Vale of fears: 9 things to know for September 11
Israel media review

Vale of fears: 9 things to know for September 11

Netanyahu tried to win the day with a Jordan Valley annexation pledge, but his plans quickly fizzled as he sheltered from rockets and lost Iran hawk pal John Bolton

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, being moved away from a campaign event stage while surrounded by security as rockets are shot at Ashdod on September 10, 2019. (screen capture: Twitter)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, being moved away from a campaign event stage while surrounded by security as rockets are shot at Ashdod on September 10, 2019. (screen capture: Twitter)

1. Drama king: It’s not the first time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised a “dramatic announcement” in the days before the election, sparking media hype and free publicity. Last time around, he used the airtime to make some claims about being railroaded in the graft cases against him, leading to a downpour of handwringing from the media, which felt it had been fooled into broadcasting his propaganda.

  • This time around there was a little more meat on the bone, Netanyahu promising to begin annexing the Jordan Valley and settlements as well, though how much of it was electioneering and how much of it was truly a harbinger of a dramatic policy shift is up for debate.
  • ToI’s David Horovitz notes that while Israel’s two main TV news channels cut away from the speech after determining it to be propaganda, “it was also an appearance with potentially dramatic diplomatic implications.”
  • Whether Netanyahu was stumping for votes or not, the announcement still garners a fair amount of media coverage despite contending with two other large stories: the firing of John Bolton and Gazan rockets being shot near a campaign event in Ashdod (more on those later).
  • Not surprisingly, the statement is splashed across the front page of Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom, along with all the prime minister’s yes-men praising the announcement as “annexing the day’s agenda” (Mati Tuchfeld), “a historic shift” (Amnon Lord) “unprecedented” (Caroline Glick) and a “holy cause” (Ariel Kahane).
  • “Netanyahu has systematically managed to slay the accepted truth that every foreign affairs and security person and pundits have sworn by: that peace with the Palestinians will only come about according to the Clinton parameters, based on the ‘67 lines,” Lord crows. (Those same exact words could be uttered in an indictment of Netanyahu as well.)

2. Valley of the pols: Not everybody is jumping for joy and pundits not in Netanyahu’s corner see the statement as pandering for votes as he seeks to push his way back into office and secure immunity for himself.

  • “This isn’t a ‘historic opportunity.’ It’s a hysterical Hail Mary pass for right-wing votes,” writes Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer.
  • “After a week of spins designed to distract attention away from Netanyahu’s failures, from criminal cases to [US President Donald] Trump’s shift on Iran — we should be used to the phenomenon,” writes Yedioth’s Sima Kadmon. “A week before elections, Netanyahu is pulling out all the stops. It doesn’t matter if it means pushing a bill that wont pass, like the cameras law, exposing an Iranian nuclear site, or making an election promise on annexing the West Bank. Netanyahu is prepared to do anything, including all the empty promises and publishing sensitive intel, to ensure that on Tuesday [Yamina] voters will stick a Likud slip in the ballot box.”
  • ToI’s Raoul Wootliff notes that the ploy is likely designed not to only help push Yamina voters toward Likud, but also weaken chief rival Blue and White and give Democratic Camp an opening to attack it, which it did.
  • “The prime minister’s announcement put Blue and White in somewhat of a bind. The party has vowed to oppose unilateral moves toward either settlement evacuation or annexation. But it has also vowed to retain Israeli control specifically over the Jordan Valley,” he writes.
  • “If it is just electioneering, it signals panic,” veteran negotiator Nimrod Novik tells the New York Times. “If there is a risk that he will make good on it, that is probably the most important reason to hope that he is not re-elected.”

3. Consensus or controversy? Many pundits place the Jordan Valley under the amorphous term “consensus,” meaning areas most Israelis think they’ll be able to hold onto with little internal opposition.

  • “To Jewish Israelis, the Jordan Valley is less controversial than the rest of the territory,” JTA’s Ben Sales writes. “Successive Israeli governments have viewed control of the Jordan Valley as a strategic asset for Israel. It completes the country’s eastern border with Jordan and allows Israeli forces to encircle the West Bank’s Palestinian population.”
  • Even the White House says it has no beef with the move.
  • Dovish activist Daniel Seidemann tells ToI’s Raphael Ahren that if Netanyahu “really wanted to annex all or part of the West Bank, he could do it in an hour, without any Knesset legislation.”
  • That claim is echoed by right-wingers and others who see it as a reason not to trust his promise.
  • “With the Jordan Valley there’s no problem. Consensus. The public, politicians, everyone is for it. The valley was in the British Mandate,” writes Maariv’s Ben Caspit. “Despite all that, Netanyahu did not announce the annexation and convene the government, but made do with a meaningless statement … I’m guessing there’s a better chance that Moshe Feiglin becomes a minister in the next government than the Jordan Valley being annexed.”

4. Terrible optics: Israel Hayom’s Tuchfeld, who writes that the fact that every government could have annexed the Jordan Valley but didn’t gives the statement “extra significance,” also claims that Netanyahu is masterfully controlling the news agenda and that of his rivals.

  • But in fact, it’s a picture Netanyahu would prefer nobody see that graces front pages and the tops of websites: the prime minister being whisked away as rocket sirens sound.
  • Breaking into regular broadcasts to report on the incident Tuesday night, Channel 12’s Yonit Levy noted that despite Netanyahu’s best attempts to make headlines with his Jordan Valley pronouncement, this is what Israelis will remember from this night.
  • “No matter their political leanings, Israelis will not forget these pictures,” Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea writes. “The piddly terror group Hamas managed to force the prime minister to flee to a protected room. The prime minister hunched over a bit. Shin Bet guards surrounding him. Islamist terror couldn’t ask for a better victory picture.”
  • “Symbolically, to see an Israeli leader ushered off a stage like this, well, they will be cheering in many parts of the Gaza Strip,” MSNBC’s Bill Neely noted.
  • Not just in Gaza. Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV gloats that “Gaza Rockets Scare Netanyahu Away from Campaign Rally.”

5. Macho men: To many, the video of him being led from the stage is a succinct picture of his government’s inability to deal with Gaza, and political rivals quickly seized on it to attack him and portray him as a coward.

  • “I wouldn’t have moved,” Blue and White head Benny Gantz tells Ynet.
  • According to Blue and White’s Yair Lapid, Gabi Ashkenazi, who was at an event in Ashkelon when a rocket was fired, didn’t run away.
  • Seemingly comparing Netanyahu to Hezbollah leader Hassan Naasrallah, who the premier mocks for hiding out in a “bunker,” Gantz said Tuesday night that “they urged the prime minister to some bunker, while our Gabi Ashkenazi was onstage in Ashkelon and continued to talk as if nothing was happening.”

6. Make hay while the rockets are flying: Rather than hit back that it’s not the most responsible thing for former defense leaders to be bragging about ignoring safety warnings, Likud accuses the opposition politicians of “rejoicing” over the rocket fire.

  • Zman Yisrael’s Shalom Yerushalmi writes that Netanyahu may yet benefit from the whole affair: “I tend to agree with the Likudniks who claim that this incident will unite Netanyahu’s supporters around him. They will come to the polls to protect him, physically.”
  • Channel 12 reporter Amit Segal tweets a picture showing a story from May about Gantz seeking shelter during a rocket downpour despite his pronouncement that he would have stayed put, easy pickin’s for the anti-Gantz crowd.

7. Who knew: Another Channel 12 reporter, Nir Dvori, is criticized for claiming on TV that he does not think “the other side” knew about Netanyahu’s appearance in Ashdod, though it was being livestreamed on Facebook and open for anyone to see.

  • The fact that Dvori assumed that is because most visits by Netanyahu to areas near the Gaza border are gagged until after they occur, to keep just this from happening.
  • Army Radio’s Carmela Menashe wonders on Twitter “if you don’t need a gag on appearances by the prime minister in the south before elections, why do they put a gag on normal days?”

8. Bye-bye Bolton: The canning of John Bolton is also seen as bad news for Netanyahu, who had cherished the like-minded mustachioed war hawk.

  • The timing of the move, which took precious media attention away from Netanyahu’s Jordan Valley pronouncement, could not have been worse, Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev notes.
  • “Just as Netanyahu was beseeching Israelis to reelect him next Tuesday because only he could ‘negotiate’ with Trump, the president seemed to be distancing himself from their hitherto joint stance on Iran. Even though Bolton’s departure was apparently linked to his opposition to Trump’s plan to hold talks at Camp David with the Taliban, the timing of Trump’s tweet heralding Bolton’s dismissal undercut Netanyahu’s efforts to use their famously close relationship as a central prop in his election campaign,” he writes.
  • Channel 13’s Barak Ravid calls Bolton’s firing “a harsh blow for Netanyahu,” describing Bolton as the administration’s biggest hawk on Iran and the Palestinians.
  • JTA’s Ron Kampeas writes that beyond Iran and the Palestinians, “a broader concern for Israel could be the reinforcement of Trump’s isolationist tendencies.”

9. Dear John letter? Not quite: But others say the predictions of the end of the Netanyahu-Trump bromance is premature.

  • Danielle Pletka, a vice president at the American Enterprise Institute, where Bolton also worked in the years he was not in government, tells JTA’s Kampeas that many in the administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to the president and Trump’s son-in-law, are as pro-Israel as Bolton: “I don’t think John Bolton is the author of Israel policy,” Pletka is quoted saying.
  • “How the hell does everyone think they know what kind of influence Netanyahu has with Trump and what will happen [with the Rouhani meeting],” Ynet’s Attila Somfalvili tweets.
  • Analyst Hayat Alvi writes for the Hill that Israel didn’t want war any more than anybody else, just pressure on Iran, which will remain.
  • “While Bolton’s departure from the administration is a bit of a release for Iran, as with a pressure cooker, the entire lid has not been removed,”Alvi says. “Many will contend that the likelihood of war with Iran is significantly reduced now that Bolton is out. Everyone is sighing with relief, not just Iran.”
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