A few months ago, news broke that while Benny Gantz was IDF chief of staff, his personal cell phone had been hacked by Iranian intelligence operatives. The story was embarrassing for Gantz, now the leader of the Blue and White Party, but nothing much came of it. Even in the two previous elections over the past months, the issue hardly arose.
But this week, Israeli news reports noted that the cyber-security firm hired by Gantz to do a forensic analysis of the phone, CGI Group, had been hired by the Likud. Though the reporting didn’t say this–clearly the implication was that the firm would reveal what it had learned about Gantz’s phone dump. And surprise, surprise–that’s just what has happened. Apparently there is no honor among thieves or among cyber-security companies. Once you stop working for one client you work for his opponent and spill your guts about everything you learned. It seems shameful and a recipe for no client ever trusting you. But I guess if the money’s good, why have any moral compunctions?
There could be a further motivation for CGI’s betrayal of Gantz. One of the company’s co-founders, Yaakov Peri, is a former Shin Bet chief. He later joined the Yesh Atid Party launched by Yair Lapid, one of the three co-leaders of Blue and White. When the media exposed exaggerations of his military service which Peri had made over the years, he was forced to resign his Knesset seat and leave the Party. There could be an element of revenge involved in this leak.
News1, a gossipy pro-Likud online news portal has published an unsourced claim that Gantz’s cell phone contained video of him masturbating, and that the clips were sent to a woman with whom he had had an affair over the years. The woman currently resides in the U.S. But the implication was that she is Israeli. News1’s editor, Yoav Yitzhak, coyly revealed that he knows the woman’s name, has her picture, and knows other embarrassing personal details, but he’s not telling! How noble of him!
News1 also indicates that the phone likely had sensitive military-security information, which the Iranians could have exploited. He further claims that Gantz withheld the most embarrassing content of the phone from the Shin Bet and that this severely compromised the agency’s ability to investigate the hack. He also claimed that the Iranians would likely put the cell phone content on the Dark Web, where other intelligence agencies could access it to blackmail Gantz.
A well-informed Israeli security source rebuts most of Yitzhak’s claims. The source told me that the investigation of the hack indicated there was no sensitive security data on the phone. Further, he said that whatever personal content was on the phone was of no interest to the security agency. He did not indicate that it felt Gantz had acted duplicitously or concealed anything.
Assuming my source is correct (and he has never previously offered any information that wasn’t correct), then Yitzhak is either getting bad information from his unnamed source; or he’s embellishing what he’s learned with falsehoods. Personally, I doubt News1 is obtaining its information from a security source. From the tone and tenor, it appears he’s getting the information directly from a Likud source. That would explain the embellishments and lies he’s publishing about the cell phone.
A final note: I do not support Benny Gantz. I do not have a dog in this fight as Bill Clinton used to say. I certainly prefer Gantz over Netanyahu, but only in the sense that I would have preferred von Hindenburg over Hitler or Millard Fillmore over Trump. It’s a matter of degree. While Netanyahu is a disaster, at least Gantz will “only” be terrible. Thus I am not reporting this story out of any sense of defending Gantz. My motivation is to point out the sheer perfidy of the Likud smear campaign.
Finally, all Israeli male political leaders (and judges) seem inclined either to cheat on their spouses, take bribes or engage in other disreputable behavior. So the notion that Gantz did these things and videotaped them for his lover doesn’t shock me in the least. I strongly doubt it will have much impact on Blue and White voters either.
The leaking of this dirty gossip is a desperation move, a last gasp by Netanyahu trying to cling to power; and willing to use any tactic, no matter how dirty, to tear down his opponent. If there was any indication that the female recipient was not a consenting party to these videos, that would be different. That would constitute sexual harassment and Gantz would and should be judged poorly for that.
That being said, the very fact that a powerful man commanding the Israeli army would put such material on his cell phone constitutes poor judgment. But it is poor judgment apparently shared with many human beings, especially powerful Israeli men. Bad judgment related to sex is a personal matter and should not be disqualifying in a political context. If it were, then Israel would never have voted into office a thrice-divorced man who cheated on one or more of his wives.