There’s a storm coming

An IDF officer insists neither Hamas nor Israel wants to duke it out, but both sides seem to be gearing up for the next fight

There’s a storm coming

Hamas militants take part in an anti-Israel rally in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, February 26, 2016.(AFP / SAID KHATIB)

What does it say about the culture of print media in Israel that the country’s two most-read newspapers have virtually the same lead story on the front page of their weekend editions?

Both Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth report on Hamas’s preparations for a future conflict with Israel, both basing their entire reportage on a briefing to Israeli reporters given by a single, unnamed senior IDF officer.

Hamas rocket arsenals are at an all time low, according to the commander who spoke to the press, but the organization has beefed up its special forces in preparation for a possible ground campaign.

“Hamas is concerned that we want to carry out operations in Gaza. They are on high alert and take every statement of ours very seriously. They’re worried we’ll attack them in order to change the status quo in the West Bank,” the official says, according to Israel Hayom. Yedioth carries a near-identical remark, and both papers quote the officer as saying that Hamas leaders are worried about “miscalculating” the Israeli military.

The big takeaway for Yedioth Ahronoth, however, is the officer’s comment that in the next war in the Gaza Strip, the army “will operate with strength from the moment the campaign begins and not gradually [increase], as we did in Operation Protective Edge [in 2014].

“We need to be the ones who surprise — with great power. The aerial campaign will be more significant and effective. Not pointless firing,” the officer is quoted in Yedioth Ahronoth as saying.

Haaretz was apparently represented at the briefing, but lends the statements of a single officer significantly less credence than do the tabloids. Instead, it highlights the fact that despite the IDF insistence that both sides want calm, the Palestinian media on Thursday reported Israeli bulldozers operating inside the Gaza Strip accompanied by drones flying overhead.

What to make of this IDF briefing on Hamas preparations for war? Yedioth Ahronoth points out that just before the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, both sides were also insistent they weren’t interested in duking it out.

Haaretz, meanwhile, preoccupies itself with calling out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office for a statement claiming that the settlement construction approved earlier this week was simply to upgrade existing structures. The statement was issued after it emerged, says Haaretz, that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon last month approved hundreds of new settlement homes.

Rejecting the argument that the new projects will not expand settlements, the paper says aerial photographs prove that the PMO’s statement is inaccurate. For example, it says that in the settlement of Nokdim, 20 illegally placed caravans will be replaced by 70 apartment units under the new construction plan. In Tekoa, another settlement south of Jerusalem, the government plans to build 200 apartment units on an expanded plot where today there are just 40 homes and 30 caravans.

Yedioth Ahronoth also scores the first interview with an Israeli settler couple who clandestinely wed on the Temple Mount last week, enraging Muslim authorities and some Israelis as well. The couple tells the paper that they don’t understand what the fuss is all about.

“Our intention was to do this quietly. We didn’t want to publicize it,” they say, after a Facebook album of the wedding spread on social media, “and we definitely didn’t want to instigate some kind of provocation.”

They say there were two witnesses and a rabbi present, and that they didn’t even inform their families that they were getting married until after the ceremony. The husband tells the paper that “we felt like the Holy One, blessed is He, escorted us and went with us on [the Temple Mount].”

The mufti of Jerusalem, head of the Islamic authorities on the Temple Mount, responded to news of the secret wedding by saying it was a violation of Muslim rights at the contested holy site and an attempt by Jews to harm the holiness of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. He said the Israeli government would be responsible for the consequences.

The IDF military prosecutor’s decision to charge a soldier with manslaughter for allegedly shooting a disarmed and wounded Palestinian who attacked Israeli troops in Hebron last month gets significant continued attention in the papers. Israel Hayom’s front-page coverage, however, highlights the reaction of the soldier’s family to the decision to prosecute, rather than to the charge itself. The mother’s plea that “we mustn’t put an IDF soldier on trial for killing a terrorist” is Israel Hayom’s headline.

In a letter to Netanyahu, the paper reports, the mother wrote that the family is worried the trial would be affected by “external influences,” and that her son would “be made a scapegoat because of the intervention of very senior officials, who from the first moment sentenced my son without waiting for the results of the investigation.”

The father, meanwhile, railed at reporters outside the courtroom: “I can’t understand how it’s possible to charge a soldier with manslaughter when a terrorist tried to kill soldiers. God almighty, someone in this country should wake up already! My child is everyone’s child.”


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