Reactor strike gives way to radioactive reactions: 9 things to know for March 22
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Reactor strike gives way to radioactive reactions: 9 things to know for March 22

With the Syria attack ‘secret’ out of the box, officials seek credit and point fingers, creating such a toxic atmosphere some wish the news had stayed under wraps

Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo speaks at a conference in memory of his predecessor as head of the spy agency, Meir Dagan, on March 21, 2018. (Tamir Bergig)
Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo speaks at a conference in memory of his predecessor as head of the spy agency, Meir Dagan, on March 21, 2018. (Tamir Bergig)

1. It’s taken 10 years, but the fallout from the intelligence failures that allowed Syria to build a nuclear reactor under Israel’s nose is now openly seeping into Israel’s groundwater and making more than a few people sick.

  • The fight between Military Intelligence and the Mossad turned radioactive in the wake of the release of the material, with even normally tight-lipped Tamir Pardo appearing to level blame at the army’s intel corps for failing to know Syrian President Bashar Assad was building a North Korean nuclear reactor under its nose.
  • “A team of Mossad agents succeeded in bringing the information in the way that it knows how,” he said at an event for late Mossad chief Meir Dagan. “The intelligence failure was on the level of the Yom Kippur War.”
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, though, former MI chief Amos Yadlin says it was the Mossad that dropped the ball: “Dagan told me, Syria doesn’t interest me. Afterward he checked into it and got back to me: ‘No smoke and no reactors.’”
  • Yadlin also took to Twitter to give a fascinating look into the thinking behind the decision to strike, though his account doesn’t wade into the blame game.
  • “It was more luck than intelligence,” former general Yaacov Amidror writes in Israel Hayom.

2. Israel Hayom’s front page calls the back and forth, which also included other politicians weighing in, a “battle for credit,” mostly pointing at sniping between Ehud Olmert, who was prime minister at the time, and Ehud Barak, who was defense minister — both of whom are coming out with memoirs.

  • After Olmert claimed in his book that Barak asked them to put off the strike until he was ensconced in the PM’s office so he could claim credit, Barak shot back that “That’s just in Olmert’s ridiculous world.”
  • The bickering is “hurtful,” Israel Hayom columnist Yaov Limor writes: “The clear message was supposed to be that Israel will not let its enemies have a weapon that would endanger its existence.”
  • “In a day, the attack turned into a modern version of the Altalena,” Yedioth’s Alex Fishman chides, referring to fighting over the bombing of a Lehi pre-state militia arms ship by the more moderate pre-state Hagana militia. “Suddenly, after years, everyone claims they were there. Everyone advised, planned, sat in the war room, everyone knew and said something to someone at the top. There wasn’t a single moment you didn’t hear the word “I” yesterday. I said, I decided, I was with the prime minister, I deployed, I was the only one who knew. I,I,I.”

3. Another battle brewing is over the decision to release the information now, seemingly out of the blue, after over 10 years of censorship, with some saying it should have stayed under wraps and others calling the whole military censor’s role into question.

  • “I am sorry I gave permission to the censor to publicize the affair,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said, pointing to the creditfuffles and blame games.
  • Pardo himself questioned the move, which many think was motivated by memoirs by the Ehuds, which include details about the strike: “I am not sure it was right to release information about this operation now,” he said. “Maybe eight years ago, or maybe eight years from now.”
  • “The state and the censor, as the professional body authorized to make such decisions on the state’s behalf, adhered for years to a ban that became very hard to defend, and it’s doubtful it would have withstood a High Court challenge for much longer,” writes Amos Harel in Haaretz.
  • MK Nachman Shai in Israel Hayom says the censor owes the public some answers, noting that the story was already out pretty much from day one, thanks to the Israeli planes being spotted over Turkey and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then opposition leader, pretty much spilling the beans on TV that day. “Rumors in Israel have wings and are quick to spread,” he writes.

4. The media blackout may also be the reason that each outlet seems to have picked a different name to call the operation. Some, like The Times of Israel, call it Operation Orchard; some, like Haaretz, call it Operation Soft Melody, and some, like Israel Hayom, call it Operation Outside The Box (or Out of the Box).

  • So who is correct? Everybody. As Times of Israel military correspondent Judah Ari Gross explains, as happens in large complicated operations like these, each body picks its own name, and with the Mossad, MI, the IDF, the Air Force and who knows who else taking part, each went with a different moniker.

5. Giving some behind the scenes insight into what it was like to have to keep that secret, former IDF spokesman Peter Lerner writes in the Forward about the difficulty of continuing to repeat the mantra of no comment.

“It wasn’t an ideal situation. As a communicator, ‘No comment’ is the worst response you can give a journalist. As a spokesperson, you always have to say something. But as I learned over the course of 25 years communicating for the defense establishment, silence can be a great source of strength, too, not for the public relations effort, but for the operational mission,” he writes, noting that Israel’s silence allowed Assad enough maneuverability to not respond.

6. Now that Israel did fess up, Assad is still not responding. Nor is Syria’s state-run media, or pretty much anyone aligned with Damascus or the entire Arab world.

  • There’s no upside to them opening their mouths, a senior defense figure tells Israel Hayom. “The Arab silence is understandable. Any statement on the matter would only harm the Arab leaders.”

7. That goes as well for the Sunni Arab world, which has its own problems to deal with, especially amid new reports of it getting tangled up in the White House’s woes.

  • A New York Times expose uncovers how major Trump donor and huge Israel backer Elliot Broidy peddled Gulf interests in the White House together with George Nader.
  • According to the report, the two pushed “the White House to remove Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, backing confrontational approaches to Iran and Qatar and repeatedly pressing the president to meet privately outside the White House with the leader of U.A.E.”
  • If that weren’t enough, the Intercept reports that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said his BFF Jared Kushner is “in his pocket,” after Trump’s son-in-law gave MBS the names of royals opposed to his power grab, just before the prince launched a crackdown on them.

8. The two buddies met again this week in Washington, albeit with Mideast peace negotiator Jason Greenblatt in the room with them, to discuss the administration’s Mideast peace plan, according to the official Saudi news agency.

  • “During the meeting, they discussed issues of common interests between the two countries and ways of consolidating them in addition to the latest peace process developments in the Middle East, which represent great importance for the two countries, and the necessity of finding a peaceful and lasting solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” the statement reads.
  • Strangely, the White House has been silent on the matter. A Times of Israel request for comment was met with crickets.

9. Israel-advocate and philanthropist Ron Lauder’s New York Times op-ed on the government’s ills, including settlement building, is continuing to have people talking, though, inspiring two Haaretz op-eds Thursday.

  • In one, Dan Margalit notes that it’s a sign of how far Israel has moved from the two-state solution, though the Palestinian intransigence to enter peace talks isn’t exactly helping either.
  • In the other, Israel Harel accuses Lauder of projecting US Jewry’s failures onto Israel. The community “is trying to shove responsibility for [assimilation] on Israel’s shoulders,” he writes.
  • Why are people even still talking about Lauder? His importance could stem from the Ronald-Donald connection, according to another Ron, JTA’s Ron Kampeas: “Lauder’s Op-Ed could be a signal to Netanyahu not to scuttle the Trump-Kushner-Greenblatt initiative even before it is born. It’s noteworthy that Lauder made his warning not in an Israeli newspaper, or in a speech delivered in Israel, but in The New York Times — a newspaper that Trump is known to obsessively read, however much he says he reviles it.”
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