Israel’s media stokes up an appetite for escalation

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WITH talk of an Israeli ground operation in the Gaza Strip mounting after four days of aerial bombardment, Israel’s media, with some exceptions, is creating the climate for escalation and it now appears most of the public would support such a course.

Yesterday, the country’s most popular news website, Ynet, led with a picture showing a smiling woman and four children waving flags in front of an armoured vehicle, presumably one of those poised near the Gaza border for an all-out incursion.

“The nation is with the Israel Defence Forces,” said the caption. Another picture showed young reservists waiting for action as part of Operation Pillar of Cloud, ordered to end cross-border rocket attacks and deal a blow to the militant Hamas group.

The electronic media has also rallied around the flag to support the operation, which started on Wednesday with the assassination of Ahmed Jaabari, the Hamas military wing leader amid an Egyptian-brokered calming down after weeks of hostilities.

The media is helping to stoke a public climate in which the government can opt for the ground operation with few questions asked, despite the obvious risks of military fatalities, wide Palestinian civilian casualties, and a transformation of the current international climate from sympathy into harrowing condemnation.

The most high-octane fuel for an all-out war is the identification of the rest of the country with the suffering of approximately a million Israelis in the south forced into seeking shelter from Hamas rocket attacks.

The suffering is real and for many the hope is that a ground invasion will somehow end it. “We are constantly under threat,” Tamara Cohen, a local government worker who lives in Ein Habsor near Gaza told Scotland on Sunday. “I’m against wars and pro live-and-let-live and I wish we could live as neighbours in quiet. But if they don’t accept our living in Israel then it is about time the government does all it needs to do to stop this situation once and for all.”

Her husband, a reservist, was called up to the army yesterday and may enter Gaza if there is a ground operation. Even though she is worried about her husband, she supports an incursion. In Cohen’s view, Operation Cast Led, the ground incursion of 2008, did not go far enough: “They didn’t complete the mission and now it’s time to complete the mission.”

Television discussions of the fighting are firing up the mood of escalation.

Yesterday on Channel Two, Ofir Akunes, an MP who is a close ally of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was interviewed immediately after a report on how a rocket blasted out an apartment in the coastal city of Ashdod. “The operation will go on for as long as is needed. We will restore security to all the citizens of Israel and we will inflict a harsh and cruel blow on the terror infrastructure and its leaders,” he vowed. Soon afterwards, after reports of further incoming fire, the station turned to Yaacov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet security service.

If Peri had any reservations about escalating to a ground offensive, he did not share them. “We have not yet reached the stage where we can talk about an exit,” he said. “I don’t remove a ground operation from the possibilities.”

Asked whether Israel should be pursuing contacts for a ceasefire, Peri demurred. “I am against such discussions when the bombs are falling on cities, villages and the south and on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”

Still, a minority of Israelis, including the leaders of the left-wing Meretz party, are openly warning against another invasion of Gaza. “I don’t see that much benefit will come out of it and I am worried about our soldiers and also the people on the other side,” said Yossi Tsur, an accountant in Jerusalem.

Bradley Burston, a writer for the left-wing Haaretz newspaper, predicts there will be a more questioning media tone after the ground operation begins. “Many journalists wrote in favour of Operation Cast Led at the beginning and vehemently opposed it at the end. They don’t want to be in the same position this time around.”