Israel media review

Trial by failure: 8 things to know for July 24

David’s Sling misses some Goliath missiles, raising questions; a politician has answers for a stone falling from the Western Wall; and an aid offer is not all Greek to one minister

The David's Sling missile defense battery, which represents the middle tier of Israel's multi-layered anti-missile capabilities. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
The David's Sling missile defense battery, which represents the middle tier of Israel's multi-layered anti-missile capabilities. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

1. NIS 30 billion. That’s the amount Israel is planning to spend over the next 10 years on a massive missile defense program, according to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth.

  • The plan, called the largest defense scheme in the country’s history, remains mostly under wraps, but the report describes it as “total protection for the country from north to south, bolstering the army’s missile array and purchasing advanced defense technology.”
  • The report says it will also allow the country to develop more “systems,” though does not specify what kind of systems.
  • “The program will especially enlarge the country’s readiness in times of emergency, even on multiple fronts,” a senior government source says.
  • As for the $8.22 billion price tag, a pittance for the US but a fortune for Israel, the money will come from streamlining within the army, as well as tax surpluses.

2. The report comes a day after Israel made its first operational use of David’s Sling, its brand new mid-range missile interceptor, after fearing a Syrian missile fired as part of internal fighting across the Golan frontier may have been headed for Israel.

  • Though neither of the interceptors actually shot down its target — one self-destructed after it was realized that it was shot unnecessarily and the other was lost, apparently falling to earth in Syria — Israel Hayom reports that the army is still calling the “trial by fire” a success.
  • The use of the expensive rockets and their inability to actually knock anything down have left some questions though, with pundits roundly describing the incident as a failure.
  • “The problem isn’t the waste of resources — a million dollars per interception — but in the actual failure; an active system also has another important role aside from its ability to intercept: It’s supposed to deter the enemy from even thinking about shooting rockets, since it knows that the chances of causing damage are small,” writes Yoav Limor in Israel Hayom.
  • “The system is still experiencing labor pains, and the decision to fire was preferable to a decision not to fire, which could have ended in disaster,” writes Haaretz’s Amos Harel, though he is less understanding of the army’s convoluted and opaque way of getting information about the incident out.
  • Yedioth’s own report on the incident also doesn’t buy the army’s reasoning on the system failing to shoot down the missiles because they fell inside Syria: “One would expect the advances system to manage to shoot down these missiles even a kilometer deep inside Syria.”
  • At press time, Israel had returned to the good ol’ Patriot missile system to “intercept” (aka shoot down) a Syrian fighter jet that flew into Israeli airspace.

3. The David’s Sling incident came as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Moscow’s defense chief made a surprise visit to Israel, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for some two hours.

  • Haaretz’s print edition has the lead headline “Israeli official: Russia will push the Iranians 100 kilometers from the border,” reporting that Israel accepted the offer but demanded that long-range weapons that can shoot beyond that range also be withdrawn.
  • Other places, though, report that Israel out-and-out rebuffed the offer as insufficient, though an Israeli official described it as a “first step.”
  • Reuters reports that Israel’s refusal “complicat[es] Moscow’s bid to stabilize the country amid a waning civil war.”

4. It’s not the only point of disagreement between Moscow and Jerusalem. The Russian Embassy in Israel has by Tuesday morning twice tweeted about its unhappiness that Israel allowed some 400 White Helmets to leave Syria and make their way to the West via Jordan.

  • Asked whether Russia had leaned on Israel not to allow the operation, an official at the Russian Embassy tells ToI’s Raphael Ahren that they “didn’t pressure or even ask nicely.” One wonders if the Russians even knew.

5. The AP’s Sarah el Deeb reports on the extreme secrecy surrounding the operation, with organizers unsure it would go through until the last minute and many volunteers, kept in the dark about plans for them, declining the chance to cross into Israel.

  • Others didn’t join the operation because they could not make it to assembly points in time, “unable to go through roads that were closing fast by the advancing Syrian forces on one side and the expanding Islamic State militants on the other.”
  • And highlighting the drama of the moonlit operation, she describes one evacuee going into labor and giving birth during the operation just short of the Israeli border.
  • “In a couple of hours, she was evacuated to the other side with a healthy baby boy,” a source says.

6. The Hebrew press mostly ignores or downplays the freak dislodging and falling of a massive stone from the Western Wall onto a temporary egalitarian prayer plaza below — “a near catastrophe” according to Israel Hayom.

  • Despite the opportunities to connect the incident to Godly wrath, with so much for God to be angry about, those who normally appoint themselves heavenly spokespeople all somehow refrain, with Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch offering only a ho-hum call for soul searching.
  • Even Jews News, which is anything but, doesn’t touch the story, its lead item instead attributing a series of minor earthquakes in Iran to “G-d’s Wrath.”
  • Only Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Dov Kalmanovich comes through, saying in the same breath there’s no way to interpret God’s will, but also that Reform Jews, Women of the Wall and others he doesn’t like should say the Shema with one eye open.
  • If the incident is a wake-up call, it’s for the state of the site, where even cosmetic efforts to bolster the ancient stones are often the source of turmoil. One archaeologist tells ToI’s Amanda Borschel-Dan that whole shrine is a death trap and people should be kept several meters from the wall.
  • Another archaeologist, who excavated near the site after 1967, tells her: “So a rock fell — so what? The State of Israel hasn’t ended, the Messiah won’t come because of this.”

7. Much more dangerous (and a surer sign of God’s wrath?) is the hot and dry weather sweeping parts of the globe, including a wildfire that has killed at least 50 people near Athens.

  • Israel offered to help Greece fight the blazes, but the offer was turned down.
  • After Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan makes the offer in a Hebrew tweet, one colleague points out it may have made more sense to do so in Greek, or at least English.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth notes that super hot weather is heading Israel’s way as well: “If you thought it was hot yesterday, today and tomorrow you will really suffer,” the site reports, noting that the mercury is expected to climb above 40 Celsius (104 F) in some places, with Tel Aviv both hot and humid.

8. Uganda’s New Vision newspaper reports that an Israeli firm that is leasing land in Uganda to cultivate marijuana may be breaking local laws.

  • Together Pharma Ltd., a manufacturer and distributor of medical cannabis, said last week it had placed an order for cannabis seeds for a farm it is setting up in Uganda, to sell cannabis oil to a Canadian firm.
  • However, New Vision quotes Uganda Investment Authority Executive Director Basil Ajer saying he does not allow investment in marijuana cultivation.
  • “That is an area we do not even handle. It is illegal,” he says.
  • The police, meanwhile, say they would never allow it: “There is no way the Police can give such approval. We are already having grave problems. It doesn’t matter the purpose of planting it. You cannot guarantee it won’t be misused. We would be doomed if the country chose that direction.”

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