If anyone had any doubt whether Bibi Netanyahu’s primary allegiance is to Israel or himself, this incident proves he is willing to sabotage Israeli intelligence capabilities in order to save his own political ass. Yesterday, one of Israel’s most right-wing TV journalists reported that Iranian intelligence had penetrated the cell phone of Benny Gantz, leader of the prime opposition party facing Netanyahu in the coming April election. The headline was suitably lurid: “Senior Shin Bet officials warned Gantz every sensitive detail concerning his phone would likely be used against him should he serve in any governmental role.” They warned him that all of its contents including personal data, his text messages and email are now “in the most hostile hands possible.”
If you read this article without asking any questions about the motivations of the reporter or his sources, you’d think this was one of those regular media reports warning of the malign capabilities of one of Israel’s chief enemies. Perhaps you’d even be asking yourself how Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, could leave himself so vulnerable to such an attack.
But as with much of what is reported in Israeli media, you have to dig a bit deeper to understand who is reporting the story, who his source might be, why they might have leaked the story, and whose interests it serves.
Amit Segal, the reporter in question, is the son of one of Israel’s most infamous settler terrorists. The latter and his terror cell planted bombs in the 1980s which maimed two leading West Bank Palestinian mayors. This man’s son has become a prominent TV journalist with decidedly extremist political views, perhaps a bit more polished than his father’s (who now is managing editor of a Sheldon Adelson-owned, far-right settler newspaper, Makor Rishon). The TV reporter covers politics, not security. He is not known for having any intelligence sources. Therefore, his source was not in the Shin Bet, Mossad or police. Rather, his source would likely be in the prime minister’s office, perhaps Netanyahu himself.
Should anyone want to quarrel with my well-informed speculation, ask yourself why Israeli intelligence would want the enemy to know that it had penetrated the cyber-capabilities of Iran’s intelligence network? This will send Iranian intelligence officials scurrying through their every line of code, every piece of hardware, and every agent to determine where their own weakness lies. In turn, they will figure out how Israel gained access to their innermost secrets and fix the vulnerability. Now, this avenue will no longer be available to Israeli intelligence for exploitation. What Israeli intelligence officer in their right mind would want to expose such a secret? So no, the Shin Bet didn’t leak this story. Instead, it’s likely this agency is quite angry that it was leaked, and realizes that it was used in a partisan political attack.
The prime minister’s motivation would be revealing to the Israeli voter that his leading rival exposed his cell phone to Iranian cyber-hacking. This would leave questions in their mind about whether they’d trust their nation’s security to such an individual, despite his being a former IDF chief of staff.
Even more lurid sources have begun spreading the rumor that there was a sex tape on the phone. Given that Gantz was once IDF chief of staff and quite familiar with ways in which he could be compromised, the notion he would do anything of the sort is ludicrous. Though if the Iranians did hack his phone they might have introduced such a tape; or if Netanyahu himself through his own intelligence sources had access, he might have done the same. But this story stinks to high heaven and Bibi or his acolytes who planted it are disgusting.
I am shocked that even the NY Times jumped on this bandwagon in a piece co-authored by otherwise respected Israeli security journalist, Ronen Bergman. How can a credible media outlet report a claim by anyone that there are such tapes, without finding a shred of evidence to support the claims? This is as bad as the U.S. media reporting Trump’s lies during the 2016 presidential campaign, even though he never offered any proof to support them. When you report a lie, even if you explicitly say it is unsupported in your reporting, you’ve done half the job for the liar. He doesn’t care about offering proof. He only wants to get the smear on the air to knowing it penetrates into the mind of voters and create enough doubt or disgust to harm the intended victim. This is precisely how Trump wore down Hillary Clinton and defeated her.
To be clear, I do not support Gantz in any way. In fact, I oppose both Gantz and Netanyahu. But I hate lies even more than I oppose Gantz. Hence my own motivation in reporting this story.
Netanyahu is becoming desperate as he sees polls showing Gantz’s Blue and White coalition surpassing Likud (the latest poll shows B&W with 31-33 seats and Likud with 26). Though the current premier still could form a governing coalition because of the strength of other far-right parties likely to join him, he is nervous about either Likud continuing to bleed seats or B&W gaining enough to form its own governing coalition. Hence, the need to smear his opponents with enough dirt to raise doubts in the electorate.
Knowing how Bibi’s mind works, this development would be an avenue of attack too good to pass up. Whether it would harm capabilities of Israeli intelligence wouldn’t cross his mind. For Bibi, “l’etat, c’est moi.” There is no difference between the state and himself. What’s good for him is good for the state.
This is the same attitude that afflicts the Israel Lobby in pursuing Israel’s interest in the U.S. Congress and the White House. They conduct their affairs with the toxic notion that there is no difference between Israel’s interests and America’s. That’s why the notion of dual loyalty offends them. If the two nation’s interests coincide then they can have no dual loyalty. In helping Israel they are helping America. As I wrote, this is a toxic idea since the interests of one of the world’s great powers can’t possibly be the same as those of a small Middle East country. There is tremendous hubris in Netanyahu believing his personal and the nation’s interests are the same; just as there is delusion in the Lobby maintaining Israel’s interests match those of this country.
Yoni Levy says
This post is unlike you, Richard.
It is pure speculations and you have used the words ‘might’ and ‘likelt’ Too many times in one post and didn’t provide any evidence except for “I think so…”
Richard Silverstein says
@ Yoni Levy: Not at all. It’s not “pure” speculation, but “informed,” as I noted in the post. In fact, if you omit the word “speculation” and focus on the word “informed,” you will understand how i came by what i reported. I cannot say more.
” In fact, I oppose both Gantz and Netanyahu. But I hate lies even more than I oppose Gantz. ”
Who lied? What is the lie?
Gantz phone was hacked, Gantz admits it.
BTW, I thought that NSO, the Israeli cyber hackers, had this malware.
But I guess the Iranian state has it’s own version of ‘Pegasus’ too.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Bared Bottom: I do like your fake e mail address and would encourage anyone addressing you here to use a variation of it such as “bare bottom” or “bare ass.” It suits you to a “T.” Or should I say “B?”
Bibi can’t take a step or speak a word without lying. He’s the same as Donald Trump. So assuming that this leak, which he orchestrated, doesn’t contain lies is ridiculous.
First, we only know what Netanyahu claimed happened to the phone. Yes, we know the Iranians accessed it. But we don’t know whether they accessed it completely or partially. Netanyahu also implied there was secret data on the phone. We don’t know that either. In fact, Gantz claims there wasn’t. And in a match between Bibi & Gantz, I wouldn’t totally trust either. But I’d trust Gantz far more than Bibi. Second, we have this blatant lie:
I know Bibi or someone in his mafia circle was the source of the leak. So this too is a lie. The phrase “had not briefed him or his aides” means absolutely nothing. This information may not have been given to him in a formal briefing. It could have come to him in many different possible ways. That phrase was carefully crafted to allow scores of other ways he could’ve received the info.
Third, as others have pointed out, is the sex tape lie. This lie too originated in Bibi’s camp. But the misfortune is that serious media outlets are reporting this lie as if it had any validity whatsover, when it doesn’t. As for your snarky claim that you started the rumor–I actually take this very seriously. If you pride yourself on peddling lies (whether or not your claim itself is a lie), that’s grounds for immediate banning here. I’m just waiting for your next comment rule violation. Try me.
As for Iran having cyber-hacking tools, of course it does. It may even have Pegasus. The Iranians are quite capable of fooling NSO into selling Pegasus to them. If not, they have quite capable engineers and cyber-hackers who could devise their own version of it. They may even have hacked the hackers and stolen Pegasus. Who knows?
Finally, you have published 3 comments in the past 24 hours. You are now bound by the 3 comment a day rule. Do not publish more than 3 comments in any 24 hour period. Do not publish another comment here for another 24 hours.
Baird, the lie would be the rumor of a sex tape (ah reading comprehension, such an underrated skill…). Aren’t you interested in knowing who exactly started that rumour?
[comment deleted: you may think you’re the wittiest person around. But trust me, you aren’t. And when you offer “wit” that is really snark (rather than wit) and off topic, you violate the comment rules. Do not do this again. As I write to you, one more comment violation and you are moderated or banned.]
Ok, I believe you Paird.
Iran denies hacking the phone, and Netanyahu is taunting Gantz with supposed knowledge of what was on the phone. So who do you think really did the hacking? Seems to me N. Is not even trying to hide it.
Shlomo Wexler says
Who do you think you are, talking like that about the prime minister of Israel, a man that his first priority is the future of Israel and it’s existence a man that lost his brother in Entebe rade, shame on you!
Richard Silverstein says
@ Shloiyme: Who do I think I am? I think I’m a journalist and political commentator. Who the f*** are you to try to defend a thief and an adulterer who masquerades as a prime minister. Bibi’s first priority is himself.
I’m sorry Yoni died at Entebbe. In fact, someone I know who knew both said Yoni was a mensch and Bibi an asshole. I guess that’s about right. Sorry we lost the wrong brother at Entebbe.