Nuclear bombs and bombshells
Hebrew media review

Nuclear bombs and bombshells

The Israeli media takes on the North Korean nuclear issue, and that of 'Prisoner X'

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

On a large television screen in front of Pyongyang's railway station, a North Korean state television broadcaster announces the news that North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Tuesday. (Photo credit: AP/Kim Kwang Hyon)
On a large television screen in front of Pyongyang's railway station, a North Korean state television broadcaster announces the news that North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Tuesday. (Photo credit: AP/Kim Kwang Hyon)

Two stories get top billing in the Israeli press on Wednesday: North Korea’s insouciance toward Western sanctions as it went ahead and tested a nuclear weapon, and reactions to reports in the Australian press of an Australian citizen committing suicide in an Israeli prison.

Yedioth Ahronoth leads with members of Knesset grilling outgoing Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman as to whether an Australian citizen committed suicide in an Israeli prison, as reported by Australia’s ABC news. Its headline is simply the bold questions hurled in the Knesset halls: “Did an Australian under an assumed name commit suicide in jail?” “Does Israel approve covert arrests?” “Are there prisoners whose reason for being arrested is classified?”

The paper reports that three MKs, Ahmad Tibi (Ra’am-Ta’al), Zahava Gal-on (Meretz) and Dov Khenin (Hadash), took the mic in what was supposed to be a routine proceeding and leveled the three pointed questions, respectively. Neeman responded saying the issue of Israeli prisons was not part of his purview, and that it fell under the jurisdiction of Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.

The paper reports that Aharonovitch canceled his Knesset appearance at the last minute.

Haaretz puts the “Prisoner X incident” at the top of its front page, complete with oodles of commentary. Aluf Benn writes that Mossad chief Tamir Pardo “is still living in the previous century, when information is kept in regimes’ safes. When a regime wants to share that information, it does so, but when it wants to keep it under wraps — it does just that.”

“For Pardo and his ilk, the Israeli media are a branch of the state; one with a lower standing than the Mossad, the Shin Bet or the IDF, but an integral part of the establishment nonetheless. That is why we are forced absurdly to quote foreign news sources about military operations, intelligence snafus and clandestine trials,” he writes. He argues it is not a matter of national security that such issues are censored in the Israeli press; rather, it is to protect the pride of the security chiefs.

Another op-ed, by Yuval Dror, says that the era of gag orders and military censorship is dead and buried thanks to the Internet. Due to the high percentage of Israelis on social networks, “the chances one will see a link to a story that was published abroad and is forbidden from being reported in Israel only increases with time.”

“The ritual of running to the courts, standing in front of a judge, asking him to issue an order, sending it by fax to the newspapers, radio stations and television channels, and threatening them with the usual punishments if they don’t comply is like child sacrifices to placate the gods. No child sacrifice will calm an angry storm, and no gag order will prevent the sharing of content online. Both rituals are primitive, useless and hopeless,” he says.

For the two pseudo-state mouthpieces, the Prisoner X incident gets downplayed as much as possible. Maariv devotes four meager paragraphs on the front page to it, almost as an afterthought, and Israel Hayom banishes the issue to Page 5 alongside an equally brief piece on Foreign Ministry employees saying the state neglects diplomacy.

Israel Hayom writes that the three MKs “exploited the live [TV] broadcast and their parliamentary immunity to present an inquiry” to the justice minister.

Iranian nuclear worries take a back seat to North Korean nuclear worries — and their connection to Iran. Pyongyang on Tuesday set off its third nuclear weapons test in defiance of international sanctions. World leaders condemned North Korea’s provocative act, and even China, Russia and Iran issued official denouncements.

Maariv kicks off its main story with unsubstantiated claims by Western officials that Iranian scientists were likely present at the North Korean nuclear weapons test.

Supporting that assumption, it writes that “Tehran doesn’t only have something to learn from the technology the Korean scientists achieved until now, but the Iranians also support the impoverished state that suffers, as they do, from international sanctions, and are likely to use it as a playground and testing ground in the framework of its [nuclear] project.”

Besides these assessments, it offers no concrete evidence or statements, nor does it quote a single official.

Israel Hayom includes the Israeli reaction to the North Korean nuclear test. It quotes Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor calling Tuesday’s incident “a continuation of the extensive projects by this country to develop nuclear and ballistic capabilities.”

“These plans reflect the negative role of North Korea in the region, and raise serious concerns regarding dissemination of nuclear technologies and missiles,” he added, alluding perhaps to Iran’s scientific agreements with Pyongyang.

Columnist Boaz Bismuth writes that the world was united on Tuesday — “for a change” — in opposition to North Korea’s nuclear test. “But it happened an hour too late,” he writes.

“It’s definitely food for thought on the issue of a nuclear Iran,” he adds. “No other country exposes information on the nuclear North Korea issue like Iran.”

He reminds readers that Tehran and Pyongyang have technological agreements for advancing missile development and — “as far as we know” — also nuclear development. He also cites “intelligence sources” reporting that Iranian engineers were present at Pyongyang’s nuclear test on Tuesday.

“The Iranian regime also wants a trump card” like North Korea’s nuclear weapon, he says. “It also wants an insurance policy called Atom.”

“After North Korea’s antics, the world cannot say once again ‘we didn’t know.'”

Yedioth Ahronoth draws the connection to Iran in its headline, which reads “Look at them [North Korea] and see Iran.” It calls Pyongyang a parable for Iran, and says that North Korea’s ejection of international inspectors, enrichment of uranium, and threatening of American allies “so recalls the process going on in Iran” that it is “deja vu.”

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