Haaretz published a report yesterday about a covert mission executed by IDF commandos which was leaked to foreign media. Elements of the Israeli military-intelligence apparatus are incensed that they’d been secretly planning the attack for weeks, if not months. Then, they discovered that the plans had been leaked two days before the operation to “the foreign media.” Publication of the story was to be coordinated with the attack itself and come immediately afterward. However, the operation was postponed and the leaker approached the journalist telling him he had to delay publication.
Though the article doesn’t explicitly identify the specific operation, nor which publication obtained the leak, it offers extravagant hints which make clear it’s referring to Ronen Bergman’s NY Times reporting which broke the story of Israel’s attack on an Iranian spy ship off the Yemeni coast. The Haaretz story was heavily censored by the IDF censor (the Hebrew version is less censored than the English). But there are numerous hints which point to the correct identification of the operation and the foreign publication.
But who leaked to Bergman? There are two possibilities, but only one fits the bill. Netanyahu has always been a blabber-mouth when it comes to trumpeting Israel’s exploits against Iran. He has appeared before the world’s TV cameras before backed by shelves full of CD-rom files purportedly containing most of Iran’s nuclear secrets. He has ballyhooed his hatred of the Ayatollahs in many of the world’s capitals. The source of the leak could easily be the prime minister.
But a much more likely candidate is Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen. Bergman is known to have exclusive access to senior figures in the Mossad who he’s cultivated for decades. This sort of privileged access permitted him to secure the documents and sources he used in writing his account of the agency’s assassination program, Rise and Kill First. Cohen is known as an extremely ambitious figure who envisions himself as prime minister one day. As he comes to the end of his tenure as Mossad chief, he contemplates his political future. He knows he must maintain his reputation during the period after he leaves office, in which he will not be permitted to enter political life. Ronen Bergman offers him a perfect opportunity to remain in the public eye. As long as Cohen can regale him with his daring operational exploits, he remains a figure of intrigue while the Israeli journalist continues getting his scoops published in one of the world’s major newspapers.
A subsequent Haaretz article confirms my belief that Cohen is the source. The author interviews senior military and intelligence officials, who universally decry the series of security leaks concerning attacks on Iran, saying they serve selfish personal interests instead of national security:
In private conversations, security officials recently said that the concern [over leaks] wasn’t over a specific report, but rather mainly over the volume of reports appearing during a period of high tensions with Iran. The Iranians could interpret these as provocations that must be given a response – something it would be in no hurry to do were it not for the reports.
“It doesn’t look good,” said a former senior defense official. “We’re in an era in which some senior defense officials are very weak vis-à-vis decision makers, while some heads of security agencies are treated differently and enjoy proximity to the prime minister,” the official told Haaretz.
The reference is clearly to Cohen as Mossad chief, whose proximity to Netanyahu permits him to leak operations which promote his political ambitions, while he has no fear of facing repercussions for his betrayal of security protocols.
This Saviz attack is part of an orchestrated series of escalations by Israel against Iran. Last month, naval commandos mined an Iranian tanker, causing so much damage that the ensuing leak of 1,000 tons of oil soiled Israeli beaches in the worst environmental disaster in the nation’s history. This attack on a military vessel ups the ante. It takes place in the context of delicate negotiations among the JCPOA parties to resume participation in the agreement. On the very day the Israeli attack was reported, the US and Iran reported substantial progress toward US lifting sanctions and Iran agreeing to return to compliance. It’s no accident that Bibi Netanyahu desperately wishes to heat things up in order to sabotage any possible resumption of the nuclear deal.
I’ve sought, so far unsuccessfully, to verify my hunch with Israeli sources.
The leak incensed both the IDF and its intelligence unit, AMAN because it jeopardized the safety of the mission; and because they realized that the leaker was far more concerned with enhancing his own image than he was in the mission itself.