War on, war off: 9 things to know for November 14
Israel media review

War on, war off: 9 things to know for November 14

After Operation Black Belt, some ask if Israel should have swept the leg of an enemy of dubious importance at the cost of two days of terror; at least Hamas stayed off the mat

An Israeli missile launched from the Iron Dome defense missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, is seen above Gaza City on November 13, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
An Israeli missile launched from the Iron Dome defense missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, is seen above Gaza City on November 13, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

1. Finish it: Two days of fighting with Islamic Jihad in Gaza have given way to a tense calm after a ceasefire was reached, going into effect at 5:30 a.m.

  • As is usual for these types of rounds of violence, the Palestinian faction confirms the ceasefire first, with Egyptian officials speaking to Israeli and international media outlets announcing the Cairo-brokered ceasefire.
  • Israel Radio quotes a senior Egyptian official as saying that Islamic Jihad had agreed to stop firing rockets and will ensure that Palestinian protests along the Gaza border are peaceful.
  • On the Israeli side, the IDF’s Homefront Command lifts restrictions over most areas around the country, aside from those immediately outside Gaza, which is widely seen as tacit Israeli confirmation that the fighting has ended.
  • The IDF later holds a briefing confirming there is a ceasefire and its spokesperson’s office sends out a message, which it says is not attributable to a source (because that is a thing they can do), wrapping up two days of fighting as part of “Operation Black Belt.”
  • Reuters reports that “Gaza appeared to have fallen mostly silent at the hour cited by Islamic Jihad, with the exception of a lone rocket launch witnessed by a Reuters correspondent and the sounding of sirens in some outlying Israeli towns.”

2. What ceasefire? Those sirens are enough to heavily overshadow Israeli reports of the ceasefire, as of 8 a.m. Thursday, with most top headlines on Hebrew-language news sites reporting on rocket fire after the ceasefire was reached.

  • “Despite the ceasefire: Barrages on the Gaza periphery,” reads the top headline in Walla news, though it’s not clear how many rockets were actually fired and whether the number matches the number of sirens (more on that lower down).
  • There are no reports of injuries or damage, and Ynet news reports residents said they heard Iron Dome shooting down projectiles.
  • Speaking to Army Radio, Eshkol region head Gadi Yarkoni advises people in his hard-hit area to stay near bomb shelters despite the all-clear, “in case something happens in the next few minutes.”
  • The station also reports that Ashkelon has decided it will not open schools despite the apparent ceasefire.
  • Hours later, rockets are in fact fired at Netivot. Labor-Gesher head and Sderot native Amir Peretz, visiting the area, tells Channel 13 news that he’s not getting worked up about the strays, which were shot by “troublemakers.” “These things happen.”

3. No mercy: The battle has swiftly shifted to a war of words, as each side attempts to portray their activities over the last 48 hours as a victory.

  • A statement from the Israeli government attributed to an unnamed “diplomatic source” sent to reporters and dutifully reported on claims that “Israel gave nothing. Whoever hurts us will be hurt back. There is no policy change.”
  • “Israel has achieved the objectives of the operation. Islamic Jihad was significantly damaged, we destroyed many infrastructures and over 20 terrorists were thwarted,” the official adds.
  • That comes after Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab El Berim says Israel agreed to efforts to lift the Gaza blockade, which Israel apparently disputes.
  • “There is an uneasy calm at the moment … The terms of the ceasefire are a little bit different, depending on who you listen to,” Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett reports from the border, in a bit of an understatement.
  • Israelis meanwhile are continuing to make threats that they are ready to keep fighting.
  • Foreign Minister Israel Katz tells Army Radio that “Israel will harm anyone who tries to harm it,” in widely reported comments. And Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, apparently still raring to go after his trial by fire, releases a statement saying “this is not over yet,” denying any limitations on what the IDF can do.
  • “I’m waiting for a post from Defense Minister Bennett raging at Defense Minister Bennett for not going after them and agreeing to a ceasefire,” “Eretz Nehederet” writer Reshef Shay tweets, referring to Bennett’s former hard-line stances.

4. Baha humbugs: With the dust settling (and even before the ceasefire was declared) Israelis are wondering whether it was worth it.

  • Sderot Mayor Avi Davidi tells Army Radio that he’s frustrated Israel stopped so quickly.
  • “We need a wide operation against Gaza terrorists. When I said that to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, he explained that he is ‘doing everything to reach calm without such an operation.’”
  • In ToI, though, Judah Ari Gross asks whether it was worth it to take out Abu al-Ata and bring Israel to the brink of war.
  • “The border attack he was planning would be unlikely to match the intensity of the waves after waves of rocket barrages that forced the closure of Tel Aviv schools on Tuesday for the first time since the 1990 Gulf War and the ongoing shuttering of schools and businesses in southern Israel on Wednesday and into Thursday,” he writes. “Though there have been relatively few people physically injured by the constant rocket strikes from the Gaza Strip — thanks to effective use of the Iron Dome defense system, Israelis’ disciplined adherence to the warnings of the IDF Home Front Command and a degree of luck — the past two days of fighting have come at a significant price economically and psychologically, and represent a massive interruption of hundreds of thousands of Israelis’ lives.”
  • In Yedioth, Shimrit Meir writes that “some will claim that everything went according to plan: the strike in the specific room where the terror chief was sleeping, Hamas staying out, and the relatively short round of violence, but on the other side some will cast doubt on whether there was a need to put the country in a state of emergency and absorb 360 rockets from Gaza just in order to take one man out of the picture, without even starting to deal with the terror infrastructure and with no clarity on whether Islamic Jihad is better off or worse.”
  • Roi Kas of Kan notes the quickly forgotten fact of the failed strike on Islamic Jihad No. 2 Akram al-Ajouri, who is still walking free. “What will happen the next time Liechtenstein tries to take him out with a secretive strike? Will the response come from Gaza or the north?”

5. We won! In Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom, though, Eyal Zisser writes that “It is hard to overestimate Abu al-Ata’s importance … one would do well to remember that the war on terror is decided on points rather than on a knockout, and in this fight, Israel has [notched] a significant achievement.”

  • Ynet’s Elior Levy also says the two days of rockets were worth it: “For the first time in a while Israel can be impressed with a victorious round in Gaza — both from an operational and propaganda standpoint. The goals were achieved in the first moments with the killing of Baha Abu al-Ata, and from its point of view could have ended at any time. That’s the difference between initiative and being dragged.”

6. Thanks, Hamas: All that could have changed had Hamas entered the fight and for many analysts, the biggest takeaway is Hamas’s decision to sit this one out.

  • Yedioth’s Alex Fishman says that more than losing over a dozen fighters, “the greater disappointment for Islamic Jihad was being left alone on the battlefield.”
  • Haaretz op-ed writer Muhammed Shehada writes that the battle left the impression that Hamas — yes, the terror group Hamas — was the only adult in the room.
  • In the same paper, Anshel Pfeffer notes that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar made the choice not out of love for Israel, but because he is looking at the long game.
  • “It stems from a political desire to become one of the main leaders of the Palestinian people after the departure of President Mahmoud Abbas. To do so, he needs to consolidate his control over Gaza — and more destruction from another large-scale military campaign won’t deliver him that. A long-term deal with Israel that allows a significant easing of the closure of Gaza, now in its 13th year, will,” he writes.
  • But Hamas may yet pay a price for not entering the fray, Kan’s Gal Berger writes: “Maybe it got credit and positive feedback from Egypt (and Israel) but it’s looking more and more like a bad decision regarding Hamas-Islamic Jihad ties in the long run. Israel would also do well to hold off on celebrating having isolated Hamas and bringing it over to its side.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Yoav Limor writes that Israel and Hamas are still far from being on the same side, reporting that even as a ceasefire neared Israel sent messages to Hamas making it clear that “it has no beef with it and would like to return to calm, but is ready for the possibility that things will go another way.”
  • Mocking all the Hamas cheerleading, Kan presenter Esty Perez tweets “Hamas didn’t enter the fighting. It should be considered for a Nobel Peace Prize.”

7. Let’s twist again: With the Gaza fighting seemingly in the rearview mirror, the country is jumping right back into political fighting, with six days to go until Blue and White leader Benny Gantz must return his mandate to form a government.

  • Gantz holds a meeting with Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman and as it ends, aides for the two announce they will be issuing a joint statement, immediately getting many journalists jumping with excitement.
  • But the two basically say nothing more than they will continue to work together, or in the words of ToI’s Raoul Wootliff: “#notdramatic.”
  • “False alarm. Another meeting next week” quips Kan’s Amichai Stein, using the same term as for a false siren alarm.
  • “Gantz’s position: Open to anything that meets my conditions. In soccer we call that playing the middle of the field,” tweets Channel 12’s Amit Segal.

8. Miri Regev is a very impotent minister: Speaking of soccer, the end of fighting, also means a soccer game between Israel and Poland Saturday night can go ahead as planned, not to mention an even more hotly anticipated friendly between Argentina and Uruguay to be played on Israeli soil.

  • For days, Israelis had fretted about the games being canceled because of security concerns and Lionel Messi canceling yet another visit to Israel.
  • “Is it possible the government was more scared of public anger over Lionel Messi canceling his trip to Israel than of rocket fire continuing, and so was quick to reach an agreement?” journalist Nechama Dueck tweets.
  • Ynet gets its hand on a letter written by Sports Minister Miri Regev’s office telling the Polish soccer officials that Israel is totally safe and they should not consider refusing to come. The letter is written in poor English, with sentences like “We are taking all the necessary measures to promise and guarantee their security…”
  • According to Yedioth (Ynet’s print sister) an original version of the letter, since taken down and replaced on the website, had an ever bigger mistake, telling the Poles that “Israel is aware of the impotency of the security and safety of the Polish team…”
  • “Freud would have something to say about that,” Yedioth quips.

9. Don’t believe every siren you hear: Many Israeli news sites have treated the two days of violence almost like a sports match, tallying rocket launches, airstrikes and deaths.

  • According to an official tally, some 450 rockets were shot at Israel. But if one were to count each siren that went off with alarming frequency, the number should seem much much higher.
  • While many news organizations, ToI included, would often assume each siren was a missile launch, an incident late Wednesday provided a clear example of the dangers involved.
  • As alarms began to ring out from Ashdod to Rehovot and beyond late Wednesday, news outlets reported with breathless intensity on a massive barrage shot out of Gaza at Israel. ToI was just as guilty as the rest.
  • Some even shared a picture of streaks of Iron Dome missile interceptors in the sky, as proof of the large barrage.
  • But about an hour later, the army revealed that the massive barrage was all of one rocket, which was intercepted. The IDF says the rocket’s trajectory, together with shrapnel from the interceptor, set off multiple warnings.

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