311_Netanyahu at UN speech.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must have had a horrible feeling of deja vu on
Monday when Yohanan Locker, his military aide, told him that a Yasour helicopter
carrying six IAF airmen had crashed in Romania.
He was prime minister in
February 1997 when two Yasours collided over the northern community of She’ar
Yashuv, killing 73 soldiers who were on their way to Lebanon in the worst
accident in the country’s history.
The helicopter crash added to a
growing list of the worst memories of Netanyahu’s first premiership that – much
to the prime minister’s chagrin – he, and the rest of the country, have had to
relive in his second.
First came the bitter struggles with an American
administration, then another conversion crisis and now a helicopter crash. But
nothing feels like deja vu more than the battles between Netanyahu and the
Ma’ariv’s front page on Wednesday offered a stark contrast that
made Netanyahu look extremely irresponsible.
The overwhelming majority of
the page was a black background with white words articulating the tragedy of the
six airmen who died. Underneath was a brief black-on-white headline: “The
The newspaper’s diplomatic correspondent, Ben Caspit, reported
that as news came in about the crash, Netanyahu was hosting a birthday party for
his 19-year-old son Yair at his official residence in Jerusalem.
report questioned the prime minister’s judgment for not canceling the party and
returning to the Prime Minister’s Office to deal with the
Follow-up stories accused Netanyahu of treating the disaster
nonchalantly and lying about when he had heard about the crash.
Minister’s Office responded that the guests were already at the party when
Netanyahu was informed of the crash and that if he had left mysteriously, word
would have spread quickly, and it could have caused nationwide
Netanyahu’s associates said security officials had told
Netanyahu not to tell anyone about the incident until the families of the
victims were informed.
They stressed that the party was a modest affair,
planned two months ago, and that the prime minister did not need to take
immediate action beyond receiving the briefings he heard at his residence, which
has an office fully equipped with secure telephones.
One official close
to the prime minister did not flinch when faced with a comparison of Netanyahu’s
behavior to that of US president George W. Bush on September 11, 2001, who
continued reading a book called My Pet Goat to Florida kindergarteners even
after he was informed that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. The official
said that Bush did the right thing then and Netanyahu did the right now by
keeping their cool.
“It happens all the time that a world leader receives
information when he is in public,” Netanyahu’s strategic adviser Shaya Segal
said. “What he is supposed to do in such situations is show a poker face and
move on. He acted the way a prime minister should, and the people of Israel
Netanyahu’s associates called the negative coverage
“obsessive hounding by people with a vested interest in harming the prime
Unlike in Monday’s Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committee meeting when Netanyahu accused anonymous elements on the left – later
identified as Kadima council chairman Haim Ramon – of undermining efforts to
initiate direct talks with the Palestinians, this time the anonymous people
blamed were press, not politicians.
In fact, Kadima made a strategic
decision not to react to the reports about Netanyahu’s party, because it
believed the reports would be taken more seriously by the public and have a
greater impact if they weren’t tainted by the usual political
Sources close to Netanyahu attributed Ma’ariv’s report to a
personal vendetta of the reporter. They connected that report and a much
smaller, more lowkey report in Yediot Aharonot the same day to frustration at
the two newspapers with their drop in circulation in favor of Yisrael Hayom, a
newspaper seen as pro- Netanayhu.
Netanyahu’s associates downplayed both
his influence on Yisrael Hayom and his current problems with the
They said his relationship with the media had vastly improved
since his last term and suggested that the rightleaning Yisrael Hayom could turn
against Netanyahu if he makes concessions to the Palestinians.
now, the fact that Yisrael Hayom has surpassed both Yediot and Ma’ariv in
circulation certainly makes it easier for Netanyahu to get out his side of a
story in a way that he could not do when he was prime minister the first time.