The back-down after the face-off
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Hebrew media review

The back-down after the face-off

The US weighs a Russian proposal to have Syria hand over its chemical weapons — but not everyone is convinced

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

US President Barack Obama gestures while speaking in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, September 6, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama gestures while speaking in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, September 6, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

After weeks of tension, our long-awaited war in Syria toppled like a deck of cards in a sandstorm. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Syria give up its chemical weapons to avoid American military action, Russia took the bait and pitched it to Assad’s people, and now the whole thing’s off. For some in the Israeli press, there’s apparent disappointment that there now likely won’t be a fireworks show in Metulla this autumn.

Israel Hayom — whose coverage of the Syria crisis was by far the most jingoistic — uses the predictable (and already overused) headline on its front page, calling the pitch from Moscow “Russian roulette.” The article jabs at Obama, its headline asks (keeping with the Slavic theme) “Crime, without punishment?” and Boaz Bismuth’s commentary has the headline “From Russia with love.” (For the love of all that is holy, someone order a military strike on their punsters.)

Since everyone else in the Israeli political arena stayed mum, the paper quotes President Shimon Peres saying the proposal “entails negotiation, because the Syrians have proven that they’re not trustworthy and that you can’t rely on their honesty.” He added that Obama took the right steps in threatening Syria with military action.

Paraphrasing members of the Obama administration, Maariv features the headline “We’ll examine the Russian proposal, but Assad needs to be punished.” Tuesday’s edition of the paper was clearly sent to the presses before the president spoke in television interviews about the Syria crisis. The paper calls Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s proposal “a brilliant Russian move or perhaps a cynical exercise from the school of Putin to prevent the US at the last minute from realizing the threats of an attack on Syria.”

Yedioth Ahronoth, however, stayed up late for the media blitz and more-or-less quotes from Obama’s CBS interview. “We don’t know the details of it yet. But I think that it is a potentially positive development. I don’t think that we would’ve gotten to the point where they even put something out there publicly, had it not been — and if it doesn’t continue to be a credible — military threat from the United States,” Obama told CBS.

The paper explains that since Monday’s developments, “the Syrian crisis has been managed on two separate channels. In the framework of the diplomatic channel, Russia and the US are trying to reach an arrangement according to which Assad would transfer his chemical weapons stockpile to another country — and they’d be destroyed. On the second channel, the intra-American, preparations for an attack are continuing.”

A political source in Damascus who spoke to Haaretz tells the paper that the Russians pitched the proposal as if it were their own and that “by all appearances the Americans and the West were looking for a ladder — and the Syrians and the Russians provided them with one.” The source further added that the diplomatic process of approving a plan to hand over and destroy the chemical weapons is expected to be lengthy.

“The Syrians are experts at drowning everyone in details,” the source tells Haaretz. “Who will observe and when, and how the weapons stockpiles will be transferred. Perhaps the Syrians will challenge the West and ask them to uncover the chemical weapons sites by themselves, before [the Syrians] provide the West with the information.”

The paper also quotes opposition leader Salim Idriss lambasting the government’s apparent acquiescence to any transfer of chemical weapons, saying it was the perpetuation of “its policy of falsehood and manipulation aimed at gaining time.”

Amid all the hubbub over Syria and Russia, the press nearly forgot there were talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel Hayom reports that the US State Department published an official memo on Monday in which it said that Israel and the Palestinians must reach a final agreement — not an interim agreement — within nine months and bring “an end to the conflict.”

Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the Health Ministry has found traces of the polio virus in the sewage system of Jerusalem, and that the ministry reiterated its call for parents to inoculate their children against the disease. The paper quotes Dr. Itamar Grotto, head of the ministry’s public health service, saying that “this discovery only proves that we need to continue vaccinating [children], and our estimation is that in about two months after we began the campaign we’ll be able to see results in the decrease in the amount of polio in the sewage.”

While that part of the health care system seems to be working fine, Maariv publishes a study which found that 69 percent of female doctors and 62% nurses experienced sexual harassment during treatment of patients. Researchers polled 434 doctors, nurses and medical support staff at several Tel Aviv area hospitals, 82% of whom work with patients and not in an administrative capacity.

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