Israel media review

We’re baaaaack: What the press is saying about a new US and an old tiff

Joe Biden’s inauguration has many Israelis excited for America’s future, but some predict a return to 2015 with a fight looming over the Iran nuclear deal

US President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden watch a military pass in review ceremony on the East Front of the Capitol at the conclusion of the inauguration ceremonies, in Washington, January 20, 2021. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
US President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden watch a military pass in review ceremony on the East Front of the Capitol at the conclusion of the inauguration ceremonies, in Washington, January 20, 2021. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

1. Oath-watchers: Israeli media is playing close attention to the installment of US President Joseph Biden, with hopes for healing along with fears over a return to frayed ties over Iran.

  • The inauguration was covered live by all of Israel’s news sites, much like those in the US, after a full day of buildup as it dominated the news agenda Wednesday.
  • “A new era in America. President Biden sworn in and promises to heal America,” Channel 13 newsreader Tamar Ish-Shalom said at the top of Wednesday’s primetime broadcast.
  • “Good morning America,” reads the top headline of Yedioth Ahronoth, alongside a full-page picture of Biden smooching with the first lady Jill Biden, and a quote from his inaugural address about healing the nation.
  • Tzipi Livni, a blast from the past who is perhaps eyeing her own comeback, tells Army Radio “the time has come for the free world to have a leader who is a mensch, and he is one. Israel won’t lose out if it knows how to work with Biden, [and] it can advance cooperation in the region.”
  • Even Israel’s OANN-esque Channel 20 gets into the spirit of things, beaming in Joe Zivloni, an Israeli MAGA jabroni living in Florida, and asking him if he apologizes for promising that Trump would still be president come January 20 and the election was rigged.
  • “I don’t apologize for a thing. There was electoral fraud. This inauguration should have never happened. What should I apologize for,” he says defiantly, as the channel gives him several minutes to repeat the same tired story about how Trump is president “according to the legal votes.”
  • It’s not just him. Ariel Ilouz, an Israeli in Israel who bills himself as an adviser to the GOP here, earns some wide ridicule for tweeting side by side pictures of the lack of crowds at the Biden inauguration and the adulating audience at Trump’s, with the comment that “there will never be a president as loved as Trump. Two pictures from two inauguration ceremonies that tell it all.”

2. The art of stopping the deal: As Israel gets set to work with the Biden administration, the agenda appears to be Iran, Iran, Iran.

  • Israel Hayom, a paper often seen as a window into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s thinking, blasts the headline “Before everything — fix the Iran deal” across its front page. (The headline is in quotes, but no such quote appears in the paper.)
  • The paper reports that “Jerusalem is very worried about the repeated statements by Biden and senior government officials that they intend to return to the nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump left.”
  • In Walla, Barak Ravid notes that incoming secretary of state Anthony Blinken’s comments to the Senate on Iran were meant to lay the groundwork for a consensus position “but it’s not clear his words will calm Netanyahu and his men.”
  • Ravid notes that the person in charge of the Iran file is Robert Malley, who held the same position in the Barack Obama administration. “We’re not in Trumpland anymore,” he writes. “Netanyahu and his people won’t have a direct unlimited line to the president and the importance of good ties on the working level will become critical in the countries’ bilateral relations.”
  • Channel 12’s Ehud Yaari also notes that much of the personnel is the same as in 2015 when Netanyahu and Obama bickered publicly over Iran, saying the sides are “headed for a collision.”
  • “There are signs that Netanyahu, if he is re-elected, will again go for a public fight,” he writes. “The problem is that if there is a significant lowering of tensions between the US and Iran, we could see our Gulf allies, like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, rushing to make their own arrangements with Iran. Anyone dreaming of an Arab-Israeli joint front that will halt the nuclear deal is liable to be deceiving themselves.
  • New ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan tells Kan that there’s no need to worry for a return to the bad old days of 2015-2016. “Not every disagreement is necessarily a crisis,” he says. “There is a lot to base optimism on and we expect years of expanding cooperation with the US.”
  • Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el writes that while Biden will have a host of issues in the region to deal with, he has made Iran his hill to die on: It “doesn’t only involve restoring the status quo ante and halting Iranian nuclear development but also the image of the United States as a country that dictates global policy. The Iranian issue is Biden’s most important test because it also has far-reaching ramifications of other kinds: on U.S.-EU relations, which reached a low point after the U.S. withdrawal from the pact; on America’s relationship with Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE; on Iran’s standing in the Middle East and in the world at large; and on Washington’s relationship with Israel.”

3. We’ve got next? Watching Trump leave office and be replaced by a less divisive figure has some Israelis licking their lips.

  • “Israel also needs a national calming,” writes columnist Ben Dror Yemini in Yedioth. “We heard Biden’s conciliatory speech. It’s possible this is start of a process of cooling off. Israel needs its own Biden.”
  • “Soon at Balfour,” read a flurry of tweets alongside pictures of Trump leaving or the White House being changed over.
  • In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer looks at whether the Never-Trump Lincoln Project folks can repeat their success for Gideon Sa’ar against Netanyahu. To do so, he’ll predict, they will need a Menachem Begin Project.
  • “The contrast between Netanyahu’s lavish lifestyle and Begin’s austerity is too striking not to use. But it would be a mistake to push the comparisons too far,” he writes. “A Begin Project needs to be about personality, not policy. Likudniks revere Begin as a symbol for leading the party through three decades of wilderness in the opposition before reaching the promised land of government in 1977. Netanyahu has become a symbol as well – a symbol of holding onto power. Likudniks like that. New Hope needs to convince them that Netanyahu may be in office, but he isn’t actually in power… or carrying out its core policies. He is only trying to evade justice.”
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur writes that Sa’ar’s challenge of Netanyahu from the right is the scariest prospect for him, which is why the Likud leader wants Yesh Atis head Yair Lapid to look like the head of the anti-Netanyahu camp come election day, allowing him to deploy his “gevalt” tactic of scaring right-wingers about a leftist takeover.
  • “Barring dramatic shifts in the polls, Lapid, even as head of the largest faction to the left of Likud, has no pathway to the prime minister’s office,” he writes. “It’s a cruel paradox: If he reaches election day as the second-largest party, and thus the most viable alternative to Netanyahu, he becomes the de facto leader of the very same anti-Netanyahu coalition described above — and Netanyahu gets his election-day gevalt campaign about the left being poised to win.”
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