To Helsinki in a handbasket: 9 things to know for July 16
Israel media review

To Helsinki in a handbasket: 9 things to know for July 16

Expectations are not especially high for the Trump-Putin meeting, and open questions remain over who won in Gaza and what the upshots of the Iran nuclear revelations are

A sentence reading The Whole World is Watching is projected on the presidential palace on the eve of a summit between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 15, 2018. AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND)
A sentence reading The Whole World is Watching is projected on the presidential palace on the eve of a summit between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 15, 2018. AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND)

1. In diplomacy, much like comedy, timing is everything, as illustrated by a number of stories topping the news agenda Monday morning.

  • There’s no bigger show in town than US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin meeting in Helsinki, and Israel has jimmied its way right into the middle of the summit, with its demand that Iran pull out of Syria or at least stay away from the border, about the only thing known to be on the agenda between the two leaders at the high stakes summit.
  • Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el writes that reports out of Russia indicate that the Kremlin does indeed plan on pushing Iran away from the border in exchange for backing Bashar Assad’s survival. In the long term, though, he thinks Israel is involved in pushing a three-way deal that would see the US lift sanctions on Russia at Jerusalem’s behest.
  • “According to Western diplomatic sources, Israel wants Russia to draft a strategic plan for after the war, which will prevent Syria from becoming a transit country for weapons between Iran and Hezbollah. Israel’s real payment to Russia is expected to come from Washington, which will have to legitimize the international reconciliation with Russia and perhaps revoke some of the sanctions,” he writes.

2. In the short term, though, there’s not a whole lot of faith that the summit will provide anything worthwhile, especially not for America.

  • “Maybe something good will come of the summit” is all Trump-backing Israel Hayom can muster for its headline, quoting the US leader.
  • Will the summit “bring a breakthrough in ties between the states or worsen growing tensions between Washington and Moscow over the investigation into meddling in the election, Russia’s takeover of Ukraine, Russia’s support for the Assad regime and the Kremlin sticking to the Iran nuclear deal? The president and his advisers are trying to lower expectations ahead of the summit,” the paper’s correspondent in Helsinki writes.
  • “Putin has forgotten more foreign policy of trickery and cunning than Trump has ever learned,” writes Yedioth’s Orly Azulai. “Their meeting today will take place mostly without anyone else there — which according to Trump’s advisers is a recipe for disaster — and he will not ask a thing of the Russian president.”

3. The release of new information regarding Israel’s theft of the Iran nuclear archive, and new information about Iran’s illicit activities, may have also been timed to precede the summit should Trump try to convince Putin to abandon the nuclear deal.

  • The New York Times bombshell details how Israeli spies found and spirited the documents out of Iran, with the writers indicating that it’s not so clear that the info proves the nuclear accord was a bad deal.
  • “The … material could … be interpreted as a strong argument for maintaining and extending the nuclear accord as long as possible. The deal deprived the Iranians of the nuclear fuel they would need to turn the designs into reality,” write David Sanger and Ronen Bergman.
  • In the Israeli press, though, the takeaway is all the bad stuff Iran was up to, such as the idea that the nuclear program “was almost certainly larger, more sophisticated and better organized,” in the words of an unnamed scientist highlighted in the Times of Israel report.
  • “Pictures from Parchin were revealed that prove the Iranians were cheating the IAEA,” reports Israel Hayom.
  • Even Yedioth’s story, also written by Ronen Bergman, strays sharply from the Times version in both its sensationalist aspects and its highlighting of the fact that the documents show “how close Iran was to having control of the technology needed to build a nuclear bomb before it declared the program ended 15 years ago.”

4. Haaretz detects signals in Israel’s decision to move an Iron Dome battery to Tel Aviv, and its announcement it will step up attacks on kite and balloon launchers: Namely, that the country is ready to take Gaza all the way to war.

  • “All this was meant to convey to Hamas that Israel isn’t afraid of a military confrontation and is prepared if needed to take even harsher measures. Still, despite the tough declarations by government ministers and the emergency atmosphere in television studios, this isn’t a war,” Amos Harel writes.

5. If Israel did want to look decisive to scare off Hamas, leaks about bickering within the security cabinet are likely not helping the cause.

  • Hadashot news reports that IDF Chief Gadi Eisenkot told Education Minister Naftali Bennett that shooting to kill people launching kites and balloons goes against his moral code.
  • Yedioth reports that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman are fuming at Bennett for publicly slagging off the ceasefire and trying to take credit for the more militant position against the kites and balloons.
  • “We are seeing how Bennett and [Justice Minister Ayelet] Shaked are taking the prime minister’s decision, this time against kites, and presenting it as their own ultimatum.”
  • If Netanyahu is so proud of his more militant position, though, one must wonder why journalists were told to report on his decision to ramp up attacks on kite launchers without citing any source.

6. The Hadashot account of the cabinet meeting also reported that Netanyahu complained that the media was blowing the kite and balloon problem out of proportion, putting pressure on cabinet members to act (which would seem to indicate they are doing so against their will).

  • Considering Netanyahu’s close ties to Israel Hayom, one might then read the paper’s decision to bury Gaza news under France winning the World Cup as a reflection of that stance.
  • However, Yedioth, too, leads off with the World Cup ( both papers use the same picture of French President Emmanuel Macron celebrating) and considering it has led the campaign against the balloons and kites, the editorial decision likely just means Israelis really like soccer.

7. Perhaps that’s why Yedioth military analyst Eitan Haber uses a soccer analogy to describe the weekend round of fighting as a 0-0 draw, though he seems to think it was closer to 6-1 Hamas.

  • “It would be reasonable to say we lost, to put it mildly,” he writes.
  • Israel Hayom, though, quotes the IDF telling the security cabinet that they packed such a wallop that “by Saturday afternoon, Hamas was running to try and find a ceasefire.”

8. Legislators will get a chance some time in the next couple days to vote on the controversial nation-state law, after Netanyahu and Bennett agreed to soften language supporting segregated towns and replace it with a clause supporting Jewish settlement.

  • Israel Hayom reports that “the way is now paved for it to be given final approval.”
  • But will the softening be enough? Haaretz’s op-ed page shows that even right-wing Israelis, like former foreign minister Moshe Arens, are against the bill.
  • “It is a needless law and damaging to Israel,” he writes. “Only a very narrowminded view of Israel can lead one to support this law.”

9. A story in Forbes, about a new Israeli startup that will hack into whatever and intrude on whoever for anyone with enough money, might have some uncomfortable with the type of tech the Jewish state is becoming known for — with cyber spying fast replacing cherry tomatoes and USB drives.

  • The startup, called Toka, says it will focus on hacking into the Internet of Things — everything from smart TVs to Alexa to thermostats — and is backed by none other than former prime minister Ehud Barak, among others.
  • The company claims it won’t let itself get into the hands of any bad guys like Russia, but given its attempt to spin itself as something other than an “offensive” hacking operation, one wonders if it won’t perform the same semantic acrobatics when accused of going down the same rabbit hole other Israeli security firms have ventured down.
  • “The rush to show returns can easily push companies to loosen their scruples, with predictable results,” Forbes quotes University of Toronto cybersecurity expert John Scott-Railton saying. “Look at any company selling intrusion tech to a growing global client list and you will encounter abusive misuse.”
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