Explosion shatters Iran's security, but Netanyahu worries for his own
WHILE working its people up to be ready for war on Iran, with propaganda and air raid siren testing, the Israeli government is tightening screws on information and expressions of opinion at home. It is not always obvious whether the repressive moves are required for "security", or if the war threats and "security" are a pretext for repression.
With the UN's International Atomic Energy Authority expressing concern over Iranian uranium enrichment plans, although Iranian leaders insisted these were for peaceful purposes, there have been claims that both Israeli and British forces were being readied for an attack on Iran.
Veteran peace campaigner Uri Avnery has argued that Israel will not attack Iran, not only for the difficulties and retaliation it would bring, but because such an attack could not be planned without backing and help from the United States. He is hoping Obama will resist the clamour for war from US Republicans.
A huge explosion at an Iranian missile base on November 12 killed Major General Hassan Moghaddam and at least 16 soldiers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Although Iranian authorities described it as an accident, some referred to Moghaddam as a "martyr", and in Israel the press coyly suggested that it was an act of sabotage the authors of which were unknown.
Although there are armed groups such as Mojahadeen active in Iran, with possible renewed US support, the scale and choice of target of the attack do strongly point to Mossad. Moghaddam, who was trained in China and North Korea, has been described as the architect of the country’s ballistic missile program. The Alghadir base where the explosion occurred, housed Iran’s Shehab-3 missiles, which are capable of reaching Israel.
Alex Fishman, reporting in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot cites U.S. intelligence as saying the target was more advanced missile prototypes the Sajjil and Ghadr F. The new missiles would have longer range, being made from aluminium, and requiring less fuel.
If this was a Mossad operation they were either very lucky or very well-informed. Together with their ability to get the explosive device in so close to the general, this might explain why the Iranian authorities' embarassment made them claim it was an accident rather than openly express their outrage.
A top investigative journalist, Uri Blau of Ha'aretz, could be facing seven years in prison for presenting the military in unflattering light. Among other things he wrote two reports based on secret documents leaked to him by a young woman called Anat Kamm who obtained them during her military service. The memos from IDF General Yair Naveh showed he approved targeted assasinations of unarmed Palestinian suspects, in the occupied or Palestinian Authority territory, rather than troubling to arrest them. This was in breach of rulings from the Israeli Supreme Court, but rather than look into the lawbreaking, the authorities have gone for the whistle blowers. Anat Kamm has already been jailed, to "make an example" of her for other young people who may come across confidential information during their service, the judge said frankly.
Meanwhile, as some commentators remarked, senior officers frequently leak or plant information in the press when it suits them, as well as disobeying the law, without too much trouble from judges. Reporters without Frontiers have pointed out that the law under which Blau is being prosecuted has not been used in 50 years.
Top reporters and editors from the Israeli media held an emergency conference on Sunday aimed at defending freedom of the press. It was called in response to a recent downsizing in Israeli media outlets, the pending closure of Israel’s second commercial television channel, Channel 10, and a bill toughening Israeli libel laws. Conference organizers said the event would be “opening shot to a series of steps, planned for the upcoming weeks, aimed at stopping the sweeping attack on the media.”
It is not just military matters that are making the government and politicians nervous about their "security". Against the background of this Summer's social justice protests, Netanyahu recently threatened the licenses of Israeli media if they published information from a leaked list detailing the riches of Knesset members.
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee has approved an amendment to the current libel law that, if approved by Knesset, would result in a substantial hike to the maximum damages paid and would loosen the criteria for slander and libel. Criticis of the amendment believe this will hamper freedom of expression and the independent press.
There has also been legislation introduced to impede the funding of peace, human rights and social justice organisations. The drive for this, complaining of "foreign interference" in Israel's affairs (and those of the West Bank) comes from right-wing organisations which themselves receive massive funding from sources like the right-wing Christian Zionist outfits in the United States. If they have no sense of irony, it is possible Netanyahu may be seeing flaws in raising this issue. He faces questions over donations he collected in the United States, in breach of Knesset rules. There has also been unwelcome publicity over money spent by Israel and its friends in influencing governments in Europe. View Halloo, as they say.
Besides legislation, there are other ways of dealing with communicators who offend. Keren Neubach was dismissed from her position as anchorwoman of “Mabat Sheni” (Second Glance), Channel One’s news magazine show. Neubach who held the position for three years, is considered highly critical of the government and many view her dismissal as politically motivated.
“I am concerned with the connection between the assault on the press and that on the judicial system,” veteran investigative journalist Ilana Dayan told participants of the conference. “Someone is afraid of dogged press and a critical Supreme Court.”
Channel 2 News anchor Yair Lapid warned: "An incontinent government is silencing dissenting voices." Raviv Druker, of Channel 10, said. "Both the government and the rich are a threat to free press."
Israel Police and the Communications Ministry cut off the broadcasts of Kol Hashalom radio station on Saturday, claiming that they are pirate broadcasts. Kol Hashalom says its offices, located in the Palestinian Authority, are not subject to Israeli law, but Palestinian law, and therefore the Israeli Communications Ministry does not have the authority to shut it down.
Kol Hashalom has been broadcasting for the past seven years from East Jerusalem, using broadcasting equipment in Ramallah and an operating license from the Palestinian Communications Ministry. The station was established by Israeli peace activists working together with Palestinian peace activists.
The station is intended to replace the legendary Kol Hashalom radio station operated by Abbie Nathan, but a slightly different Hebrew spelling was chosen to differentiate between the two. The original station’s spelling translates to “The Voice of Peace” in English, while the new station’s spelling translates to “The Whole Peace”.
According to the station’s operators, for all its broadcast history, they were never asked to stop broadcasting or to acquire an Israeli license. Their first communication of the kind was received on November 4, asking them to stop broadcasting, claiming that their operations are illegal. The station denied the charges and requested time to form a reply.
Station manager Mossi Raz, a former Knesset member for the doveish Meretz party, was called into a police station for interrogation on Thursday. While Raz was questioned under caution, he was asked to give orders to end broadcasts, or else he would be remanded by a judge and the police would raid the station’s offices.
Raz is certain that the decision to close down the station is part of a general attack on what the government regards as "left-wing" organizations. The station provided a platform for groups that are now under attack by the new law that would curb their foreign funding.Likud MK Danny Danon recently turned to the Attorney General, demanding that he shut down the station, claiming that is broadcasting incitement.
On Friday he saw Prime Minister Netanyahu on Friday to give him examples of Mossad's misbehaviour. He complains that Mossad has been bypassing his Ministry, communicating behind his back with some African states and with Egypt, Turkey and Jordan. He also claims that while Mossad received Foreign Ministry reports, they witheld their own reports from the ministry.
When former Mossad chief Meir Dagan stepped down this year he went on to launch an attack on Netanyahu and his Defence Minister Ehud Barak, describing them as "reckless and irresponsible individuals", who would endanger Israel's existence with their plans to attack Iran.
Dagan is no dove. As Mossad chief he authorised assassinations and planned attacks just like the one on the Iranian missile base.
But he has criticised the government's failure to seize the opportunity presented by the Saudi-backed peace plan which offered relations with all Arab states if Israel negotiated an agreement with the Palestinians. He warned that if the Palestinians pushed ahead for UN recognition, Israel could face isolation as well as another Intifada, and in desperation Netanyahu and Barak might choose to go to war with Iran. If they did, Israel would find itself at the centre of a regional war, with missiles raining down. "Better a bomb in the basement in Tehran than missiles on the roofs of Tel Aviv".
One Israeli commentator, noting Dagan was one of the "most rightwing militant people ever born here ... who ate Arabs for breakfast, lunch and dinner", said ""When this man says that the leadership has no vision and is irresponsible, we should stop sleeping soundly at night."
Worried about the public awakening, Netanyahu is not content with locking up journalists, and shutting down radio stations, but has decided to try and gag his former intelligence and security chiefs.As the well-informed blogger Richard Silverstein recorded:
The Kuwaiti paper, Al Jarida who, the Guardian says, has a history of publishing authoritative stories using high level Israeli sources, that Bibi Netanyahu has demanded an investigation of leaks orchestrated by Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin designed to sabotage his plans to attack Iran. This will bring about the unlikely scenario of the current Shabak director, Yoram Cohen investigating his former boss and its most recent chief, Diskin, and the former Mossad chief as well. Again, I can’t ever recall something like this happening. They may’ve investigated a general or cabinet minister, but two intelligence chiefs at the same time?http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2011/11/03/bibi-orders-dagan-diskin-investigated-for-leaking-plans-of-iran-attack/
- In his latest blog posting at Tikkun Olam, Richard reveals that the Israeli press have been gagged from revealing the identity of a suspect accused of threatening to attack Peace Now premises and supporters as part of the right-wing settlers' "price tag" campaign which has already seen attacks on Palestinians and mosques.
- Apparently the suspect's mother is a senior police officer and his father the (Netanyahu-appointed) head of Shin Bet. This man shouted at reporters in court "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!" Well, they do now.