Political hacks and the hacks they hawk: 7 things to know for March 17
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Israel media review

Political hacks and the hacks they hawk: 7 things to know for March 17

Benny Gantz’s phone and what Iranians may have stolen from it is the center of attention, along with who blabbed to the press about it for political gain

Benny Gantz, head of the Israel Resilience party, speaks at a conference presenting the party's list of candidates for coming Knesset elections at an event held in Tel Aviv on February 19, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Benny Gantz, head of the Israel Resilience party, speaks at a conference presenting the party's list of candidates for coming Knesset elections at an event held in Tel Aviv on February 19, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1. Hack a Gantz: The weekend saw Israel and Hamas almost on the brink of war, but it’s a phone-hacking scandal that has grabbed the press.

  • A report Thursday that said the Shin Bet told Blue and White head Benny Gantz over five weeks ago that his phone had been hacked by Iranians has become the hottest political football, being punted back and forth between Blue and White and Likud.
  • In a press conference Friday near the Gaza border, Gantz dismissed the news of the hacking of his phone as “political gossip” and questioned the timing of the report, which came as Blue and White has seen its lead over Likud slip in the polls ahead of general elections on April 9.
  • Senior Blue and White candidate Moshe Ya’alon has asserted that Iran was not behind the hack of Gantz’s cellphone, and has accused Netanyahu of leaking the story to the media.
  • And Yair Lapid told Channel 12 that the phone had nothing secret anyway, with the channel reporting that the affair had still become “a personal embarrassment” for Gantz.
  • Likud, meanwhile, has seized upon the affair to campaign that Gantz can’t be trusted with the country’s security and that Iran wants Gantz to win because he supported the nuclear deal (in actuality, he opposed it but said there was no point in fighting it once it went through).

2. Very particular accusation: It’s gotten so ugly that Blue and White has demanded that the attorney general investigate the leak, as first reported by Yedioth Ahronoth.

  • In the complaint, Blue and White insists that the leak about the phone hack came from “a very particular ministry in Jerusalem,” from a person “with access to sensitive security information, and with an interest in hurting Gantz,” a clear reference to Netanyahu.
  • In Maariv, Ben Caspit writes that he thinks Netanyahu is innocent this time, at least in terms of leaking the info: “The leaks and hints are coming from Gantz’s inner court. He has a complicated history of unhappy relationships that he’s left in his wake, including people who feel betrayed by him. That’s where he should be looking for the leaks, the rumors and the embarrassing details. This is not Netanyahu. He is fanning the story like only he knows how, but this time he didn’t initiate it.”

3. Dirty, tricky foreigners: Haaretz’s Amos Harel compares it to the Russian hacking scandal in the 2016 presidential election in the US and says clarifications are needed because of the wide effect the scandal can have on the election.

  • “It is undermining relationships among the various components of the Kahol Lavan joint ticket. It may affect Gantz’s personal situation. And hovering in the background are the allegations that a foreign country intervened in the election or that dirty tricks were played on Netanyahu’s behalf. All this will have a critical impact on the next few weeks, the final weeks of the campaign,” he writes.
  • Amir Oren writes in Walla that getting hacked is a normal thing that happens to anyone in a high-up security position, and the real problem is Netanyahu’s “desperate” attempt to make hay of it.
  • “If there is a security threat, it’s not Gantz. Netanyahu is the problematic one. He would take counsel with foreigners who didn’t have proper clearance in a way that worried security officers in the Prime Minister’s Office,” he writes, referring to US-born advisers Arthur Finkelstein and George Birnbaum.

4. Sex bomb: Israel Hayom pats itself on the back for having been the first to report on the existence of “embarrassing materials” among what was hacked from Gantz’s phone, albeit without expounding on what that may be.

  • That apparently refers to claims that there was a sex tape of Gantz having an affair, though Haaretz notes that while that claim had been pushed by some close to Netanyahu, they have since backtracked.
  • “The enthusiastic dissemination of lurid rumors about Gantz by Netanyahu’s spin doctors is also the height of hypocrisy, given that Netanyahu’s own political career was once threatened by an alleged video recording of his extra-marital affairs,” the paper’s Chemi Shalev chides.
  • Yet in Yedioth, Yuval Karni claims that the party has yet to effectively swat away the rumors of embarrassing personal info, despite it having denied the existence of a sex tape: “Even three days after the story of the hack broke, the party is refusing to officially answer the question as to what was on Gantz’s phone.”

5. Nobody expects a rocket inquisition: For terror groups, there’s little worse than being compared to Monty Python, but that’s what is happening to Hamas after it apparently managed to accidentally shoot a pair of rockets at Tel Aviv, and nearly spark a war.

  • Channel 13 news uses the comparison to describe the ostensibly farcical chain of events that led to the rocket fire, when low-level Hamas operatives “messed with” a Gaza beach rocket launcher that was set up to fire toward Tel Aviv in the event of future conflict.
  • This would be the second time rocket fire has been chalked up to an accident, after lightning was blamed for a rocket hitting a house in Beersheba and another one flying into the sea off Tel Aviv last year.

6. Protesting Hamas: The threat of war has given way to internal protests inside Gaza against Hamas rule, an outcome long predicted, and feared.

  • Former general Gershon Hacohen writes in Israel Hayom that the protests have made Israel’s policy choices based on tacit recognition of Hamas as the sovereign in Gaza more acute, faced with the chance to either prop it up or help bring it down.
  • Haaretz’s Amira Hass, who is as plugged in to Gaza as any Israeli journalist, writes that although Hamas is calling the protests a Palestinian Authority plot to damage the “resistance,” it appear to be authentic.
  • “Independent observers in the Strip say the protests are an expression of true distress and nobody has forced the public to take part in it,” she writes.
  • That’s not to say the PA isn’t backing the protests. A story carried by official organ WAFA notes that a Ramallah-based independent monitor “said Hamas forces attacked its staff in Gaza because they were doing their job of monitoring and reporting Hamas crackdown on the street protests.”

7. Pisspoort: March 17 marks the 27th anniversary of the 1992 Buenos Aires embassy bombing, and in that same city, the Argentinean press is reporting on two Iranians who apparently came in on forged Israeli passports.

  • The pair were nabbed, but only after an international investigation involving three countries, which seems a bit much given how poorly the passports were messed up.
  • The fake documents are riddled with errors in Hebrew, including THE NAME OF THE COUNTRY. Almost nothing is spelled correctly.
  • While one can’t expect a bored Argentine passport checker to read Hebrew, it even has at least one English word misspelled: Expiry.
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