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Hebrew media review

Strip mining for news

With the tunnel report continuing to cause tremors, the press looks at a possible cabinet reform and whether war is on the way, while also marveling over Trump's non total embarrassment of a speech

This February 10, 2016, file photo shows IDF soldiers keeping watch as a machine drills holes in the ground on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip as they search for tunnels used by Palestinian terrorists planning to attack Israel. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)
This February 10, 2016, file photo shows IDF soldiers keeping watch as a machine drills holes in the ground on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip as they search for tunnels used by Palestinian terrorists planning to attack Israel. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

Over a day after the release of the long-awaited and highly damning Gaza war report Tuesday, the effects of the blistering report continue to ripple out in the Hebrew press Thursday morning, meeting eddies of ever-present warnings that a new conflict could be just a stone’s throw away.

While Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page is mostly taken up with a preview for a weekend package on anti-Semitism in America, its lead story is a blatant advertisement for a new law proposed by Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah to reform the cabinet in the wake of the report’s findings that ministers were ill-informed or ill-prepared to deal with the Hamas tunnel threat.

The paper, which has long been accused of playing political favorites, plays up the proposal with a two-page spread and lays out its basic points, including forcing cabinet members to dedicate half a day a week to learning about security-related issues, having each one appoint a military adviser, and enshrining each minister’s responsibilities in the law.

The story also makes sure to note that the proposal, which is not new but being reintroduced, is supported not only by ministers but also by family members of soldiers killed in Gaza.

“It’s clear if this law had been in place before Protective Edge the cabinet would have looked different,” one father is quoted saying. “One can guess it would have saved lives. That’s not to say my son or others might not have been killed, but at least we would have known that the war was being waged responsibly.”

Haaretz leads off its pages with the latest rumblings and grumblings of a new conflict, quoting Military Intelligence head Herzi Halevi telling Knesset lawmakers that Gaza is nearing a crisis and things in the West Bank could get bad without any diplomatic horizon.

But it’s not all bad news. Even though the paper’s headline plays up the scary stuff, the story makes clear that Halevi’s overall point was that Israelis don’t need to head for bunkers just yet.

“According to people at the meeting, Halevi said Hezbollah might consider a clash with Israel only after the fighting in Syria had ended,” the paper’s report reads. “He noted that Hamas wasn’t attacking Israel and was acting aggressively against rebel groups that do. He said Israel was concerned that Hamas and Hezbollah might cooperate in the future,” the paper reports.

Halevi’s assessment might sound like pretty good news, but Haaretz op-ed columnist Gideon Levi sets readers straight by explaining that Israel actually loves war, and the tunnel report is nothing but a big honking pretext for the next one.

“It’s reasonable to assume that the next war will break out in Gaza. The alibi is already prepared. The horror over the tunnels, which has been blown into the grotesque proportions of a nuclear world war, was created for this purpose. Primitive combat tools are enough to create the perfect alibi for war,” he writes in his classic acid style. “Gaza pampers Israel with deluxe wars. There’s nothing Israelis love more than a war against a non-army, against those who have no aerial cover, no armor and no artillery, just an army of the barefoot and tunnels, which allows Israel stories of great heroism and bereavement. Israeli bombardments of the helpless, for some reason called war, with minimal Israeli casualties and maximal Palestinian casualties – that’s the way we like our wars.”

All that nasty cabinet and Gaza Monday-morning quarterbacking that made Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look bad is pushed to near the back of the book by Israel Hayom, with the paper instead focusing on the good times happening all around, like a rally by the shekel, and efforts by the Bank of Israel to slow it down, and a speech to Congress by US President Donald Trump.

Writing glowingly about the speech and playing it up despite the fact that it was old news by the time Israeli papers hit newstands Thursday morning, the paper’s report notes that Trump’s address “surprised even his harshest critics.”

The surprise also extends to his biggest fans, namely Israel Hayom’s Boaz Bismuth, whose column’s headline “A president is born” carries with it the implicit admission that Trump was not quite presidential before, and who is shocked over the media’s fair treatment of Trump after the speech.

“Who would believe before the speech that Time, CNN and their ilk would praise the American president, who had declared war on the media, which one must admit has never treated him very fairly. Suddenly we read about ‘Presidential Trump,’ on the ‘reset,’ and even Charles Krauthammer, the conservative commentator who never misses a chance to criticize Trump, came to the conclusion that ‘this was without a doubt his best speech.’”

Those two phrases “presidential” and “reset” indeed appear in headlines in Yedioth and Haaretz respectively, but they aren’t the unqualified praise that Bismuth is talking about. In Haaretz, for example, the paper’s headline notes that the reset is only “until the next tweet.”

And Yedioth’s story, headlined “finally presidential,” is far overshadowed by the larger amount of ink spilled about jitters in the US over a rise in anti-Semitism.

On Yedioth’s op-ed page, Channel 10 news foreign editor Nadav Eyal pours some more cold water on the praise Trump received.

“The lower the bar was set for Trump, the better his speech was received, so much so that commentators on the left called parts of it ‘zeniths in American political history,’” he writes. “It’s understood that they wouldn’t say that had a regular conservative president said the same thing, say if Mitt Romney would have given the exact same speech were he elected president. But Trump lowered the bar so much that his condemnation and clear harsh words on hate crimes in America got him a lot more credit. Those words would have been obvious in another era, but Trump gave them new weight.”

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