חשיפה: תמונות לוחמי סיירת מטכ”ל שפורסמו בעזה, אך הצנזורה הצבאית אוסרת לפרסם אותן בישראל
— EHA News (@eha_news) November 22, 2018
UPDATE: Twitter, showing customary courage, deleted the tweet above, caving to Israeli pressure to censor this image of the IDF commandos whose failed raid nearly commenced a major war.
After the recent disastrous IDF raid in Gaza in which Sayeret Matkal Lt. Col. Mahmoud Kheirredine was killed along with an entire Hamas security unit (six men and a battalion commander) wiped out, a war nearly broke out between Israel and Hamas. The Palestinians launched hundreds of rockets in retaliation both for the Israeli raid and killing of the Hamas militants. A Palestinian laborer was killed in southern Israel by one of the missiles. Several Israelis, including one soldier, were severely wounded. Through intensive negotiation, Egypt persuaded both sides to stand down from a major conflict and calm was restored.
The Israeli military censor prohibited the media from publishing Kheireddine’s name or unit (though I did so here). Such suppression averted the prying eyes of journalists who might question the planning or execution of the aborted mission. Indeed, when the raid was covered at all, reporters commended the soldiers for retrieving Kheireddine’s body so it didn’t fall into Hamas’ hands and become fodder for a prisoner exchange. But no one, with the exception of Ronen Bergman, has questioned what went wrong, a fundamental and critical aspect of the role of media in a democratic society. In today’s Yediot, Bergman excoriates the censor and military-intelligence apparatus for believing it can conceal either the operation itself or its failure. He writes:
We must look into the eyes of this sad reailty [and admit] what happened in Gaza was a disaster, not just for Lt. Col. M. and his family, but also for the IDF. Any attempt to stop the distribution of the information Hamas is disseminating will not diminish the catastrophe. The horses fled the barn long ago and there’s no reason now to close the door.
Hamas has now upped the ante by releasing the images of every IDF commando who participated in the raid. Apparently, they all had forged Palestinian identity cards which were somehow retrieved amongst the spy equipment and other gear abandoned by the Israelis as they rushed to escape from Palestinian forces as they closed in. Among the angles Israeli journalist should have explored but didn’t was…the impact that the capture of Unit 8200 SIGINT equipment would have on IDF operational capability not just in Gaza, but Lebanon and Iran too. Also, for a covert commando operation to abandon its own ID cards, thus permitting their exposure, seems another major fashla.
In comparing the low resolution image of Kheireddine featured in my original blog post to the identity photos here, I believe his image is in the middle vertical row toward the right with a beard and black shirt or jacket. But I have not confirmed this. Several of the IDF soldiers were dressed (quite convincingly) as women. Though I do wonder whether women in Gaza would use makeup for their identity cards photos. Hamas hopes to circulate the images among Israelis so that it may name the attackers and further embarrass the army.
A similar tactic was used by Dubai against the Mossad assassins who murdered Hamas weapons dealer, Mahmoud al Mabouh in 2010. Using various layers of surveillance and other intelligence data, the police published passport images of every member of the murder squad. They were also able to trace their path as they left the country and where they went. The passports also exposed an unsavory Mossad practice of cloning passports of actual dual citizens of Israel and various western countries. This resulted in the expulsion of the station chiefs in several important western European capitals. Though the spy agency succeeded in killing their target, they did so at very heavy cost in prestige. Not to mention that the élite assassination squad had 27 of its operatives exposed and rendered permanently out of action.
The IDF has responded with the military censor prohibiting Israeli media from publishing the images of the eight attackers and the vehicle they used to infiltrate Gaza. The censor holds an antiquated view of the world in which Israel may be walled off from the rest of humanity and insulated from any possible harm. In protest of this notion, I republish the tweet from Arab media which features these images. This enables Israeli readers to see what should be freely available to them in their own media, but isn’t.
I do this because I believe there must be limits placed on Israeli behavior. It may not act as if it has carte blanche anywhere in the region it wishes. It must come to understand that if it violates international norms through assassination or invasion, it will pay a price. That price may be exposure of its operatives or it may be a summons to the ICC in The Hague.