Israeli Media News Round Up—July 16, 2009

Israel prepares to attack Iran, Egypt permits warships through the Suez, while the PLO bans AlJazeera in the West Bank - MENASSAT takes a look at what made the news in Israel today.
israel haridi
Rioters attack policemen and ministries to protest the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox mother who was accused of starving her three-year old son. © Gil Yohanan

BEIRUT, July 16, 2009 (MENASSAT) — This morning, the top headlines in Israel's online English newspapers Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post and Arutz Sheva, reported on an article in the Times of London which alleged that two Israeli warships had crossed the Suez Canal, with Egypt’s collusion, as a public warning to Iran that an attack against its nuclear facilities is imminent.

Haaretz’s headline, “Defense official: Israel readying for attack on Iran” was borrowed from the original Times article, “Israeli navy in Suez Canal prepares for potential attack on Iran,” while Arutz Sheva and the Jerusalem Post’s headlines emphasized allegations cited in the Times piece that a deal had been struck with western officials allowing Israel to attack Iran in exchange for “concessions on the formation of a Palestinian state as well as on its settlement policy and on "issues" with Arab neighbors, in exchange for international backing for an Israeli operation in Iran.”  Only Ynet news (the English version of the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth) did not report  the Times’ allegations on its front page.
Haaretz’s piece began by citing an anonymous defense official who said, “Israel's recent deployment of warships across the Red Sea should be seen as serious preparation for an attack on Iran, an Israeli defense official told the Times of London on Thursday.

"This is preparation that should be taken seriously. Israel is investing time in preparing itself for the complexity of an attack on Iran. These maneuvers are a message to Iran that Israel will follow up on its threats," the official was quoted as saying.”

Revisiting the original Times piece by Sheera Frenkel who reported from Jerusalem, one is struck by the sheer abundance of anonymous sources that contributed to the story, as ––for example–– in the following statement: “It is not by chance that Israel is drilling long-range manoeuvres in a public way. This is not a secret operation. This is something that has been published and which will showcase Israel’s abilities,” said an Israeli defence official.”

The article attributes almost all information to anonymous sources-- citing at least one unnamed Israeli diplomat, two Israeli defense officials, one British official, “diplomats,” “western diplomats” and “Israeli officials,” as well as “a senior European diplomat.” The only sources mentioned by name are an American at the Pentagon, who confirmed that Israel would soon be testing missiles with a 630-mile range, and the Egyptian foreign minister, who admitted that Egypt permitted Israel’s warships to pass through the Suez, according to the Times.

Egypt’s role emphasized

Both Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post emphasized Egypt’s role in permitting the warships to cross through the Suez Canal. Haaretz wrote, “An Israeli diplomat told the Times that Israel's has been bolstering its ties with certain Arab nations just as wary of the Iranian nuclear threat. In particular, the diplomat cited a ‘shared mutual distrust of Iran’ between Israel and Egypt. Though neither side says so publicly, there is ongoing security coordination between Israel and Egypt, which could be expanded if necessary in the future.”

The Times of London cites Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, [who] said that his Government explicitly allowed passage of Israeli vessels, and an Israeli admiral said that the drills were “run regularly with the full co-operation of the Egyptians.”

The Jerusalem Post elaborated on Israel’s plans, invoking the possible use of Israel’s three Dolphin class submarines, “which according to foreign reports can fire nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and serve as a second-strike platform,” emphasizing the ominous decision to sail through the Suez, “as the quickest route” to attacking Iran without refueling.

The author of the Times article, Sheera Frenkel, upon which all the Israel headline stories are based, also penned a piece on April 18, 2009 entitled, “Israel stands ready to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites.” The piece also cited “senior defense officials” in Israel. Frenkel wrote another piece in The Times on June 21, 2008, on the same subject:  “Israel flexes muscles with 'Iran attack' drill.”

Stories of Israel’s plans to imminently attack Iran have made headlines for a few years now, and indeed, the Times piece reeked of bluster, with Israel intent on appearing poised to take the challenge of a nuclear Iran into its own hands. As the disgraced former chief of staff of the Israeli Army, Dan Halutz, recently said in defense of Israel’s wanton bombing of Lebanon in 2006: Sometimes it “helps to go crazy if one wants to live in this mideast arena.”  Perhaps the Israelis, who rely on perceptions of strength as a cornerstone of their “deterrence” and dabble in more than occasional posturing towards this end, were doing just that with today’s leak to the Times. It remains to be seen if such a deal—a green light to bomb Iran in exchange for adhering to previous international agreements—will pay off.

Al Jazeera and PLO story

Other big stories—the Palestinian authorities banning of Al Jazeera and the damning testimonies of Israeli soldiers from Gaza – received only scant coverage in the English-language Israeli press and generated very little editorial response. The Jerusalem Post did run a full-length article  on the PLO’s decision to ban Al Jazeera from reporting in areas under control of the Palestinian Authority, in response to the station’s broadcasting of claims by former Fatah Secretary-General Farouk Kaddoumi that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammad Dahlan had conspired with Sharon to kill Arafat. The Jerusalem Post added: “Since its establishment in 1996, Al-Jazeera has been targeted by several Arab governments, which have closed down its offices and arrested its correspondents.” The article failed to mention that Israel has banned Al Jazeera (and other stations such as the BBC) from reporting within Israel on numerous occasions.

They also emphasized the strains between the PA and Jordan, where Kaddoumi held the press conference: “PA officials expressed outrage over the Jordanian authorities' decision to allow Kaddoumi to hold a news conference in Amman. Some officials said they did not rule out the possibility that Jordan's King Abdullah II was behind the decision because he was unhappy with the way Abbas and Fayad were handling the affairs of the Palestinians. According to a PA official in Ramallah, Abdullah earlier this week turned down a request by Abbas to come to Amman and meet with him to discuss the tensions between the two sides.”    

Ynet News also reported  the news that the PA had ordered the closure of Jazeera’s offices in the West Bank, citing Al Quds al Arabi:  “According to the report, Abbas is considering sending three of his associates to Amman to discuss Kaddoumi's press conference and perhaps even reconsider the PA's ties with Jordan.”

In other news: Brueno and rock-throwing ultra-orthodox Jews

Other editorials in the Israeli press included a story in the Jerusalem Post entitled “Is Brueno good for the Jews?”  – a reference to Jewish comedian Sasha Baron-Cohen’s new film Brueno, and “What about Jewish Nabka? Publicizing story of Jewish Refugees could facilitate genuine peace process,”  in Ynet News.

By the afternoon, headlines were all dedicated to the news that Haredi rioters had attacked  policemen and ministries, to protest the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox mother who was accused of starving her three-year old son. The boy currently weighs 7 kilogram and is in serious condition. According to Haaretz, “Demonstrators were also seen throwing rocks at the Education Ministry offices and at police officers patrolling the area.”  Unlike with many Palestinian demonstrators, Israeli forces did not use lethal power or live ammunition to overpower the stone-throwing rioters.