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Israel media review

Third wave’s the charm: What the press is saying on December 4

More infections are leading to more warnings of more lockdowns, but not everyone is buying it, especially with more vaccinations on the way

Israelis wearing face masks shop at the Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem on November 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israelis wearing face masks shop at the Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem on November 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. Strength through discipline: A Military Intelligence task force report Friday warns that Israel is at the start of a third wave of the coronavirus. The task force also reported the same on Thursday, but few seem to have noticed then.

  • On Friday, though, the task force adds to its warning an estimation that for every two days of infection levels at their current rate (about 1,500 new cases a day) it will take a day of lockdown to undo. The warning comes as a counterpoint to reports that Israel has begun preparing to distribute vaccines.
  • “Despite the optimism about the vaccine coming soon, the picture of the situation continues to be worrying,” Channel 12 news reports.
  • Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the ministry’s public health services division, tells Kan news that the infection rate has tripled over the previous four weeks, while expressing hopes that Israel can avoid a third lockdown to deal with the third wave.
  • In Yedioth, columnist Nadav Eyal quotes a source in the health system saying “We stopped it, we halted it, and we left the door of the country open to be broken into,” in an apparent reference to weak enforcement of quarantine requirements on arrivals.
  • Walla quotes Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy saying: “If before we were talking about a rise in the Arab community, now it’s among everybody. Infection has turned many cities red and orange, and that is affecting learning and restrictions.”

2. Strength through community-specific lockdowns: Not everybody is buying what the health Cassandras are saying. Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that “the automatic warnings about a third lockdown aren’t convincing, especially when presented as the only alternative.”

  • He quotes anti-lockdown crusader and public health expert Prof. Hagai Levine as saying that rather than a third wave, Israel is seeing “an ongoing pandemic with expected ups and downs. Israel stands out for the inconsistency of the restrictions imposed.”
  • Levine, who took part in a meeting Thursday to discuss the rise in infection tells Army Radio that “they are not showing us the effect of the closures. If they would show us the results, we would choose a more balanced choice.”
  • Dr. Ronit Calderon Margalit is quoted in Israel Hayom as saying that “we are still at a point where we can impose localized lockdowns and curb infection in red towns and also keep it from spreading to other areas.”

3. Strength through vaccinations: Several reports raise hopes that a vaccine will soon be here, and may begin being handed out.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that four million doses of the Pfizer drug, enough to inoculate 2 million people, will begin to arrive at the end of the month.
  • “The amount that will get to Israel will be larger than we expected,” an HMO source tells the paper. “They are telling us that the scale of the first delivery will be large. If the first batch is in the millions, that’s significantly more than what we thought.”
  • Channel 12 news reports that the vaccine could get here by next week (!) but will sit around in cold storage until the US Food and Drug Administration gives a thumbs up.
  • Channel 13, though, says Israel may say ‘screw it’ and give out the vaccines even without waiting for the FDA’s stamp of approval.
  • Several news sites report that Levy held a meeting Thursday night in which he ordered the HMOs to get ready to jab 80,000 people a day. The first to be vaccinated will be health care workers and those in high-risk groups, they say.
  • A survey from Kan finds that one in four Israelis say they’ll likely or surely take a pass on the shot. It notes, however, that the number is in line with other Western countries, and in France the number of those who are down with the sickness over the vaccine is a whopping 33 percent.
  • In Israel Hayom, Dr. Tzachi Grossman, head of the Pediatricians Association, writes that he understands people’s hesitancy, which is common for parents vaccinating their children, and so also understands how to overcome it.
  • “From our understanding, the name of the game with eradicating the disease is a mix of information, transparency and personal example. The public needs to know everything about the vaccines, what their benefits are, what they are made from, what the pros are and the possible consequences. Information builds trust, transparency of information builds success in eradicating the disease.”

4. Strength through covert action: Yedioth Ahronoth leads off its edition with a report from Ronen Bergman revealing some of Israel’s intelligence file on assassinated nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

  • Among the trove, Bergman says, is a recording in which Fakhrizadeh speaks of building five warheads. But as with everything else Israel has presented about Fakhrizadeh and Iran’s nuclear archives, it’s a gun that was smoking some time ago.
  • According to Bergman, Olmert played the tape for George W. Bush when he visited in 2008, with it being so secret that he even forced then-National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley out of the room. “Fakhrizadeh spoke openly and in detail about his life’s project: development of an Iranian nuke. He complained about the fact that they were not giving him enough budget to advance the project. One on hand, he complained, ‘they want five warheads,’ but on the other, they aren’t letting me work.”
  • Despite the fact that the quotes presented by Bergman don’t contain the word nuclear, he still calls it the “smoking atomic gun, the game-changer,” and traces the advent of close US-Israeli intelligence cooperation on the matter to that meeting.
  • In Haaretz, Yossi Melman publishes a long account of his interview with Ex-CIA chief John Brennan, who criticized the assassination publicly. In the interview, which took place a few days before the killing, Brennan says that Israeli intelligence was one part of thousands of pieces that helped lead the US to Osama Bin Laden.
  • He also says he can’t be sure if Iran does in fact still even want the bomb: “Iran is not a monolith. Your question is like asking whether America wants to do Y or Z – depending on who you ask, they’re going to have a different answer. I do think there are individuals in Iran that would like to see Iran armed to the teeth including with nuclear weapons, as many of those hardliners say. But I also think that there are individuals, such as the president of Iran, who are much more pragmatic in their outlook and recognize that the Iranian people and the Iranian economy really need to come into the 21st century.”
  • Channel 12 news previews a look at how the assassination, if it was a Mossad job, may have gone down, interviewing a few former spies, including Viktor Ostrovsky, whose accounts of his time in the Mossad have been questioned by some.
  • “You have the agent, running the fighter or fighters. Then you have the people on the ground gathering information but without knowing for what. Even the backup for the ground team doesn’t know what’s happening. You don’t want it to be that if one falls, it will bring down the dominoes,” he says in a preview of a story to be aired Friday evening.
  • (Interestingly, some of the criticism of Ostrovsky’s accounts have stemmed from the fact that with such compartmentalized information, he could not have known everything he wrote about.)

5. Strength through fear? While Israel has not claimed responsibility for the killing of Fakhrizadeh, on Thursday it made its first official (as in not ministers speaking to radio stations) comments on it, warning Israelis to be vigilant if visiting the Gulf and some other locations where Iranians may try to strike back.

  • Channel 13, which reports that the warning is for “Arab countries,” despite the fact that only two of the six areas are actually Arab, also says that the warning means that Israelis there should return home and that those planning on going should cancel their trips, though that is not at all clear, with the advisory actually counseling “vigilance.”
  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren quotes visiting Bahraini minister Zaid al-Zayani saying that Israelis have nothing to fear: “No, you watch too many 007 movies. That is not an issue at all. We have quite a good security apparatus in Bahrain. Don’t forget that if there is a threat from Iran it is a threat to Bahrain more than it is a threat to Israelis tourists. So we have to keep our country safe and our borders well protected,” he’s quoted saying.
  • “If Israelis feel more comfortable by having added security, that can be arranged, but I really don’t think that’s required,” he adds.
  • Former national security adviser Giora Eiland says essentially the same to Army Radio regarding the travel warning: “The words used show that there is no warning or specific intelligence, but that there is a general estimation that the Iranians will want to hurt Israelis and it will be easier in these countries.”
  • Kan reports that Iran may be thinking of taking an eye for an eye approach, and Israelis who have worked in the past at the Dimona nuclear textile factory are being advised to “show an abundance of caution.”
  • Meanwhile, with the inclusion of Iraqi Kurdistan in the list, Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson jokes on Twitter: “Wow, what are the thousands of Israelis planning vacations in Iraqi Kurdistan going to do?”
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