Israel media review

Whodunit? Who didn’t? What the press is saying on November 30

Israelis watching Iran's search for clues in the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh find that no tidbit is too outlandish, as vacations in the Gulf suddenly lose some of their appeal

A woman walks by a billboard honoring nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in the Iranian capital Tehran, on November 30, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

1. Twitter’s reliable, right? Israel’s press is following along closely as Iran attempts to piece together the assassination of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

  • A report in Iran’s semi-official Fars news describing the killing as having been carried out by a remote control machine gun attached to a self-exploding Nissan, which first caused Fakhrizadeh to leave his car and then took him out with bullets, is picked up widely in the Israeli press.
  • Another account making the rounds (but widely discounted as unreliable) goes to the other extreme, describing a team of 50 people involved in the assassination, as well as a 12-man squad that opened fire on Fakhrizadeh’s car, then pulled him out and killed him at point blank range.
  • (It’s hard to believe that the Mossad would take the silly risk of trying to keep a secret among 62 people inside Iran, just for the overkill of having a full dozen machine-gun toting assassins.)
  • Yedioth Ahronoth prints pictures on its front page of four people it says have been fingered by Iranian intelligence as involved, according to the rock-solid source of a social media rumor.
  • In fact, the pictures come not from Yedioth’s source in Iranian intelligence, but from the same account that apparently started the 62-man team rumors — one Mohamed Ahwaze, also known as M Majed. Nonetheless they are picked up by several Israeli outlets, including Channel 12, which hours earlier had dismissed his 62-man squad claim as “disinformation.”
  • Channel 13 reports matter-of-factly that “opposition activist Mohamed Majed reports that intelligence agents distributed the pictures in every hotel in the country and demanded that the owners of the hotels report immediately if they identify one of the suspects.”
  • Haaretz picks up a Press TV report that claims that “the weapon collected from the site of the terrorist act (where Fakhrizadeh was assassinated) bears the logo and specifications of the Israeli military industry.”

2. What hath we wrought? Aside from tarring people as assassins based on rumors, Yedioth’s front page also features a top headline crowing that “Israel’s ability to strike at the heart of the enemy is unprecedented,” with the paper still wetting its pants over ex-spook Bruce Riedel’s comments to The New York Times published Sunday.

  • ToI’s Judah Ari Gross writes, “This type of highly public killing is deeply embarrassing for Iran, demonstrating both internationally and domestically that it cannot provide adequate security to a high-profile official like the head of its constantly-under-fire nuclear weapons program, which has already been targeted in the past with assassinations by foreign governments.”
  • He points out that Israeli officials commenting on the raid were “gleefully ambiguous,” like Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz “tell[ing] the Kan broadcaster on Sunday that ‘whoever did it’ contributed to the security of ‘not only Israel, but the whole region and the world.’”
  • Channel 13 news published what it said were the opinions of “ordinary Iranians,” and shocker, all three Iranians willing to speak to an Israeli TV channel were not big fans of Fakhrizadeh. If Israel killed “this freeloader, I kiss her hands,” says one.
  • Wonks Steven Simon, Joshua Landis and Ayman Mansour counsel, however, that an approach based on assassinating people doing things you don’t like may not be the best long-term strategy for Israel or anyone else.
  • “While there’s no question that killing competent, even inspirational managers like Soleimani or Fakhrizadeh can cause administrative setbacks, assassination doesn’t solve the underlying problem. It does, however, incur risks both in the near term and down the road,” they write in Haaretz.
  • In Israel Hayom, which buries its now-scanty coverage of the affair deep inside the tabloid after giving it 11 pages to run wild a day earlier, Persia expert Tamar Eilam Gindi says that Iranian have already made an art of “strategic patience,” that is avoiding being dragged into unwanted conflict while trying to show that it is still strong.
  • “The use of the word ‘strategic’ sends the message to hardliners that this is just a waiting period that will come to an end, and that the ayatollahs are carefully planning their next move. To those on the left who seek regime change, the word sends the message that, just because the regime hasn’t punished the killers who assassinated Fakhrizadeh, or Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, doesn’t mean they will get away with acts against the regime.”

3. Gird around the world: Apropos those hardliners, another piece of Iranian journalism given fairly wide play in Israel is an editorial in hardline daily Kayhan calling for bombing Haifa in response. While the opinion piece does not send Haifa residents to their shelters, it is viewed as a way to understand the thinking inside the Iranian regime.

  • “While Kayhan is a small circulation newspaper, its editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari was appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and has been described as an adviser to him in the past,” notes the Associated Press.
  • Iran expert David Menashri tells Kan that “if Khamenei’s mouthpiece Kayhan comes out with a statement that this is a serious shock to Iran, that means it’s a serious shock to Iran.”
  • Israelis are still bracing for some sort of retaliation, and suddenly Dubai and Manama are not looking like such hot destinations. On Sunday night, reports proliferated of new travel warnings for the UAE and Bahrain from the Counter-Terrorism Bureau, though they turned out to be false, with the travel warnings not new and not apparently connected to the assassination.
  • Nonetheless, Channel 12 news reports that Jerusalem fears Israelis in the UAE and Dubai will turn into targets. Security officials recently held a meeting on the safety of Israeli visitors to the UAE and have begun working with their Emirati counterparts to ensure the protection of Israeli tourists, the report says.
  • It adds that Israel is also anticipating that Iran could step up its cyberattacks on Israel’s water and electricity facilities.
  • Yedioth says that “tourism industry sources reported Sunday that tourism companies have already started receiving messages from worried citizens who bought packages to Dubai, and that there’s a chance the influx to the UAE will halt.”
  • Kan reports that Foreign Ministry director Alon Ushpiz has sent a letter to all Israeli missions around the world ordering them to up alertness and be extra careful about security in the wake of “the events over the weekend.”

4. Fly Dubai? On second thought: Channel 12 news reports that those still trying to get to Dubai are running into trouble, with Israelis not being allowed to board flights to Dubai and some UAE businessmen being sent back right after reaching the airport.

  • In the first case, a source tells the station that the Israelis, businessmen looking to open some restaurants, were missing some necessary “invitation” papers. “The eagerness of Israelis to do business with wealthy people in Dubai is making them forget themselves and forget that they must show an invitation before boarding the plane to avoid unpleasantness afterwards. Without these permits, they cannot enter Dubai no matter how angry and upset they get,” a source tells the station.
  • As for the Dubaiers, apparently they tried to get into Israel without a visa. Perhaps it is because Israeli news outlets keep on reporting that Israel and the UAE have a visa exemption deal, when in actuality, the deal has yet to be put into practice, despite constant promises from the Foreign Ministry that something is being worked out.
  • Israel Hayom points out that with Israeli airlines set to begin flying to the UAE this week, they have yet to receive an okay to fly over Saudi Arabia, calling it “ridiculous.”
  • The paper reports that without the okay, IsraAir will not fly around Saudi Arabia but will cancel its maiden flight, set for Tuesday morning, though it says officials are confident a solution will be worked out. “This is a sort of drama in the flight industry given that some 160 passengers are stuck with uncertainty ahead of the first flight,” it reports.
  • One person will be happy about the turbulence: Haaretz’s Amalia Rosenbloom, who writes in an opinion piece that visiting the country “is like standing on the sidelines of a gang-rape.”
  • “A moment before you pack your bags, it’s important to know that the glittering hotels in Dubai, the eye-popping shopping malls and the perfect beaches are built and maintained by people whose basic human rights have been taken away by violent means,” she writes, describing the trafficking problem there and visits by Israeli johns. “One of the main cooperative projects involving Israel and the UAE that has recently begun is the provision of clients of prostitution on the part of Israel, and prostitution services on the part of Dubai.”

5. Mandelblit’s stocking stuffer: Meanwhile, in Israel election talk is nearing weapons grade levels as party spin machines whirl like centrifuges ahead of what most expect to be the breakup of the government.

  • Shalom Yerushalmi, writing for ToI sister site Zman Yisrael, says that Blue and White chief Benny Gantz is “closer than ever” to backing a no-confidence motion that would spell the end to the coalition, after a day that saw Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ask him to hold off on the submarine probe.
  • However Yerushalmi says that doing so “will play right into Netanyahu’s hands,” since should Gantz indeed support the measure, it will open up a wealth of options for Netanyahu regarding scheduling elections according to his needs. The committee that will determine the date for elections, he notes, is run by UTJ MK Yaakov Asher, whom he describes as a Netanyahu ally.
  • “Netanyahu will get … a new flexible date for elections, in line with the mapping out of assassinations, vaccines or deals, which are convenient for him,” Yerushalmi writes.
  • Channel 12’s Amnon Rubinstein writes that Mandelblit’s decision to delay the submarine probe is also a gift for Gantz, who now has a “weight off his shoulders.”
  • “Gantz so didn’t want this inquiry. Not to look into it, not to investigate, the main thing is not to anger Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s friendliness is more important to him than anything.”
  • Army Radio reports that Gantz at first tried to keep Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn from launching a probe, and surprised him later by launching it himself. The move came after Gantz and Nissenkorn stopped speaking, and Mandelblit, who needed info from the Justice Ministry to outline the parameters of the panel, was forced to do so via “unofficial” talks with lower-level ministry officials.
  • Nissenkorn tells the station that ties with Gantz are hunky-dory and his ministry does not need to be involved in the committee.
  • Israel Hayom leads off its tabloid with Netanyahu’s request for the court to throw away the indictments against him, running as a headline the claim that “Netanyahu was marked from the start.”
  • The paper’s Haim Shine goes after Mandelblit and the rest of the law enforcement gang (plus the media, of course), accusing them of thinking that they could just charge Netanyahu and ‘he would raise his hands in defeat.’ Now Shine lays the groundwork for blaming the judges should Netanyahu somehow not be cleared of all charges: “There’s no doubt that the judges know what’s riding on Netanyahu being cleared, and are aware of what the media will do to them in that case.”

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