Bibi and Barak battle for Israeli public opinion over Iran
All four of Israel’s major newspapers featured Iran in their headlines in their weekend editions. In Ha’aretz, Ari Shavit, who has been pro-strike, wrote: “Top Israeli Official: the Iranian Nuclear Threat is bigger than the threat faced by Israel before the Six Day War”
That “top Israeli official” (no extra points for guessing who he may be), told Shavit: “If Iran gets nuclear weapons, no one will be able to stop her when she provokes her neighbours,” adding, “what happened in the Rhineland in 1936 will be child’s play compared to happens with Iran.” The official continued: “If we don’t act, Iran will almost certainly go nuclear. If we do act, there is a chance Iran won’t go nuclear in the years to come, or might never go nuclear. Assessing the risks to the homeland, the source told Shavit that the number of casualties Israel would suffer in any war with Iran would be less than the number of casualties suffered by the “Harel Brigade”(part of Palmach) in the 1948 war of Independence.
The description in the article left almost no doubt that the “official” in question is Defense Minister Ehud Bark. Wrote Shavit: “This decision maker is a controversial figure. At times, he was seen as a savior, then dismissed as a leper (?????), and again a savior, then a leper again. Even his opponents, however, agree that he is very intelligent. Even those who disagree with him point to his unique strategic experience, his half-century spent at the very center of Israeli decision making processes. Not just once or twice has he been at the absolute center. One very late night he opened the door to me…with a grand piano at his back he told me his point of view for two and a half hours.”
It is well known around Israel that Ehud Barak plays the piano. Chief of staff in the nineties, then the great white of hope of the left for peace as prime minister in the late nineties, later come back kid as head again of the labor party. Recently, he presided over the splitting of the labor party and the formation of his new ‘Independence’ party and a bedrock member of Netanyahu’s coalition.
In Ma’ariv, meanwhile, the headline read: “37% of Israelis say Iranian possession of nuclear weapons could lead to a second Holocaust.” They then produced a series of polls attempting to gauge the public mood before a strike. 41% of Israelis say only military action will stop Iran, “only” (according to Ma’ariv) 22% believe in sanctions, 35% prefer a US strike to an Israeli one, 40% trust Netanyahu and Barak while 27% don’t.
Unsurprisingly, Israel Ha’yom has also promoted a pro-strike approach. “Iran intensifies weapon development,” screamed the headline, accompanied by a picture of Ahmadinejad flashing his fingers in a victory sign to the Israeli public. The paper quotes the Israeli chief of staff: “we are preparing ourselves for a multi-front confrontation”.
This weekend, the only newspaper that has adopted an anti-strike approach is Yediot-Ha’aronot: “Netanyahu and Barak are determined to attack Iran in the fall”, ran the headline. “Barak,” the story proceeded, “sat top generals down for a meeting in his office, but came across fierce resistance. Later, he again tried to persuade them in a conversation at a Mossad-run location. This didn’t help either. All the army professionals expressed opposition to a strike without the backing of the United States, and asked the same question: what happens on the Israeli home front the day after?”
When four of out four newspapers in Israel deal with any single subject one can count on the fact that there is a deliberate effort by some personnel to set the headlines on fire. Netanyahu and Barak are now fighting hard to win over the hearts and minds of the Israeli public to a strike on Iran – and the media blitz is a tool they are using to persuade recalcitrant generals.