Israel media review

Rushin’ to judgment: 8 things to know for January 9

After Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman accuses [redacted country name] of planning cyber attacks to fiddle with Israel’s election, Moscow feels its ears start to burn for some reason

Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman outside his home on February 11, 2016. (Flash90)
Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman outside his home on February 11, 2016. (Flash90)

1. From [redacted] with love: A foreign country is planning on trying to mess with Israel’s upcoming election, Shin Bet Chief Nadav Argaman warned Monday.

  • Though Argaman explicitly mentioned which country it is during an event hosted by Friends of Tel Aviv University attended by a large crowd, according to Hadashot TV news, Israel’s military censor is barring from publication that detail and others from his talk.
  • The military censor has rules that are nothing if not byzantine, though, and thus it okayed publication of Meretz party head Tamar Zandberg saying “We demand the security services make sure that Putin doesn’t steal the elections for his friend, the tyrant Bibi,” Zandberg was referring to Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • According to Ron Ben Yishai in Ynet and i24, Argaman’s statement was meant to send a message to [redacted] to think twice before messing around, even if that country can’t be mentioned in the Israeli press.
  • “Argaman made the remarks at a conference attended by civilians, apparently assuming that they will be published – in order to deter the very same country,” he writes. “His intentions were also perhaps to tell Israeli citizens to beware of fake news, and to recruit them, in the effort to identify those attempts, based on the knowledge gained from what happened in the US, France and Britain.”
  • Somehow feeling its ears burning, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters not to read Israeli news outlets (which don’t mention Russia).
  • “It is out of the question. Russia has never interfered in elections in any country and has no plans to do it in the future,” he is quoted as saying in the Kremlin-run Tass news agency.
  • At least they have a sense of humor about it?

2. How exposed is Israel? Haaretz notes that a recent report by Check Point Software found that Israel’s electoral system “is more exposed than ever to cyber threats.”

  • A deeper look at the vulnerabilities by Haaretz finds that while the use of paper ballots immunizes Israel against direct hacking to change results, voter rolls can still be messed with, not to mention the fake news bogeyman that can affect voters’ psyches.
  • Gal Fenigshtein, a Check Point intelligence analyst, tells the paper: “The information in databases like these is significant; for example, voters’ birthdate, place of residence, voting place and so forth. The minute you have information on so many voters, you can create a connection with them, send text messages to them and try to influence their opinion.”

3. Out of the shadows: It’s not like Israel is a neophyte itself when it comes to hacking. In fact it’s got quite a bad rap in recent years, thanks largely to the NSO Group, a shadowy cyber-defense firms which has been fingered as having aided regimes with poor human rights records track dissidents, including Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, whose murder rocked the Middle East.

  • The famously media-shy company may be trying to rehab its image, with Shalev Hulio, one of the company’s founders, agreeing to an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • The interview with Hulio is in the more than capable hands of Ronen Bergman, among the best Israeli reporters when it comes to spycraft and skulduggery.
  • The paper offers little info in its preview of the interview, set to published Friday, including this less than calm-inducing quote from Hulio (whom it calls the Israeli who can break into any phone in the world): “The only ones who should be afraid are terrorists and criminals.”
  • Unfortunately, as has been noted before, many of the regimes NSO sells its spyware to consider political dissidents criminals or terrorists.

4. Kobar, fubar: Pro-Netanyahu tabloid Israel Hayom is playing up the capture of Asem Barghouti, an actual terror suspect who is believed to have opened fire at a bus stop outside the Givat Assaf outpost near Ramallah on December 13, killing two soldiers stationed there and seriously injuring a third serviceman and a civilian woman.

  • With the manhunt taking almost a month and the suspected killer captured alive, the parents of Yuval Mor-Yosef, one of the soldiers killed in the attack, are not happy: “It’s better that he was captured and is not running free. But I’m extremely angry that he’s still alive. We are dying from the inside, Yuval is dead and he continues to live,” mother Ilanit tells the paper.
  • Barghouti and other attackers have come from the Palestinian village of Kobar, which Shargai calls a “terror nest,” and which he notes has a sister city relationship with the British city of Walsall.
  • “The list of killer terrorists is apparently less worrisome for its European friends,” he charges.

5. The gloves are on: Two very different stories from ToI writers give sides of the West Bank rarely seen or thought about.

  • One, from Adam Rasgon and Luke Tress, looks at a burgeoning protest movement against corruption in the Palestinian Authority, sparked by the creation of a new social security institution.
  • “Everyone here wants a social security system, but with rampant corruption in our government we cannot trust an institution created by it,” 30-year-old Nidal Quran, a teacher, says on the sidelines of a protest in Ramallah. “What if the government one day takes our money we give to the institution to deal with what it says is a financial crisis?”
  • Rather than adopt France’s yellow vests, the Palestinians have opted for blue surgical gloves and masks.
  • “The gloves don’t relate to any specific profession or idea,” Quran says. “They are meant to unify all of us in our struggle…They serve a similar purpose as the yellow vests in France.”
  • And Jessica Steinberg looks at a new mall in the Atarot Industrial zone, on the edge of Jerusalem, inside city limits, near a refugee camp and a disused airport, meant to be yet another coexistence bubble made possible by deep savings on groceries.
  • “I shop everywhere, at Rami Levy in Ramat Eshkol, at the Malha Mall, but this is better, so much closer,” Sarah Jibrin, from the Palestinian East Jerusalem neoighborhood of Berit Hanina says. “I also like the idea that it’s Jewish and Arabs — why shouldn’t we shop together?”

6. The river overfloweth: A winter rain storm has dumped buckets around the country, especially the north, even bringing a little snow with it, but not enough to give Jerusalem even a dusting.

  • The much-needed rains have sent wadis filling and rivers overflowing, with papers playing up pictures of the Jordan overrunning its banks and other rivers swelling.
  • But while the depleted Sea of Galilee is up some 19 centimeters, it’s too early to celebrate.
  • “Today’s rains don’t erase the last five years,” Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor tells ToI. “We expect this year to be average rainfall, or higher than average. It doesn’t make the drought issue worse, but it doesn’t fix it.”
  • Meanwhile, Channel 10 reports that a government tour of the damage caused by the storm came upon a car on Zikim beach in southern Israel that had been almost totally turned into a sand dune.

7. Rocking the boat: Yedioth also has pictures of overflowing rivers, but its front page is one picture of rushing rapids that are seen in a more sinister light, after a soldier trying to cross the stream drowned during a training exercise on Monday.

  • The paper writes that the picture of the swirling water proves “the size of the mess-up” in letting the soldiers ford the brook there (though it was taken after the accident, when it likely had even more water and thus looks even worse.)
  • In a tweet with a video of the river, reporter Yossi Yehoshua compares this to a series of training accidents in the Maglan recon unit last year: “The members of the investigative committee did not learn lessons from the Maglan affair and are not questioning the soldiers, only officers,” he writes, adding that in the end, the truth will come out.

8. We’re not bad, we just want you dead: In Haaretz, Zvi Bar’el looks at the age-old question of does Iran actually want to annihilate Israel, after foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said only that Israel would be destroyed, but not that Iran would necessarily be the one to do it.

  • Tehran is cagey and possibly undecided over the Israel question, with a vigorous debate in Iran over the question, and Israel might do well to notice the nuance, he writes.
  • “But more than arguments over precise wording or semantic analysis of Zarif’s words, the very sensitivity to them and the dispute over their essence that is going on in Iran should reverberate in Israel as well, where there is no public discourse over what has already been accepted as an axiom: That Iran wants to annihilate Israel,” he writes. “The moods, criticism of the regime or political and diplomatic analyses published in Iran, which do not follow in the spirit of official declarations, hardly ever reach the public in Israel.”
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