The terror and tunnel crowd

Tuesday’s terror attack in downtown Manhattan is the unsurprising focus of the front pages on Israel’s major Hebrew-language dailies Wednesday morning. Given the hour of the attack, close to when the papers’ Tel Aviv offices were readying to send the editions to the printer, however, the papers have little information to give to readers or even analysis, despite the method of attack being all-too familiar and resonant with Israelis.

Despite the confusion in the moments after the attack, papers were still confident enough in the fact that the car-ramming was in fact a terror attack and not an accident or the result of mental illness that all three call it terror on the front page, perhaps a result of that aforementioned familiarity. (As somebody whose husband is visiting the US remarked to this writer early Wednesday morning, she “knew” right away the incident was terror because she was following Israeli news, whereas her husband did not reach the same immediate conclusion from watching the news in the US.)

Yedioth Ahronoth is the only paper with any sort of analysis or color going beyond the basic facts of what was known in the first few hours after the attack, thanks to columnist Ben Dror Yemini, who happened to be in New York Tuesday afternoon. While noting the timing of the attack, on Halloween, and claiming like a native New Yorker that the city will bounce back, he also explains why a terrorist would especially want to hit the city, and not just because of its significance as the location of the September 11 attacks.

“Out of all the places in the world, it seems Manhattan is the jewel in the crown. Hundreds killed in Mogadishu the past few weeks garnered much less press coverage than the massive amount given to the Manhattan attack. That’s why the desire to hit the heart of hearts of the most busy city in the world was and remains the peak of terrorists’ aspirations,” he writes.

It’s not easy to guess what would have led the papers had a driver not plowed his vans into pedestrians in New York, with papers devoting substantial real estate to tensions with and over Gaza a day after the army found and blew up an Islamic Jihad tunnel, killing a bunch of people inside, apparently inadvertently.

Israel Hayom leads off with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman threatening that Israel will “respond to any provocation,” as the headline reads, but “is not looking for a war,” as the lede reads, a familiar song and dance from Israeli leaders anytime there’s any sort of flareup of this kind.

The paper also notes Israeli efforts to handicap how Islamic Jihad might respond, going off the idea that it is playing the same game of doublespeak.

“The estimation is that the group is looking for a way to respond in a pointed manner, which will hurt Israel but won’t lead to a wider conflagration,” the paper reports. “Given that, it was decided to continue to bolster the readiness of forces along the Gaza border and at several points they even limited the movement of troops and agricultural works.”

The other papers meanwhile focus on the other battle brewing, between Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, after Bennett accused the army of apologizing for killing Islamic Jihad members who had been in the tunnel.

Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Bennett “tried to outflank Liberman from the right,” noting that this is not the first time the two have butted heads over issues of national security and the army.

“For instance, Bennett attacked Liberman over the decision to shut the Eli pre-army yeshiva, after statements by Rabbi Yigal Levenstein against women serving. Bennett also criticized the government’s actions over Operation Protective Edge, when Moshe Ya’alon was defense minister. During the fighting, Bennett went to meet with senior officers in the field without letting senior politicians know,” the paper reports.

In Haaretz, Amos Harel calls it a “manufactured tempest over an apology that wasn’t,” blaming the media for misrepresenting IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis’s simple attempt to try to calm tensions and keep things from getting out of hand and blaming the political right for trying to score easy points.

“The clarification that this was a limited defensive operation, and not an offensive initiative to kill terrorists, could help the Palestinians climb down from a path to escalation. The problem, almost as per usual, was the way it was framed in the headlines online. When a number of websites reported, pithily, that the IDF said ‘We did not want to kill senior [militants],’ this instant analysis was immediately twisted on Twitter to say the IDF had sought forgiveness for the killing of terrorists,” he writes. “For a long time, the far right has been searching for ways to go after both IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and his spokesman Manelis, who was also Eisenkot’s aide before his current job. These people look to take advantage of any opportunity to create a furor over trivial matters. It is regrettable that Bennett, who always explains how much he loves the IDF and respects Eisenkot personally, has been drawn in by the professional provocateurs in his right-wing camp over something that never actually happened. There are more than enough reasons to criticize the Israeli army, but Manelis’ statements during Monday’s briefings are not one of them.”



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