ISRAEL: Waiting for the WikiLeaks shoe to drop, still cleaning up past messes
As elsewhere, readers and leaders in Israel were waiting on Sunday for the WikiLeaks shoe to drop. Israel is included in a long list of countries that received a heads up from the U.S. about possible diplomatic embarrassment ahead.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday afternoon he didn't expect Israel to be the center of attention, although the American tip didn't specifically indicate what would be exposed. Netanyahu said there was always an "information gap" between what was said in public and private but that in Israel's case the gap wasn't "too big." That remains to be seen.
Local media was abuzz hours in advance, speculating -- or themselves leaking -- where Israel might feature in the big leak. Ronen Bergman, a leading Israeli journalist in the espionage and defense niche, wrote in Sunday's Yediot Aharonot that confidential correspondence between the State Department and the U.S. embassies to be exposed included personality profiles of Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak. Also expected are records of meetings with the Mossad chief and sensitive information originating in military intelligence.
Ronen Moshe, a media strategist and former adviser to Barak, commented that being held in high regard by the Americans is a most important asset to Israeli leaders and politicians. In case the profiles and cables are less favorable than they hope for, media advisers will have to turn that into an advantage on the domestic political front, which is where these developments will play out, Moshe said in a radio interview.
Other advance buzz speculates there might be interesting information concerning the 2007 strike against a Syrian facility said to be a nuclear reactor in early construction. The affair is still under censorship in Israel, and media can only quote the foreign press reports, despite the occasional slip of the tongue and recent redux related to former President George W. Bush's memoirs as well as some score settling by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who's also working on a book. (Of this, a minister recently remarked, "Well, they all have their books to sell.")
Meanwhile, authorities continue to mop up previous information spills.
Recently, a list of Israelis who took part in Israel's military offensive on Gaza was published on the Web, accusing them of war crimes. Personal details including home addresses of some 200 soldiers, from the chief of staff on down, were posted on a website that was apparently short-lived, but the lists are still around. The army issued a harsh response firmly rejecting the accusations as well as the publication. One of the soldiers on the list, reserves Col. Bentzi Gruber, received a letter from Spain with a picture of a dead child. How will you explain this to God, the letter asked him.
Although Israel flatly rejects accusations of systematic war crimes, hundreds of complaints have been studied by the military advocate general, Avichai Mandelblit, who has ordred a handful of soldiers be indicted for misdeed. This sparked a campaign against him. In recent weeks, leaflets slandering him were circulated on his block and stuffed into mailboxes, his own included. "Traitor" was spray-painted on the wall outside his house. As transparency grows, a MAG website has been launched, and combat soldiers are now receiving photography 101 training.
Recently, the army started introducing biometric identification devices that will require fingerprint ID before permitting access to classified computer documents, as well as new software requiring a classification category for every document. Officials now see information is a resource to be safeguarded no less than the weapons of war, and further security measures are being introduced.
This is a lesson from the Anat Kam affair. During her military service, Anat Kam removed some 2,000 documents from army computers, giving many to reporter Uri Blau. The information theft was revealed two years ago when he published a story based on classified documents, suggesting the army approved operations in contravention of supreme-court orders. The censor had cleared the story, but an investigation was opened into the source of the information, and that led to Kam. She went to jail; Blau went to London. He recently returned from a long, self-imposed exile, and the attorney general will decide whether to indict.
Also last month, a soldier was indicted and charged with endangering state security after taking home from the National Security Council offices a disk-on-key containing hundreds of classified documents -- some including data on Iran's nuclear program. The soldier, assigned to the army's computer unit, said she had intended to expose a security lapse.
-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem