הצנזורה הצבאית הישראלית אוסרת לדווח על כך שראשי המוסד הנכנסים והיוצאים העסיקו יחצנית ואסטרטגית יחסי ציבור, איילת פריש. הצנזורה טוענת שחשיפת שמה עשויה להפוך אותה למטרה של מתנקשים איראנים.
It’s well-known that outgoing Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen, was an egotistical media-hound who loved blabbing to his favorite reporters about his achievements, whether it was assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists or nabbing troves of Iranian nuclear documentation under the noses of Iranian intelligence. Israeli political leaders even criticized him severely for violating the agency’s historical reticence from revealing anything about its operations. Many were glad to see him go and hoped the era of celebrity spies hobnobbing with billionaire oligarchs would end with his tenure.
But not until the past few weeks was it known that Cohen hired a PR and “strategic communications consultant, Ayelet Frish, to advance his personal agenda in the Israeli media. Frisch is a well-known figure who began her career as Shimon Peres’ spokesperson. She appears regularly on Israeli TV as an expert on public affairs, often without acknowledging to the audience that her appearances promote her clients. Another prominent one was Shin Bet chief, Nadav Argaman, though he is no longer a client.
What’s striking about this isn’t that Cohen hired Frish: after all, an ex-Mossad chief with dashing good looks, whose internal nickname at the agency was “The Model,” and who has his eye on the prime ministership, would certainly take advantage of such professional services. Rather, the military censor’s rationale for prohibiting reporting of her name is bizarre. According to Chaim Levinson reporting in Haaretz, it claimed that she would be endangered because anyone working for the Mossad would become a target for Iranian assassins. Frisch’s frequent travel abroad would put her in their crosshairs. In effect, the censor has decided that PR consultants are national security assets whose identities must be protected.
More breaking news concerns incoming Mossad boss, David Barnea. This insufferable panegyric-profile penned by Jonathan Broder, lauded Barnea as a “killing machine.” It claimed he had put an end to the constant media leaks for which Cohen was so notorious. But Yossi Melman has now confirmed that the incoming chief has also hired Frish to play the same role for him.
Broder makes a major flourish regarding Barnea’s purported intention to break with Cohen’s unbuttoned approach to the media:
Barnea warned former senior Mossad officials that he would punish anyone who speaks to the media, either on or off the record, about current or past Israeli spy operations without his prior permission.
…In Israel’s closely-knit society, directives from the head of the Mossad apply to anyone in the agency’s orbit, including the so-called “formers.” Barnea’s omerta order most likely means the details of past Mossad operations will remain shrouded in secrecy under his leadership. It also suggests that the agency’s background briefings for reporters about current operations—rare in the best of times—also will be cut.
Since taking the helm of Mossad in June, Barnea has rejected all requests for media interviews. “He plans to bring Mossad back to the old days when silence was golden,” Melman says.
The order also represents an abrupt pivot away from the high public profile of Barnea’s predecessor at the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, who frequently briefed reporters on current intelligence matters and gave public speeches. Cohen even allowed himself to be photographed as he met separately last year with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan to negotiate what eventually became their diplomatic recognition of Israel.
However, Broder’s flattering profile in itself disproves his claim. In it, he quotes a former Mossad official, Avner Avraham speaking directly about Barnea and his background as a spy. So much for omerta. All that Broder has proven is that Barnea has the same goals as Cohen. He wants as much flattering publicity as Cohen did. Broder has obliged handsomely. What he wants to avoid is media coverage that damages his image or that of the agency. Apparently, reporting Frisch’s name and revealing that he has the same goals for good PR as his predecessor will damage national security–or at least the Mossad’s reputation.
Chaim Levinson, writing in Haaretz, notes the agency’s hypocrisy:
Barnea has promised not to behave [like Cohen], and to return to the agency’s former policy of absolute secrecy. But in practice, he has increased the number of [consulting] hours [Frisch] will dedicate to the Mossad and she will speak to the media on his behalf concerning his affairs.
An Israeli civil society has also pointed out that Frisch’s access to top secret intelligence via her work for the Mossad could benefit her private clients, offering them access to the secrets she knows.