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.