The war of fog
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Hebrew media review

The war of fog

Reporters do little to hide their annoyance at having to wait 6 hours in the desert for Israel’s new F-35s to arrive, dampening much of the hype surround the fighter jets

Empty chairs are seen during a ceremony to receive the delivery of two F-35 fighter jets on December 12, 2016, at the Israeli Nevatim Air force base. AFP/JACK GUEZ)
Empty chairs are seen during a ceremony to receive the delivery of two F-35 fighter jets on December 12, 2016, at the Israeli Nevatim Air force base. AFP/JACK GUEZ)

In the 150 years since the phrase “the fog of war” was first coined by military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, the term has become almost a cliché in describing the uncertainty surrounding military engagements. In the excellent documentary of the same name, former US secretary of state Robert Strange McNamara describes it as meaning that “War is so complex it’s beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend all the variables.”

Reading about the arrival of the the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, after years of hype and hundreds of millions of dollars, in Tuesday morning’s Hebrew-language papers, one might be forgiven for thinking that the super-advanced plane contains the ability to cut through that ever-present figurative fog, which it obviously cannot. Nor can it cut through actual fog, as it turns out, and that fact leads to even more coverage — or rather caviling — after the arrival ceremony was delayed by six hours because of weather in Italy.

The plane’s name “Adir,” meaning great or awesome, gives headline writers plenty of fodder to work with, such as Israel Hayom’s gung-ho front page headline “Awesome strength,” or Yedioth Ahronoth’s front pager “Great selfie,” over a picture of a family having a picture taken of them in front of the plane, i.e., not an actual selfie, and of course “Great Delay.”

An F-35 fighter jet, after landing in the Nevatim Air Force Base in southern Israel on December 12, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)
An F-35 fighter jet, after landing in the Nevatim Air Force Base in southern Israel on December 12, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)

Papers dutifully report the words of praise for the fighting machines by US and Israeli officials and army officers and Yedioth devotes a full page photo spread to the plane after it landed. But nearly as prevalent in the press are pictures of a nearly empty ceremony at Nevatim air base, after thousands of attendees jetted or didn’t even show up because of the delay. The clear annoyance of the reporters who had no choice but to stick around for hours dampens even the most effusive accounts of the plane hootenanny.

“The most advanced plane in the world, which can fly under the radar of world-class air defenses, attack anywhere and shoot down any threat, remained on the ground in Italy because of weather,” Israel Hayom reports.

In Yedioth, Yossi Yehoshua notes that those seats were eventually filled by poor soldiers pulled from normal base duty to serve as face-savers.
“More than 6,000 people were invited to the festive event, and 4,000 chairs were set out. But soldiers sat in them, not invited guests, and they were the main listeners for the speeches, including President Reuven Rivlin, who got himself worked into a bit of a lather when he said ‘The more than 22 tons of flying steel that will land here is going to change the Middle East. It’s too early to estimate how much of a change and the influence it will have, but the change starts now.’”

Haaretz’s Amos Harel paints the whole thing, the ceremony, the hype, suspicions surrounding purchases made by the government, Trump’s tweet which sent Lockheed-Martin stock spiraling, all of it, as a burlesque.

“We can only hope [the weather delay] won’t prove an obstacle when it comes to real operational activity. All together, the ceremony assumed the dimension of farce, like a script by the late satirist Ephraim Kishon,” he writes. “The arrival of the two planes on Monday evening heralds the beginning of the Israel Defense Forces’ acquisition of an advanced and important weapons system, albeit one that is also the subject of professional controversy. It doesn’t reflect a new stage in the Return to Zion or another Operation Entebbe. Therefore, the enthusiasm with which some media outlets celebrated the new planes, without even an ounce of critical thinking, has been surprising.”

The story of the plane’s delay shares space at the top of the news agenda with another story about being brought low when something could have been flying high — that is, a double funeral following a deadly fall during a desert hike last week, in which the father heroically, but ultimately unsuccessfully, gave his life to try to save his son.

Yedioth leads off with the story and describes the heartbreaking scene as the two were placed in the ground, side by side, in the same grave on Monday.

Shiri Nir, widow and mother of Omri and Elai Nir, a father and son killed during a hike in Nahal Tzeelim, mourns at their funeral in Kfar Vitkin on December 12, 2016. Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
Shiri Nir, widow and mother of Omri and Elai Nir, a father and son killed during a hike in Nahal Tzeelim, mourns at their funeral in Kfar Vitkin on December 12, 2016. Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

“For several minutes the grandmother Tali hugged the two left behind – in her left hand her daughter Shiri, who turned into a widow and a bereaved mother. In her right hand her granddaughter Na’ama, just 12 and already having to deal with life without her father or brother. She tried to comfort them despite her pain, and they sobbed in her arms,” the paper reports.

“The moon had already risen, the funeral had ended, but hundreds continued to traverse the paths of the Kfar Vitkin cemetery to pay their last respects and place laurels of flowers on the fresh grave of Omri, the brave father who hugged his son and protected his body during the whole terrible fall at Nahal Tzeelim, and that of Elai, who fought bravely for days until his little body could no longer.”

Israel Hayom reports that mother Shiri, in her eulogy, made sure to thank the medical staff for working on her son and “being a light in the darkness through all this hell.” She herself also earns thanks, after her son’s organs were used to help others fighting for their lives, including 8-year-old Almog Garibelli, who received his heart.

“Even though Almog was on the list and unfortunately is very sick, it still wasn’t easy to receive this,” his mother tells the paper. “Once they started making the direct connection I understood where the heart was coming from. I so much appreciate his mother who gave life to my son and other children and it’s not an easy thing, especially in this situation. I thank her and would be happy to meet her. The heart of her son will always beat in my son’s body.”

Another possible positive development that comes out of the tragedy is in Haaretz, which reports on its front page that the Nature and Parks Authority will consider adding safety measures to some dangerous hikes to prevent a similar tragedy.

Reading into the fine print of the story, though, finds officials mostly unwilling to think about adding safety measures to Nahal Tzeelim or other dangerous hikes. The paper quotes a number of officials who give various reasons for not wanting to add ladders, fences or other measures: engineering challenges, costs, aesthetics, the loss of a natural filter to make sure less experienced hikers don’t take these trails and the fact that accidents like this are fairly rare – though the paper reports four people have died on hikes this year.

“In Tzeelim we could add emergency stairs, but people don’t want a thing like that in a desert hike,” Yossi Freidman, head of safety for the Authority, is quoted telling the paper. “The elements that we do use are things that are accepted around the world.”

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