The New York Times leads with Benjamin Netanyahu's abrupt resignation from Israel's cabinet, a move that "threw Israeli politics into turmoil," the paper says, just as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon prepares to roust hardline settlers from Gaza. Netanyahu's exit also tops the Wall Street Journal's world-wide news box. The Los Angeles Times goes with a story suggesting that Iraqi insurgents are once again attempting to infiltrate Fallujah. USA Today strips news of ABC anchorman Peter Jennings' death last night across the top of its front page. The Washington Post leads with a story about Pentagon planners drawing up a military response to a potential terrorist attack on American soil, a move the paper says marks a "historic shift" for the Army, which has traditionally shied away from involvement in domestic affairs.
Netanyahu, a past (and perhaps future) prime minister, showed up at a cabinet meeting yesterday, announced he was voting against pulling out of Gaza, handed Sharon a resignation letter, and stormed out. Afterward, he said he quit because he didn't believe Israel should give up Gaza without Palestinian concessions in return, and because he feared the territory would become a staging ground for terrorism. "This is happening against all the warnings," Netanyahu said. "I can do nothing about this from the inside, so I'll leave." The cabinet went ahead and voted 16-5 to move forward with the pullout, which will involve bulldozing the homes of some 9,000 settlers.
Netanyahu, who was the finance minister, won praise for his oversight of the economy. He is likely to challenge Sharon for leadership of the conservative Likud party, a move that the papers say could presage a major realignment in Israeli politics. "Increasingly, Israel's political alliances appear to be forming along generational lines," says the WP's (stuffed) story. Sharon might contest the next election at the head of a "unity" party, joining forces with his old friend and political rival, Labor Party Leader Shimon Peres. Meanwhile, the Gaza withdrawal continues to divide Israelis. A fine LAT front-page feature about the situation in the Israeli army says that senior commanders are "preoccupied" by the possibility that large numbers of soldiers will refuse to kick fellow Israelis off their land.
The headline of the LAT's Fallujah piece says that the town "May Be in Rebel Sights," but the story itself fails to deliver much evidence of returning insurgents. In fact, despite dire intelligence reports, the reporter finds Fallujah peaceful, if bombed-out. He writes that he was even able to walk the streets with U.S. soldiers and to talk to some locals, "a liberty unavailable in other major cities in Iraq's perilous Sunni Triangle"—which may explain the sketchy nature of the rest of his piece.
Everyone fronts Jennings' death, at 67, of lung cancer. He'd abruptly left ABC's nightly newscast in April, announcing that he was sick but saying that he'd continue to do the newscast when he felt well enough. He never appeared on the air again. The papers all touch the major milestones: Jennings, whose father was a prominent newscaster in his native Canada, started at ABC in 1964, made his name as a Middle East correspondent, and took over the nightly newscast in 1983. He "conducted the first television interview with Palestine Liberation Organization's Yasser Arafat ... was the first U.S. reporter to interview the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini," and won plaudits for his marathon coverage of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, according to the WP.
The WP's story on the military's preparations is vague, perhaps because it appears the reporter didn't actually get to look at the plans, but rather was briefed about them in general detail. However, the story does say that the plans encompass a variety of scenarios, including multiple, simultaneous attacks with biological or radiological weapons, and call for quick-reaction teams of about 3,000 troops to respond to any attacks. The preparations are sensitive, the story says, because of Posse Comitatus, which is ... banned by the state of Georgia? ... easily cured with penicillin? ...an 1878 law that "restricts the use of troops in domestic law enforcement."
It's a big day in general for Homeland Security stories, some of which have a distinct whiff of evergreen about them. USAT's cover story asks why America hasn't been attacked again since Sept. 11, and cites a number of possible explanations: al-Qaida's leadership is on the run; American Muslims are better assimilated than those in Europe; Osama Bin Laden is biding his time; we're just lucky. The LAT sits in with pilots of the F-16 squadron responsible for patrolling the airspace over Washington, which have intercepted errant civilian planes on at least three occasions in recent months. "If we have a real threat and we need to take them down, we're ready to do that," one says.
Best of the bunch is a WSJ feature on security in American shopping malls, which are likely terrorism targets. Mall operators have eschewed government security recommendations—"They weren't advising that we put gun turrets on the roof, but it wasn't so far from that," says one mall security company exec—and are instead going with softer tactics pioneered in Israel. Sample tip: Mall security guards should keep their noses pricked, because suicide bombers often "anoint themselves with perfume, fragrant soap or rosewater in preparation for what they believe will be their martyrdom."
The NYT fronts and the WSJ goes inside with more theorizing about what's going on inside Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' brain. The NYT digs up a memo Roberts wrote two decades ago that seems to cast doubt on a constitutional right to privacy. The WSJ looks at his conservative stance on law-and-order issues. No fire, and not much smoke either.
Speaking of smoke … Let's return to Peter Jennings for a moment. All the papers' obits mention that Jennings was a smoker, though he claimed he'd given up the habit two decades ago, save for one relapse. USAT runs an "appreciation" inside that includes an undated photograph of the anchor contentedly puffing a cigarette, with a caption reading: "Deadly habit." TP, like nearly everyone else on earth, recognizes that there's a causal connection between smoking and lung cancer, but he wonders if such judgment-passing constitutes (ahem) overkill.