Israel media review

Stealth messaging: 7 things to know for May 24

From the Gazan sands to the skies over Lebanon, Israel is attempting to make itself heard, with varying degrees of success

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

A photograph said to be of an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jet flying over the Lebanese capital of Beirut, which was apparently leaked to Israel's Hadashot news. (Screen capture)
A photograph said to be of an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jet flying over the Lebanese capital of Beirut, which was apparently leaked to Israel's Hadashot news. (Screen capture)

1. The Israeli military is insisting it did not purposely leak a picture of one of its F-35 stealth fighter jets to Hadashot news. Despite that, its revelation of the picture’s existence — seen as a clear signal to Hezbollah to not mess with it — is now being amplified by being pasted all over the internet and the Israeli press.

  • That includes the front pages of Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth, two of Israel’s largest Hebrew-languages dailies. “Over Nasrallah’s head,” reads the headline over the picture in Yedioth, referring to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer reports that the F-35 was also used in a bombing mission targeting a Hamas tunnel in Gaza early Wednesday.
  • Pfeffer writes that the picture and announcement was meant to send a message not only to Israel’s enemies but also its allies, including manufacturer Lockheed Martin. Noting that other buyers of the plane have slow walked it, Pfeffer reports that Israel rushed it into service to send a swift message to regional enemies. As one officer tells him, Lockheed knew the country would do this, giving the most expensive product in the world some good press that no amount of money can buy.
  • “Lockheed Martin needed this boost,” he quotes an air force officer telling him. “It’s why they have been prepared to do everything we asked for and get the planes to Israel before any other buyer.”

2. Yet the picture is also raising some questions among observers.

  • David Cenciotti of the Aviationist blog writes on Twitter that the plane appears to be flying with radar reflectors.
  • According to TOI’s Judah Ari Gross, the small nubs make the aircraft significantly easier to spot on a radar.
  • If so, the decision to flaunt the fact that it’s not even using its stealth capabilities may have been intended to signal to Hezbollah how unafraid it is of any air defenses it has.
  • Not to mention the fact that the photo was taken in the middle of the day. Jalopnik blog Foxtrot Alpha writes: “To understand how much of a dickish move this is, diplomatically, it’s a bit like if the United States flew an F-22 Raptor over Pyongyang just to show that it could.”
  • But others note that the picture doesn’t quite show it flying over Beirut but just near the Lebanese capital.
  • As Makor Rishon reporter Ariel Kahane notes, the picture is taken from the west looking east, with the plane taking the photo slightly above and at a slight diagonal.
  • “Given that, do you think the F-35 is ‘over Beirut’ or over the Mediterranean with Beirut in the background,” he asks. “One doesn’t need to boast about this, especially for nothing,” he adds.

3. A New York Times report claiming to have uncovered evidence of Iranian long-range missile development is also top news in the Israeli press.

  • Satellite images appear to show, among other things, activity around a tunnel leading underground and evidence of powerful rocket engine tests that scorched telltale marks in the desert sand near the city of Shahrud, according to the original report.
  • Tabloid Israel Hayom terms the discovery “Iranian Chutzpah,” but even the hardline paper admits that the work isn’t actually an abrogation of the nuclear deal, “though it will certainly add to already high tensions between Iran and Washington.”
  • “If the nuclear smoking gun hasn’t yet been found, the ballistic gun is already smoking,” columnist oded Granot writes in the paper, his “yet” reflecting Israel’s view that ballistic missile development is a sure sign of a nuclear program.
  • Many note, though, that the Shahrud site was not newly discovered, pointing to a Jane’s report in 2013, using DigitalGlobe imagery, that found a ballistic missile site being built at Shahrud.
  • The smoking gun in the Jane’s report was the lack of liquid fuel storage, which suggests the use of solid fuel sources indicating military use, especially as Iran already has other sites for launching civilian rockets.
  • Israeli researcher Tal Inbar tells Yedioth Ahronoth: “Sharhud is known. There’s no point in the huge size and investment they have made unless it is meant to support development of solid-fuel ballistic missiles.”

4. In another flashback to those heady times before the nuclear deal, Haaretz reports on Israel tightening relations with Iran’s neighbor Azerbaijan, a major trading partner in fuel and arms.

  • In 2012 and earlier, Israel’s attempt to cuddle up with Baku was seen as a way of having a friendly base nearby from which to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
  • The paper reports that a delegation of high-ranking Azeris visited Jerusalem to talk about expanding economic ties on May 14, slipping in while the world was watching the US embassy opening and violence on the Gaza border.
  • “Under the radar, a new milestone was reached in Israel’s relations with a Muslim friend of Turkey and neighbor of Iran,” the paper reports.

5. In The Times of Israel, Judah Ari Gross takes a deeper look at May 14 and its aftermath, asking why the job of doing PR for the country fell to the armed forces.

  • “Some Israeli politicians and officials have looked for someone to blame, and many found it in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, which played the central role in Israel’s official public relations efforts surrounding the Gaza border clashes. But others say the army and its spokesperson Ronen Manelis are being used as a ‘scapegoat,’ taking unfair flak for losing an unwinnable battle,” Gross writes.
  • “I feel bad for Ronen . He is being made into a scapegoat for a far, far deeper problem,” deputy minister for public diplomacy Michael Oren tells him, referring to IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis.
  • Oren also says Israel was needlessly caught with its pants down, even though it knew the riots were coming: “A couple weeks ago, when these riots started on a Friday, people were calling me, saying ‘What are our messages? What are our messages?’ My response was, ‘Wait a minute, we’ve had months to prepare for this, months. And you’re preparing messages now, after the riots? Are we insane?”
  • Others have also noticed the unfairness of what the army was forced to deal with, like Yedioth op-ed columnist Einav Schiff, who includes it in a list of “small problems” (which he means sarcastically) with the military being swept under the rug.
  • “That’s okay. The spokesman will publish a sharp and pointed op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and everything will be fine,” he writes, also sarcastically.

6. Of course, Israel probably would have never won the PR battle. One piece of evidence is this tasteless, inevitable and unsurprising cartoon comparing Gaza to the Warsaw ghetto.

7. In the US, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner has gotten his security clearance, after waiting over a year, meaning now he can get down to whatever it is he does.

  • With his role so undefined, it’s not really known what he did while waiting for the stamp of approval, but one guess is he may have been spending time in the kitchen, since he is apparently a foodie par excellence according to a Boston Globe report on his time at Harvard.
  • Yahoo News, trying to riff off the aside, decides to throw in that Jared is so cool, “He’s not too proud to wear a little hat while he eats.”
  • As Andrew Cuomo staffer David Lobl notes on Twitter, that is one strange way to describe an object known for having no paucity of names already: kippah, yarmulke, skullcap etc. But sure, funny little hat works too, I guess.

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