Hebrew Media Review

The mother of all fallout

One blast catches the eye of the tabloids, while Haaretz analyses Trump’s policies in Syria and their potential consequences for Israel

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.

The moment when a US massive ordnance air blast (MOAB) bomb is dropped on an Islamic State cave and tunnel system in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 13, 2017 (YouTube screenshot)
The moment when a US massive ordnance air blast (MOAB) bomb is dropped on an Islamic State cave and tunnel system in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 13, 2017 (YouTube screenshot)

Friday’s tabloids focus on the Trump administration’s use of the largest non-nuclear bomb in existence for the very first time in an operation against the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Both Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom bask in the glow of the Mother of All Bombs, as it’s commonly known, a.k.a. the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, on their front pages. That apart, with little hard news during the holiday, and many of their reporters on vacation, the Hebrew papers find a diverse mix of other issues to report on.

In a brief analysis, Yedioth Ahronoth‘s Alex Fishman asks what message Donald Trump is trying to send the world. “Everyone — including the United States’ allies — are concerned,” Fishman says. The Mother of All Bombs was saved for a doomsday scenario, he writes (pulling that out of nowhere), and was the third unanticipated act by the administration in the past week, counting the missile strike on Syria and the deployment of navy vessels toward North Korea as the others. He says dropping the bomb was supposedly retaliation for the death of an American soldier in combat with the Islamic State in Afghanistan in recent days. The president’s message, says Fishman: “I’m making America great again. Nobody is going to mess with us. Not North Korea, not the Iranians, and the Russians had better learn that we’re unpredictable.”

The ongoing manhunt for three missing persons who disappeared while vacationing on the Sea of Galilee has Israel Hayom preoccupied, as it keeps alive the public’s hope that after two days they may still be alive.

The paper reports that the parents of the missing young adults were at the beach as rescue teams hunted for their children, while at the same time other young folks partied on the beach as if nothing had happened. The parents, Israel Hayom says, “wavered between desperation and hope” that the three would turn up. Israel Hayom gets right in the face of the hysterical families, and quotes an anguished father whose son went missing after his water mattress was swept off shore calling on other parents to urge their children “not to go into the water so they will return home safely.”

But the big deal for Yedioth Ahronoth is its scoop announcing some of the torch-lighters for the Independence Day ceremony in Jerusalem. Among those to be honored by the Israeli government this year for their contribution is one of the founders of car safety innovator Mobileye, which sold earlier this year for several billions of dollars, giving the Israeli government a financial shot in the arm in the form of corporate taxes; veteran actor and singer Yehoram Gaon; and Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance, who issued a prayer for Jerusalem at Trump’s inauguration ceremony.

Unlike the tabloids, Haaretz focuses on hard issues like the Syrian Civil War and secular burial in Israel. The Mother of All Bombs doesn’t get the front page treatment, and the ongoing hunt at the Sea of Galilee can be found with the aid of a microscope on Page 7.

Amos Harel asserts at great length that the Syrian civil war is changing rapidly, and that Trump’s foreign policy is hard to pin down. The analysis piece reads like a weekend round-up of the past week’s events: the missile strikes on Syria, the rising tensions over North Korea, the face-off between US and Russia over Syria, Sean Spicer’s Holocaust comments. When Harel finally gets to the point mentioned in his headline, halfway through the behemoth of an article, he says that the escalation of tensions between the US and Russia and Iran over Syria “could have consequences for Israel, too.” Good thing I read this far in; that never would have occurred to me.

He says that a news outlet of dubious credibility reported a statement by the joint command of Assad and his allies after the US strike on Syria threatening forceful retaliation against any new aggression against the regime. “Does this joint command center’s statement, in case it’s reliable, concern only the United States, or does ‘whomever’ include Israel, too?” Harel asks.

His readers are likely relieved to read that he considers this an empty threat. “Besides the entanglement with the United States, the last thing Assad is interested in is conflict with Israel,” Harel argues. Increased Russian involvement, however, limits Israeli room for intervention, he says, adding that there is concern among Israel’s leaders that Assad will retake southern Syria bordering Israel’s Golan Heights, and bring Hezbollah and Iran with them.

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