Tanked up and ready to fight: 9 things to know for July 21
Israel media review

Tanked up and ready to fight: 9 things to know for July 21

Israel is playing close attention to a tit-for-tanker battle in the Persian Gulf, and possibly gearing up for its own tussle with Tehran

The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero at an unknown location on May 5, 2019 (Basil M. Karatzas, Karatzas Images via AP)
The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero at an unknown location on May 5, 2019 (Basil M. Karatzas, Karatzas Images via AP)

1. Rope-a-dope: Israel’s eyes are laser-focused on the tanker tussle going on in the Persian Gulf, even if the Jewish state doesn’t have a proverbial dog in a fight that seems mainly centered between the UK and Iran.

  • The affair is at the top of most newspaper and news sites Sunday, including hyperbole calling it “a peak in tensions” (from the alarmist Rotter.net news forum), which is wishful thinking.
  • For some reason, the image of Iranians sliding down a rope onto the ship from the helicopter is like catnip to Israeli pundits.
  • “The Iranians are trying to climb [escalating tensions] without ripping the rope, but if it does tear, the American response will not be long in coming,” Channel 13’s Alon Ben David writes.
  • “The sparring between Washington and Tehran seems on the verge of turning into a real slugfest,” writes Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el under the headline “The rope is tensing.”
  • While he notes all the reasons that conflict is still far off, he adds that “the risk that a tug of war becomes an exchange of military blows has become more real.”
  • In Israel Hayom (“Iran tenses the rope,”) columnist Yoav Limor doesn’t think war is necessarily in the offing.
  • “Assuming Iran does not increases its breaches of the nuclear deal and harm Western interest (especially closing the Strait of Hormuz), the sides will continue to take small actions with inflammatory rhetoric alongside them, while leaving a wide opening for talks — open or covert — on a new nuclear deal.”

2. Sure, Israel gives a ship: That’s not to say Israel has nothing to do with the tensions. A report in the Daily Beast over the weekend claims that Hezbollah is setting up for possible war with Israel along the Lebanese and Syrian borders, in case Iran decides it’s the right way to respond to sanctions.

  • “The sanctions now have us preparing for dealing with the Israeli front,” a Hezbollah commander is quoted telling the outlet. “We will fire the first shot this time.”
  • Also talking tough, Israeli minister Tzachi “Rambo” Hanegbi tells Israel Radio that “We’re the only country that has been killing Iranians for two years now. We’ve hit them hundreds of times in Syria, and sometimes admit it. They understand that Israel is very aggressive and that this is about national security.”
  • Haaretz reports that Israel is gearing up for possible naval conflict with Iran or its proxies in the Mediterranean too.
  • “At a recent discussion over potential measures to contend with threats both along Israel’s coast and farther away, defense officials said Iran plays a significant role in the naval arena not only in the Gulf but in the Eastern Mediterranean, too, currently also posing a threat to Israeli vessels passing through the Straits of Tiran in the Red Sea,” the paper reports.

3. Snub city: Israel got a friendly reminder of how little it actually matters in the scheme of things during Foreign Minister Israel Katz’s visit to Washington this week.

  • Katz didn’t have any official meetings, beyond a sit-down with religious freedom envoy Sam Brownback, though it was not for lack of trying, Channel 13 news/Axios report.
  • Katz’s people tell the news channel that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s people told Katz that they were too busy and gave him the option of a quick handshake or a more substantive meeting later and Katz chose door number 2.
  • While Pompeo was in South America for part of the time Katz was in the US, he did find time to meet with the foreign ministers of Tunisia, Colombia and other places.
  • The trip by Katz was the first by a foreign minister who wasn’t also the prime minister in nearly five years, but also underlined how much ties between the Trump administration and Israel are actually between the White House and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Not a few people posit that Netanyahu himself may have wanted to quash the meeting to make sure he is seen as the linchpin of US ties because, you know, elections.
  • Whatever the reason, at least he was treated better than Pakistan’s poor prime minister, who was forced to take a Dulles people mover like any other old schlub.

4. The eternal PM: Netanyahu’s indispensability, or at least political savvy, could not be avoided over the weekend, as he officially became Israel’s longest-ever serving prime minister, surpassing David Ben-Gurion.

  • The achievement meets with little to no fanfare in the Hebrew press. Even Israel Hayom doesn’t mention it, though it did play it up in its Friday paper.
  • “Never before in the country’s history has there been a prime minister that developed such close ties with important leaders from countries like Russia, the United States, China, and India, but also smaller countries in Africa and Asia,” the paper’s Haim Shine wrote in a hagiography. “Netanyahu’s ability to stand face-to-face with former US President Barack Obama for eight straight years, and not bend over or fold, is a reflection of his proven courage and leadership. … We can thank Netanyahu, who along with his family, has for the past 20 years been the constant target of malice, slander, allegations, and detours from democracy through the law enforcement system, the likes of which few leaders would have been able to endure. For the people of Israel’s sake, we must hope he can continue to lead the country to many further achievements.”
  • Even without the hyperbole, there is still reason to be impressed with Netanyahu, as former negotiator Aaron David Miller notes in Foreign Policy: “As politically inconvenient and excruciatingly painful as it is for his critics (myself included) to admit, in many areas he’s been a very effective prime minister. He has brought relative economic stability and growth, security, and a dramatic expansion of Israel’s diplomatic footprint during a time of tremendous regional and international instability. Netanyahu’s longevity is driven by the inconvenient fact that for more than a decade, for better and worse, enough Israelis believed they couldn’t live without him.”

5. New Right, old fight: He has also been helped by his ability to manipulate his way into staying in power without an actual functioning government for the last seven months, and he’ll get another two months before elections.

  • With only 10 days to go before the deadline for political parties to register their slates, political horse-trading is ramping up significantly.
  • A meeting between Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett on getting the gang back together for a run under the New Right again yielded no results, according to several Hebrew media outlets.
  • However, Israel Radio reports that the two agreed to demand that the URWP bring them in, put Shaked at the top of the list and give up them half of the top 10 seats in order to consider a joint run.
  • According to Ynet however, Bennett is not interested in rejoining Jewish Home and all their religious baggage.
  • Bennett appeared to confirm as much to Channel 12’s “Meet the Press” on Saturday night, saying that “I prefer if we can create a liberal right-wing bloc with one leader, and have another leader at the head of another party that is a religious Hardal [ultra-Orthodox-nationalist] party, which is the Union of Right-Wing Parties.”

6. Women are doing it for Shaked: Walla news reports that Rafi Peretz, who heads Jewish Home and is the presumptive leader of a reconstituted URWP, told Shaked that “there is a glass ceiling” for her in the party, i.e., he won’t be giving up his seat for some girl.

  • Israel National News website reports that female activists and others from the national-religious community are organizing to rally around Shaked as a leader for the bloc.
  • “The time has come for the women of the Land of Israel to make their opinions heard — Ayelet Shaked is the representative that needs to be at the head of a united nationalist party,” one woman says.

7. Bridge or bust: Regarding the other Peretz, Labor head Amir, hand-wringing over his decision to join forces with Orly Levy Abekasis’s Gesher party is continuing apace.

  • “The move was supposed to bring new voters, but in the meantime it seems the surprise move has only served to call into the question the left’s stability and threatened to tear it apart from within,” Yedioth writes.
  • “ There is a real risk that Levi-Abekasis’s partnership with Peretz will stop other parties – Meretz and Ehud Barak’s Democratic Israel – from joining forces,” reads the lead editorial in Haaretz. “If that happens, then this move will do more harm than good. If the camp does not continue to grow as much as possible, the left could lose thousands of votes and get wiped out because of the failure of certain parties to pass the electoral threshold. This danger should not be enhanced.”
  • Maariv’s Ben Caspit puts the stakes even higher: “If Peretz’s reading of the situation is mistaken, the party that founded the state will disappear from the political map under his watch.”

8. Abuse isn’t clever: Caspit’s lede makes a reference to Peretz subjecting Labor to “conversion therapy,” a reference to Rafi Peretz’s comments about the controversial “treatment” given to LGBTQ people to try and change who they are.

  • The quip is just the latest of what has been over the last two weeks a frankly disturbing and insensitive rash of such comments and quips made in headlines in the press, essentially joking about what most consider to be a form of abuse.
  • A quick Google search finds headlines over the last few days talking about “conversion therapy” for scooters, headphones and sedans, not to mention its use in political columns.
  • Sorry to sound self-righteous, but can we knock it off? It’s not clever.

9. One giant headline: The 50th anniversary of the moon landing also passes nearly without mention in the press (again, much of the coverage was spent on Friday), but Yedioth does reprint its original front page from July 21, 1969.

The front page of Yedioth Ahronoth on July 21, 1969, reprinted on July 21, 2019. (screen capture: Yedioth Ahronoth)
  • (Even though the landing actually occurred at about 5 a.m. Israel time on the 21st, Yedioth managed to get it in the day’s paper, which must have been a late or evening edition.)
  • “Man on the moon: The historic photo,” read the top of the front page, above a super grainy picture of Neil Armstrong descending the Eagle lunar lander. “First steps on the moon,” reads the headline.
  • The lede? “The dream of mankind has been realized.”
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