Two-hundred-and-two and counting: 10 things to know for September 5
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Israel media review

Two-hundred-and-two and counting: 10 things to know for September 5

Israel opens up about how much it’s hitting Iran, its plans for a new nuclear deal, and some atomic selfies in the filched Iranian nuclear archive

An Israeli F-16 fighter jet fires a 'Rampage' air-to-ground rocket in an undated photograph. (Israeli Military Industries Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries)
An Israeli F-16 fighter jet fires a 'Rampage' air-to-ground rocket in an undated photograph. (Israeli Military Industries Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries)

1. Pulling back the curtain on Syria: Israel’s decision to keep mum about its reported strikes in Syria against regime and Iranian targets has always been described as a strategic one: If you don’t brag about it, the parties licking their wounds might not feel obligated to respond to defend their honor.

  • So Israel’s decision Tuesday to pull back the curtain slightly on the breadth of its activities in Syria, including 202 strikes over 18 months, could signal the opposite, that Israel feels bold enough given understandings with Russia, to be more open about its activities, and that it wants Iran and Syria to be sure that what is happening to them is not an electrical fire.
  • “The 202 targets hit in the Israeli airstrikes since 2017 were mostly shipments of advanced weaponry, as well as military bases and infrastructure, which the IDF officials said drove Iranian forces to abandon some posts,” ToI’s Judah Ari Gross notes.
  • According to Haaretz, the army is watching weapons transfers move from Iran to Iraq and from there to Syria. The comment comes days after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman signaled that Israel could take action in Iraqi territory as well, and much fuzzier speculation about Israeli activities in Syria, like the bombing of an Iranian/regime convoy near a US base over the weekend.
  • Hinting at that, Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor writes that when it comes to stopping Iran, “everything is kosher, from airstrikes like the one on Tuesday … to various reports on foreign media outlets that one can only assume wind up on Israeli news desks not by coincidence.”
  • The army briefing also revealed a bit more about other Israeli activity in Syria, including a “significant contribution to the defeat” of the Islamic State group, Haaretz reports.

2. The Israeli hit machine: The briefing came just before reports came in from Syria of a fresh attack on Iranian and regime targets, apparently from Israeli warplanes deep in Syrian territory. Though the bombing was a rare daytime attack, official Israel still played coy, signaling that it is not about to be much more transparent about its activities in Syria.

  • Asked whether the count of 202 strikes included Tuesday’s, the AP reports, “an official said Tuesday’s alleged airstrikes were not included in the tally. He would not confirm Israel was behind those strikes and did not comment on them.”
  • The fact that the raid came in the daytime was rare, as noted by many media outlets, though the last time one was reported it was also to strike the chemical weapons center near Maysaf, Hama.
  • A picture making the rounds on social media shows what is purportedly as Israeli plane over Syria being chased by anti-aircraft fire.

3. Nuclear selfies: The briefing also included a traditional ranking of threats, with Iran at the top — both for its activities in Syria and its nuclear program.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ronen Bergman reveals yet more details about the Israeli raid to steal Iran’s nuclear archive and what’s in it: selfies.
  • “The Iranians documented everything: the equipment, the building of factories and secret sites and even themselves during tests, with entertaining selfie photographs.”
  • Bergman writes that the documents point to IRGC officer and physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi as the brains behind the nuclear program.
  • “According to foreign reports, he was a preferred target for Israeli intel gathering and the idea of harming him was even considered. It didn’t happen and now it seems there are those who are sorry about the decision to let him get away with his life,” he writes.

4. Kill Assad: Syrian President Bashar Assad also had a target on his head, according to a damning new book from Bob Woodward, which is the latest bombshell to describe chaos in US President Donald Trump’s White House.

  • While there are plenty of crazy excerpts from the book just from the little bit that has been released so far, most Israeli news outlets focus on a fuming Trump ordering the assassination of the Syrian leader like he’s ordering Baron to timeout.
  • “Trump wanted to assassinate Assad after the chemical attack,” reads a headline in the Walla news site.
  • Trump has gone on the offensive, calling the book a pack of lies, and though Woodward is a journalist of unparalleled professionalism, the phrase “we’ll kill the fucking lot of them” does sound, at least to my ears, a bit too British for Trump. The fact that the modern day Arnaud Almaric would order Assad’s assassination and say “we’ll kill a fucking lot of them,” however, is more than plausible.
  • Unsurprisingly, the pro-Trump Israel Hayom ignores the book totally.

5. Dissing the PM: Not nearly as sexy but also damning is John Kerry’s new memoir, which paints a picture of a Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “disrespectful” in his efforts to scuttle the Iran deal, ToI’s Eric Cortellessa reports.

  • “It was no surprise that Netanyahu grossly distorted the agreement,” Kerry writes of Netanyahu’s notorious 2015 speech to Congress. “He delivered a well-crafted but purely political statement, not an honest analysis of nonproliferation strategy or a substantive argument for how one would in fact make Israel safer without an agreement.”

6. A new deal for Iran: With the deal now apparently safely scuttled, Israel’s Foreign Ministry — run by Netanyahu — has shifted its approach regarding the nuke deal to pushing for a better one, Haaretz reports.

  • A document detailing the ministry’s objectives for next year says “the ministry should develop a ‘system of pressure that will assure the attainment of an improved agreement that will address the flaws of the old agreement,’” the paper reports.
  • Last year, according to Haaretz, the goal was “to ‘establish red lines’ and ‘stop Iran from effective progress in its nuclear program, first and foremost with regard to the nuclear agreement.’”

7. Rome if Netanyahu wants you: It’s not necessarily proof of anything, but it seems at least telling that Israel’s new ambassador to Rome has been named none other than Dror Eydar, a columnist for Israel Hayom, seen as closely linked to the prime minister.

  • Eydar is apparently going in the opposite direction of the paper’s current editor in chief, Boaz Bismuth, who once served as ambassador to Mauritania.

8. Bibi’s hate for Soros, in 11 tweets: Netanyahu’s closeness to Israel Hayom also possibly got him to share an Iranian anti-Semitic canard that the tabloid accidentally reported on. Hadashot news’s Nadav Eyal, who first noticed what happened several days ago and tweeted about it in Hebrew, now traces the whole story on Twitter in English.

  • Rather than attempt to rehash it, I’ll just suggest you click and read the thread.

9. Gantz in the pocket: Netanyahu has held on to the Foreign Ministry since the start of his term almost three years ago, reportedly keeping it up his sleeve as a political ace in the hole if he ever needed to negotiate an enemy into a friend.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Netanyahu recently offered the position to former IDF chief Benny Gantz, who is thought to have political ambitions.
  • “According to sources, Netanyahu wants Gantz to join ranks with Likud so he won’t run against him in the next elections,” the paper reports.
  • It adds that it’s not clear if Gantz was offered the position for this government or in the next one, assuming Netanyahu wins another term.

10. Stump and dump: Netanyahu is not the only Likud minister wearing different hats. Ze’ev Elkin, who is Environmental Protection Minister, Jerusalem Affairs minister and now also Jerusalem mayor candidate, paid the Hadashot news company NIS 700,000 to participate in their Influencers Conference, media watchdog The Seventh Eye reports.

  • The money didn’t come from his election coffers but from the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry budget, and Elkin defends it by saying he the speech had nothing to do with elections.
  • But Seventh Eye notes that “while his candidacy for mayor at the end of next month indeed did not come up — it seems the message that listeners took away came straight from his campaign talking points.”
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