If you’ve watched animated super-hero series or read comic books (as a father of 10 year old twins, that’s part of my job), you’ve seen those scenes where the hero and villain lock arms in mortal combat with their bodies spiraling through the universe. Planets explode as they tumble through space in what appears to be a death spiral.
Something like that it happening in Israel as I write this. Except that the two combatants are both villains. There is no hero in this one, which involves the two super-villains of the Israeli security apparatus: the IDF and Shin Bet.
A few days ago, Uvdah began its new TV season with a blockbuster segment (apologies that almost all the material linked in this post is in Hebrew). Though the episode dealt with the entire Gaza war, the “money segment” featured charges by high-level Shin Bet officials that last winter the agency had forwarded to the army actionable intelligence from the field allegedly documenting Hamas plans to open a summer war against Israel. The Islamist military wing planned a surprise attack set for summer. It would take the war to the enemy, overwhelm border defenses, and invade Israel. It was to be a “war of liberation.” The goal was to conquer and hold Israeli territory. The use of the Hebrew term “war of liberation” (milhemet shichrur) is ironic since the 1948 War is often described using the same term. Such a troubling irony (that Hamas allegedly planned to wage its own war of liberation in which Israel would be the territory liberated) would not be lost on the average Uvdah viewer.
When an Israeli friend first sent me the Uvdah show and I read about it it sounded like a bad made-for-TV movie. Granted some delusional Hamas official might perhaps believe such nonsense (though Hamas strikes me as far more pragmatic than many Israeli security officials), but that the Shin Bet would do so and pass it on to other agencies as a serious security threat seemed to me beyond ludicrous. For me, it’s something like the 9/11 conspiracy theorists who tell tales of dancing Mossad agents after the fall of the Twin Towers.
One of the more glaring contradictions between the Shabak’s claim of Hamas’ strategic goals and the methods the latter actually used during the war is that Hamas’ penetration of the Israeli border never involved attacking civilians or even taking over communities. In fact, in several instances its forces could have attacked civilians but deliberately endangered themselves by waiting for a military target. Hamas only sought to capture soldiers in order to exchange them for its own prisoners.
Given the media glare of Israel’s foremost news magazine opening its season with this blockbuster, it’s become a Battle of the Titans. The IDF top brass has reacted with apoplectic fury to the charges. Despite strong efforts by the prime minister himself to calm passions and remind the army and Shabak that they were supposed to be on the same side, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz made public an unprecedented letter addressed to Netanyahu. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a high-level military official wash so much dirty laundry in public. This is the first time the letter has been published in English:
In the TV show, Uvdah, Shabak sources crossed every moral and ethical red line. It was a deep expression of an inter-agency lack of collegiality. The program offered prejudicial information creating the misimpression that the Shin Bet was the sole intelligence unit for Gaza which performed its work faithfully, while AMAN, the IDF and the political echelon froze.
I strongly maintain that Shabak did not convey any warning about Hamas’ intent to wage a preemptive July war. Never at any meeting I attended was the subject of such a war or potential [Hamas] operation raised; nor was it raised at the military or political level.
Shabak’s collaboration with the TV show glorifies it by defaming the political echelon in a way that is a moral-ethical breach. The IDF is stigmatized as a group which refused to act upon urgent intelligence brought to it by the Shabak. This is my strongest protest against such an act. Such a media stunt should be investigated fully.
I am pained by this. I never dreamed we would get to such a point. From my perspective, exposure of intelligence in the possession of the agency’s staff and field methods used is unprecedented and dangerous. Nor is it clear who approved such scandalous revelations.
Cabinet ministers too fumed at Yoram Cohen’s claim just after the war ended that he warned them in April about impending war.
The IDF does agree that there were reports of Hamas tunnel networks intended to cross the border into Israel in order to capture IDF soldiers and hold them ransom. The IDF also says that it sprang into action seeking to uncover the tunnels and frustrate any cross border raid.
Ultimately, they failed and there was one Hamas raid, not as the Shabak claimed targeting Israeli civilians, but rather IDF soldiers. Five soldiers stationed at an observation post guarding a border kibbutz were killed in that incident. Though the program does not mention it, this was one of at least three instances in which the Hannibal Directive was invoked and an IDF soldier was likely killed by his own, perhaps deliberately so.
The TV news show documents another major operational failure of the military-intelligence apparatus during the war. The Shabak allegedly had pinpointed the location of Mohammed Deif who, according to it, was the mastermind behind Hamas’ war plans. He, in the minds of intelligence officials, was the dark prince of Hamas. The target who’d escaped multiple assassination attempts. A man living “in the shadows,” as a Shabak official says during the show.
An elaborate operation was planned to kill him involving joint efforts of the Israeli air force and Shin Bet. Approval was given by the prime minister. The F-16 took off, reached the target dropped its bombs and…two of them failed to explode. Precisely the ones which were supposed to destroy the portion of the house in which they believed Deir was located. Despite high level Israeli claims that it killed Deif, it appears they failed. All Dayan would say during the show was “it appears there is a chance he remains alive.” I know and any reasonably person who follows Israeli intelligence matters knows that if he were dead, they would be celebrating on camera, and not being careful and judicious in their comments.
The operational failure of the mission is mentioned but not questioned. It’s as if it’s a matter of course that two missiles of four can fail in such an operation. No one is blamed. This again is typical of Israeli credulousness in the face of the national security megalith.
At no point during the Uvdah reporting on the failed assassination attempt, did anyone on camera or off note that Deif’s wife and 8 month-old son were killed in this attack along with other members of the Dalou family which owned the house. There is no acknowledgement of civilian slaughter. This is an example of shameful journalism. But unfortunately reporting that characterizes the moral obtuseness of even the best of Israeli journalists (and Dayan is one of the better ones, if not among the best).
If you watch this show carefully, you won’t see a record of Shin Bet glory. You will actually see the recounting of a series of failures of the entire security apparatus painted to look like successes. But you wouldn’t know that from reading Ilana Dayan’s narration or the dialogue of any of the sources interviewed. You have to read between the lines and know what they’re leaving out.
This edition of Uvdah was a love letter to Shabak. It allowed the agency to whitewash every failure. It allowed it to showcase a young female analyst who recounted the telephone calls she made to Gaza homeowners telling them to abandon their homes before Israel destroyed them. She even says the Arabic words she used to warn them. It makes the Shabak to be noble and thoughtful. All the while you listen you know this is theater. Theater that the average Israel views with satisfaction knowing those responsible for keeping him safe and secure are humane and decent. They care about Gazan lives even though Gazans mean us nothing but evil, etc.
When I consulted an Israeli with some knowledge of these issues, why the Shin Bet would spin such unbelievable tales of Hamas plans to overrun Israeli defenses and take over Israeli towns, he said that the Israeli domestic security agency has felt very much sidelined by the war. It felt that the IDF’s AMAN intelligence unit took credit for the so-called successes of Protective Edge, leaving the Shin Bet out in the cold. Uvdah presented an opportunity for it to argue for its continued relevance.
But frankly, if this is the way Yoram Cohen is going to maintain his status as top dog in the intelligence hierarchy, he’s walked out on a branch after it’s been half sawed off. I think a performance like this can only embarrass not just the Shabak, but the entire national security apparatus. It looks like the two super-heroes of Israeli society are battling to the death to determine who’s the biggest, meanest and best of the lot. How much rope does Cohen think the Israeli population will give him to do such things?
Perhaps the worst aspect of this program was that it once again encouraged Israelis to forget what really happened last summer and who really started the war. Hamas did not initiate this war no matter what the Shabak says. Israel initiated the war, as I’ve written here many times, with a massive West Bank pogrom. Do not allow anyone, least of all one of Israel’s better TV news magazines to tell you otherwise.
News just broke that the Shin Bet has released a statement in which it falsely claims that it’s personnel never told Uvdah that it knew of plans by Hamas to wage a July war. Anyone watching the show heard the agency’s officials say precisely that. But what’s interesting about the “walk-back” is that Yossi Melman tweets that the publication of the statement was demanded by Bibi Netanyahu himself.