International Papers

Clueless in Gaza

Two Palestinian gunmen staged a pre-dawn commando raid on an Israeli army outpost in the Gaza Strip Saturday morning, killing three soldiers and wounding seven. Since some of the Israelis appeared to have been shot in the back, the papers speculated that they may have been hit by friendly fire. One of the Palestinian raiders died on the scene, while the other escaped the outpost but was located and killed several hours later. The Jerusalem Post said the raiders’ ability to penetrate the army base revealed the Israeli Defense Force’s Achilles’ heel:

The spotters failed to detect them. The fence didn’t stop them. The gate guard was easily overcome. But worse than all was the failure to quickly locate and kill the infiltrators. …  But what does the army expect when it doesn’t train for this sort of close-quarters combat? The IDF doesn’t issue knives and doesn’t train most infantry soldiers … in hand-to-hand combat.

An analysis in Ha’aretz said, “[T]he results are intolerable for the IDF. Trained soldiers, well-equipped, in a place that gave them a tactical advantage, … outnumbering the attackers six to one, were surprised by two Palestinians with only basic equipment—Kalashnikov rifles, hand grenades, battle vests and knives.” It suggested that after five months at the outpost, built to protect the Jewish settlement of Atzmona, the brigade had developed a false sense of security: “[T]here may have been a ‘they wouldn’t dare’ attitude. In nearly a year of fighting, the Palestinians have not surprised the IDF with particularly daring operations.” An op-ed in the Hebrew-language daily Ma’ariv said that after the raid, “the Palestinians … had genuine cause for jubilation, while Israelis had genuine cause for concern.” The paper worried that the attack “may encourage other Palestinian elements to embrace this new pattern, others having failed to produce results.” (Translation from Ma’ariv courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)

Indian sting, Part 2: In March, Indian Web portal Tehelka exposed wide-scale corruption in defense procurement, leading to the resignation of the defense minister and the presidents of two parties in the ruling coalition, and the prosecution of at least four defense ministry officials (see the March 19 “International Papers” for more on the story). Last week, the Indian Express revealed that the journalists supplied army officers with prostitutes as part of the sting, causing several politicians to denounce the Tehelka investigation as immoral and corrupt. (The Deccan Herald of Bangalore reported that a Malayalam-language weekly in the southern Indian state of Kerala broke the prostitute angle in March, barely two weeks after Tehelka first published its findings, but “the rest of the nation remained oblivious.”) An op-ed in the Statesman of Calcutta dismissed the government’s attempt to deflect attention away from corruption and redirect it onto Tehelka, declaring, “To concentrate on the provision of prostitutes … is like concentrating on finding out where the currency notes that [former ruling party President] Bangaru Laxman took were printed.” The Telegraph of India conceded, “There can hardly be any doubt that Tehelka … has rendered some service to the nation.” However, it concluded:

It is ironic that Tehelka through its own actions has successfully underlined the moral precariousness of a no-holds-barred campaign against corruption in public life. Corruption exists and it needs to be eradicated. But this cannot be achieved by adopting dubious means.

Bye-bye Black: With the sale of his share in the National Post, Conrad Black’s “career in Canada has essentially drawn to a close,” declared the Globe and Mail. Last year, he sold most of his Canadian newspapers and 50 percent of the Post to CanWest Global Communications; on Thursday, CanWest bought out his remaining stake. Black, who recently renounced his Canadian citizenship after Prime Minister Jean Chrétien intervened to prevent him receiving a British peerage (for more on that story, see this June 1999 International Papers column), still owns Britain’s Daily Telegraph, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Jerusalem Post. The Financial Times said Black launched the National Post in 1998 “with the twin aims of toppling the Globe and Mail as the country’s most respected national daily and of airing a robust free market agenda which he felt was not represented in the Canadian media.” The paper has lost almost C$200 million since its launch. The Globe and Mail published several fond farewells to its former rival. An editorial said: “Whatever readers feel about its conservative political agenda, the Post has undeniably provided choice and new voices to Canadians, and has improved the quality of its competitors in the process.” Another piece explained Black’s retreat as a business disaster story: “Black wanted to sell because the losses were so horrendous that he was in danger of becoming a mere millionaire; the Aspers wanted to buy so they could cut costs to the bone in an effort to make the paper profitable; as long as Mr. Black was publisher, the budgets were untouchable.” The Asper family is known for its connections to Prime Minister Chrétien and the Liberal Party, both frequent targets for the National Post, but a Globe and Mail writer suggested that the biggest challenge to the Post’s survival will be with the Aspers’ attitude to journalism:

Izzy is a superhawk on Israel. In some parts of Canada, the Aspers now have the highest concentration of media ownership of any place in North America. … But their real worry should not be a sudden outbreak of editorials attacking Yasser Arafat. It should be that the Aspers will spend the least amount on content that they can get away with.

A generation of lost sheep: More than 4.5 million British sheep were culled after the outbreaks of foot and mouth this spring and summer. Now, the Financial Times reports, farmers fear the animals that replace them will have no sense of place, and since “the traditional shepherd is virtually extinct,” no one will be able to teach them. Sheep are traditionally taught to roam within defined but unfenced fells and commons by a time- and labor-intensive process called “hefting,” where shepherds spend days and nights with their flocks instilling the instinct to stay on a particular patch of land. The FT concluded, “Just how many … farmers will believe it is economic to heft new flocks on the hills, remains to be seen.”