nine inches) in a 24-hour period, and was at 211.1 meters below sea level, 2.3 meters from its fullest level.
  • A side-by-side picture published in Yedioth shows the same spot along the shore on Thursday compared to a year ago, with everything now underwater. “Beyond all expectations,” the paper crows.
  • Israel Hayom calls the water rise a “celebration,” noting the “history and hysteria.”

5. Count the drops: As Israel begins to dry out, cities are taking stock of damage and bean counters are trying to tally it up.

  • Channel 12 reported that the cost of rebuilding infrastructure damaged in the floods in the northern city of Nahariya alone could amount to hundreds of millions of shekels.
  • A video of the city from overhead shows the extent of the flooding.
  • A local politician in the southern region of Be’er Tuvia says that damage in his area alone could reach tens of millions of shekels. “We’ll figure out the problem and make changes ahead of the next storm,” he tells Army Radio.
  • Kan reports that insurance companies are already dealing with thousands of claims from people whose cars or homes flooded.
  • “There is a possibility the state will decide to pay for the damage, as has been done in the past during the fires in the Carmel and in Mevo Modiim last year,” it reports.
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