The Russia news is real, the rest may not be: 8 things to know for September 20
Israel media review

The Russia news is real, the rest may not be: 8 things to know for September 20

Israel is insisting it’s not at fault for Syria’s downing of a Russian plane, but is still trying to ‘calm the bear’; elsewhere, the air fills with reports of a dubious nature

A photo taken on July 23, 2006 shows an Russian IL-20M (Ilyushin 20m) plane landing at an unknown location. ( AFP PHOTO / Nikita SHCHYUKIN)
A photo taken on July 23, 2006 shows an Russian IL-20M (Ilyushin 20m) plane landing at an unknown location. ( AFP PHOTO / Nikita SHCHYUKIN)

1. Down and out with Russia: Israel seems to have escaped mostly unscathed from its perilous Tuesday, arguably the most fraught Yom Kippur Eve since 1973, but there is still a sense of foreboding hanging over the incident, in which Russia blamed the IDF for Syria downing its recon aircraft when it had been aiming for Israeli jets carrying out an airstrike on a Latakia area facility.

  • Russia’s loud and furious blaming of Israel only seemed to subside with a phone call between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the moments before Yom Kippur, but the affair showed how precarious Israel’s mastery over Syria’s skies can be if it loses Moscow’s backing.
  • The incident “has now put Israel in an extremely difficult position with the Russians, and is liable to negatively influence the strategic freedom of action its air force had enjoyed on the northern front until now,” Amos Harel writes in Haaretz.
  • Israel defense muckety-mucks believe in the long term Israel will be able to keep doing as it has been doing in Syria, but in the short term “Israeli freedom of action over Syria is liable to be put under restrictions, both in terms of the breadth of operations, and in terms of coordination with Russia,” says Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yossi Yehoshua.
  • Israel Hayom’s Oded Granot writes that the Russians are likely to demand that Israel give them more warning ahead of a strike so they can get their planes out of the way; they had complained they were given only a minute notice on Monday night, which was not enough time.
  • He also says Israel may no longer be able to hit the Latakia region, home to Russia’s air and sea bases. “The Iranians had thought that the region was already immune from Israeli strikes, and therefore had placed the facilities that were bombed there.”

2. Seeya, Latakia: Indeed, the strike was in a part of Syria where Israeli planes rarely, if ever, venture.

  • “Until now, the whole area had been considered almost extra-territorial by Israel, essentially off-limits, because of the Russian presence. There may have been an occasional strike in recent years, but if so, it barely figured in international, Arab or, indeed, Israeli media reports,” ToI’s Avi Issacharoff notes.
  • “For Israel to have struck at targets in Latakia, the targets must have been critical. And indeed, the IDF, in its Tuesday statement, specified that the target was a Syrian military facility that manufactured ‘accurate and lethal weapons,’ which were ‘about to be transferred, on behalf of Iran, to Hezbollah in Lebanon.’”

3. Don’t poke the bear: Pundits are in agreement that an angry Russia is something Israel is doing everything in its power to avoid, with ties now “being tested” in the words of more than one headline.

  • “Calm the bear,” reads the top headline inside Israel Hayom.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth, under a graphic headlined “Russian Roulette,” writes that Moscow could go as far as allowing Iran back into the Golan Heights region, though it puts the chances of that as slim.
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial urges Israel to use the incident as a jumping off point to reflect on its wider strategy in Syria: “Regardless of Russia’s response, this incident should serve as a reminder of the fact that Syria isn’t a firing range. … Israel must never forget that military strikes in Syria, like any other belligerent action, are not risk-free.”

4. Don’t look at us: Yet Israel is also continuing to maintain that it did nothing wrong, and the blame lies with Syria, Hezbollah and Iran.

  • By Thursday morning, Israel’s air force chief was on his way to Moscow to show the Kremlin Israel’s assessment of what happened and dispel the accusations that the IL-20 recon plane had been used as cover.
  • Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tells Army Radio that “We are ready to give the Russians all the info. We have nothing to hide, we acted like we always act.”
  • In Israel Hayom, often seen as a mouthpiece for the government position, columnist Yoav Limor pushes back against the the Russian accusations that it knew the recon plane was in the area and says the matter is internal between Russia, which manufactures the air defense system, and Syria, which operates it.
  • “Had the Syrian air defense operators not been so skittish, and seemingly so poorly trained, the strike on the Ilyushin plane could have been avoided. There is no chance they didn’t notice it — a slow, heavy object — moving across the screen, and their hysteria could have led to a hitting any other target in the area, like a civilian plane loaded with innocent passengers,” he writes.

5. UNbelievable, literally: With a week to go before the UN General Assembly, Gal Berger of the Kan state broadcaster says that Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki has yet to receive a visa to enter the United States for the world summit, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas is likely waiting for his too.

  • The assertion comes after claims that the US revoked the visas of the wife and children of the Palestinian envoy to the US, and ordered their bank accounts frozen.
  • However, Maliki tells the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that the report is untrue and his visa was not held up.

6. Blood-red tape: ToI’s Adam Rasgon reports that the Palestinians are denying another story making the rounds, that the PLO has already authorized payments to the family of Khalid Jabarin, the teen who stabbed Israeli man Ari Fuld to death in the West Bank on Sunday.

  • After the right-wing Channel 20 writes that he’s already been paid, relying on who knows what information, Prisoner Affairs’ Commission spokesman Hassan Abd Rabbo tells ToI it’s “a total fabrication and incitement.”
  • It’s not clear why he’s so worked up, since Abd Rabbo also proudly says they will be paying Jabarin’s family just as soon as they get the paperwork together.
  • “We are not bashful or secretive about our support for our prisoners,” he says. “The [Jabarin] family would be eligible to receive a monthly salary of NIS 1,400 ($390), if their son is not freed by Israel and it completes all the necessary documents.”

7. City of votes: The battle for Jerusalem is heating up ahead of next month’s municipal elections, after ultra-Orthodox leaders in the city threw their weight behind Moshe Lion, which papers say will put him ahead of previous front-runner Ze’ev Elkin.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth estimates that the support of the ultra-Orthodox groups will equal some 95,000 extra votes for Lion at the polling station.
  • Yet according to Haaretz, even if Lion is now back among the realistic candidates, the fact that the Haredi vote is split, thanks to ultra-Orthodox candidate Yossi Deitch, the race is far from over, with Elkin and secular dark horse Ofer Berkovitch still in with a shot.
  • On Twitter, Elkin reacts furiously to the ultra-Orthodox endorsements, accusing Shas head Aryeh Deri and Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman of making a shady backroom deal to try and stop him because they couldn’t keep him from running.
  • It’s quite a statement from Elkin, who has campaigned against Berkovich mostly on the fact that he has political connections and can make insider deals, especially with the prime minister.
  • Speaking to the Ynet news site, Lion denies any deal and shoots back with the equivalent of a “Whoa Nelly, that’s your defense minister you’re talking about.”

8. Brickbats over Dimona: Several Israeli news sites are leading coverage Thursday morning with the headline that Israel is planning on upgrading security around the Dimona nuclear facility.

  • The reports cite a Tuesday statement by Israeli nuclear chief Zeev Snir to the IAEA that was just released to the press.
  • “Israeli nuke sites will be ‘upgraded and bolstered’ following threats from Iran,” reports the Walla news site.
  • The Ynet news site calls the statement “irregular.”
  • However’s Snir’s statement seems to actually indicate a more general commitment to protect the site from attack, and not a specific upgrade plan.
  • “In light of these destabilizing elements, we cannot ignore the repeated and explicit threats, made by Iran and its proxies, to attack Israel’s nuclear sites,” he actually said. “These outrageous threats require Israel to take action and continue to protect and defend its nuclear facilities. These facilities are constantly upgraded and reinforced, in line with IAEA safety guidelines, in order to withstand any attack.”
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