There is a bewildering element in the Israeli media coverage (such as it is) in the case of Capt. Tomer Eiges, the AMAN intelligence officer who died in his cell in a military prison last month.
My confidential security source told me in no uncertain terms that espionage charges were filed against Eiges. However, a military appeals court slightly relaxed the strict censorship in the case to say that he was not charged with “espionage, treason or contact with an enemy agent.”
I knew, based on the credibility of my source that he was accurate in his assessment. But I could not figure out why the IDF would in effect contradict him.
I’ve figured it out and it doesn’t speak well for the IDF. To start, you have to understand that Eiges was in a military prison and subject to military justice. He was being tried in a military court, the prosecuting and defense attorneys were IDF attorneys, and he was in a prison supervised by military jailers.
That means that the IDF was solely responsible for him. It means that the conditions of his treatment in the prison and his death fell entirely under IDF purview.
You will recall similarly that disgraced Mossad agent, Ben Zygier, committed suicide in prison awaiting trial. In that case, he was in a civilian prison though he was treated as a security prisoner.
When Zygier died, there was an investigation which found serious malfeasance among the prison guards who were tasked with monitoring him, including video surveillance cameras which were not working.
We do not know for certain how Eiges, who a separate source told me committed suicide (though this fact is disputed by his family), managed to die. Though an autopsy was performed by a pathologist hired by the family, according to a family friend he was not able to determine a cause of death.
The IDF refuses to release any medical account of its own. It has performed its own secret investigation of the circumstances of Eiges death and refuses to release any accounting.
Because of the intense secrecy, and because Eiges was by all accounts an extraordinary young man both in terms of his character and technical skills, pressure is mounting in the media and among the public for more transparency. In fact, Haaretz, in an extraordinary development, published an editorial demanding the army provide more information.
I now know why the IDF lied to the public about Eiges’ criminal charges, saying he was neither a spy nor a traitor. This served as an escape valve to relieve pressure. Had it continued to maintain the real story (that he was charged with espionage), this would increase the pressure from the public. Its anger at charging such a young, idealistic, brilliant officer with betraying his country would demand an accounting to justify the army’s behavior.
But telling the public in effect not to worry, the charges were less severe than previously imagined, reassures it that Eiges, whatever he did, did not betray his people.
If I am correct (and I am basing my view on overall circumstantial evidence plus my sources ironclad certainty about the real nature of the charges), then the IDF is lying to the Israeli people and media. It is doing so solely to protect itself from a terribly damaging scandal it desperately wants to suppress. This is an entirely cynical act of covering its ass for the sake of preserving what little honor it does have.
Another alternative theory is worth considering. The legal term espionage in Israeli law has very wide latitude. Is covers much more ground than the way we usually think of the term. Mishandling top secret documents (without delivering them to a foreign nation) is considering espionage. Removing documents from secure devices and bringing them home is considered espionage.
Tomer may’ve uncovered a top-secret intelligence project, in the same sense that Edward Snowden did. that disturbed him profoundly. Perhaps it was an intelligence-gathering or cyber-hacking method that went beyond the bounds of what he felt was morally tolerable. If he expressed his doubts, if he probed into the intelligence systems to learn more about whatever disturbed him, if he planned to blow the whistle on it–all of these could lead to espionage charges. But none of them would have meant he was a traitor to his country (or his principles). It’s important to remember this. This boy was not a criminal. He stood for something. And perhaps died for it.
It’s significant that in the online mourners web page devoted to Tomer, a work colleague of his father, Dr. Roni Eiges, at the military defense contractor, Rafael, wrote this message of protest:
Dear Family: We are with you in your mourning over the terrible tragedy into which you have been fallen. We join you in protest so that you may investigate what happened. We will be there for you and will not weaken. We send you comfort and support with a broken heart.
משפחה יקרה, אנו עימכםבאבלכם, בטרגדיה הנוראית אליה נקלעתם… בכל מחאה שתקום כדי לחקור מה שקרה – אנו נהיה שם ולא נרפה… שולחים תמיכה ותנחומים מלב דואב
It’s important to note here that an accusation of espionage does not mean that Tomer was a villain. In fact, many heroes throughout history were viewed as criminals or villains by their own countrymen and women. Think of the Unit 8200 veterans who blew the whistle. Think of Edward Snowden. Members of Congress called for his execution. Government prosecutors thirsted for his head on a pike. He was called a spy, a traitor and worse. Not because he was any of those things. But because he was following the calling of a higher power. He saw the evils of the surveillance state he served and threw a wrench in the works. Luckily for him, he escaped the clutches of the FBI and Justice Department. He remains free as a symbol of the good he intended. We don’t know Tomer’s motivations. But given that he was by all accounts extremely diligent, industrious and idealistic, it not beyond the realm of possibility he was similar motivated.
I have repeatedly pointed out here over the years the lies offered by Israel police, army and intelligence agencies in just these circumstances. We saw this as recently as the Gaza war during which IDF spokesperson Lt Col Jonathan Conricus flagrantly lied to world media telling it that the army had begun a ground invasion. The goal was to draw Hamas militants into their tunnel network designed to defend Gaza from just such attack. In truth, there was no ground invasion. What followed was a massive air attack using bunker buster bombs to collapse these tunnels in the hope it would capture hundreds of militants below ground and destroy virtually the entire Hamas tunnel personnel. Not only did the ruse fail (hardly any militants were killed in this operation) it revealed the mendacity and cynicism of the IDF in manipulating world media on behalf of its military goals. Alas, that hasn’t stopped the same journalists who were duped from continuing to use liars like Conricus in their ongoing coverage.
I commend the Israelis who have come forward as sources to tell me what they know of Tomer. I commend you readers for posting talk backs in Haaretz exposing his identity (though Haaretz obediently does the censor’s business by deleting them) . Your defiance of the censor is admirable. ‘It takes a village’ to defeat state lies and censorship. Keep up the resistance!