Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dirty Little Secrets: Israel's Military Censor

Yesterday I posted about the Israeli Election day Gaza-launched Katyusha missile attack against Ashkelon in southern Israel. Fellow blogger Don Radlauer raised some issues about the accuracy of some of the details in my posting, as well as questioning the media blackout on the Katyusha incident. After finding the HaAretz article about the issue, we see that there was a media blackout, but Don adds:

"I rather doubt that yet another missile that failed to injure anyone or cause any damage would have significantly changed the election results even if it had been reported the day before"

Now, in my opinion HaAretz is a leftwing newspaper. They openly flaunt leftwing political viewpoints and many of their staff writers have clear political agendas. HaAretz apparently considers the "blackout" to be valid because they blandly justify the use of military censorship!
Although some of the media knew a Katyusha had been fired, the military censor did not allow publication of the report until 8 P.M., thus lessening any possible effect on voting patterns. Israeli right-wingers had been warning of Katyusha rockets from the Gaza Strip for a long time.
Now, I respect Don alot - he moved to Israel, lives in a seam-line community, and has a decent blog even if I don't agree with all his views. This is not a rant against him...rather, I'm rather happy he pointed me to the HaAretz article, since the ramifications are extraordinary (even though Don thinks I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, yet you'll soon see why I disagree).

Since when does the IDF military censor have the authority to censor articles which could possibly "influence voting patters"? The IDF is (supposedly) an apolitical organization -- they are not allowed to make political-based decisions. Since when does the IDF censor's job description include managing "voting patterns" in Israel?

Actually, it's even more amazing that HaAretz printed this. They view the possible external influence of voting patters as an acceptable reason for a media blackout on a very news-worthy issue, and allow the military censor to get away with it.

Why do you think HaAretz considers this censor-worthy?

Could it possibly be because the voting patterns could ONLY be influenced in a way that would drive people to vote more rightwards (as has historically been shown in the past, by terror attacks near election time).

And who was the IDF hiding this information from? The Palestinians certainly knew they fired the Katyusha, so we weren't hiding the information from THEM!

Let's go one step further:

Can you imagine for a second, what would have happened if say (G-d forbid)...a single, lone, religious settler opened fire on a mosque full of Palestinians. Such an action would surely affect voting patterns, don't you think?

It would shock voters out of their complacency and they would vote in droves for Olmert and Leftwing parties as a backlash against "settler extremism." The media have a field day about the dangers of radical settler extremism, radical religious Judaism, and how they need to be "taken care immediately."

Now, can you imagine for a second that the IDF military censor would impose a media blackout on this attack so as not to "influence voting patterns"? Let's take that one step further, can you imagine HaAretz not being in an uproar over a media blackout on THAT story?

If this doesn't strike fear into the hearts of honest, democracy-loving people who value freedom of speech, then I don't know what will.

Let's tone this post down a few notches:

The Israeli media has "dumbed down" the general Israeli population about security issues of this nature; "if no one is killed, it's barely news". Twenty years ago, a Katyusha attack like this would have been headline news.

Today the story is of little importance. Yet, someone took enough trouble to keep this story censored till 8:00 PM, when the effect on the "voting patterns" would be close to nothing. Don is correct -- the media blackout ended on this issue at 8:00 PM (I only heard this on the news around 10:00 PM), yet the entire point of the blackout was to prevent any possible influence on the voting patters. And HaAretz confirmed it.

I guess the IDF deemed that the election day killing of 2 Bedouins in southern Israel by a Palestinian launched Qassam rocket would not influence voting patterns, so that story wasn't censored. Good thing it didn't rain too much that day, or they may have censored the weather report as well.

I wonder what other dirty little secrets were/are kept from the Israeli voting population to prevent any possible shift in our perception of events?

Gotta go, seems like the IDF military censor is knocking at my door right now...

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael


Joe Settler said...

What other secrets?

How about which 'sensitive installations' have been hit so far, how badly they've been hit, and how close South Ashkelon has come to being destroyed in a fireball by a hit on a sensitive installations and what is stored there?

(And I'm not talking anymore about the huge fuel tanks for the Electric Company).

Joe Settler said...

Your best line was clearly: "And who was the IDF hiding this information from? The Palestinians certainly knew they fired the Katyusha, so we weren't hiding the information from THEM!"

yitz said...

Just another manifestation of the use of the so-called Israeli DEFENSE Forces against its own people, as started with the dismantling of Gush Katif & Northern Shomron, followed by Amona...of course, we won't mention the Altalena, or perhaps we should???

treppenwitz said...

As an aside to what my friend and neighbor, Joe Settler, said, it is worth pointing out that the immediate broadcasting of details of missiles of any sort landing inside Israel is problematic from a standpoint of security.

When the IDF (or any real army) launches artillery, mortars or unsophisticated (meaning non-guided) missiles, they need to use forward spotters and/or laser designators to help correct for the relative primitive nature of non-guided projectile. The Palestinian terrorists who are launching Kassams and now Ketyushas do not have the luxury of forward spotters and often have no idea where their missiles have gone until they hear it on the news. The IDF generally doesn't allow the media to report any missiles landing until they have inspected the site, assessed damage and confirmed the type of ordnance used. They didn't know it had been a ketyusha until they actually saw the remains. It had apparently malfunctioned and travelled only a small fraction of its full range and this set off a debate over whether to reveal to the Palestinians that they had a problem in their launch protocols for this new weapon in their arsenal.
That they waited until exactly 8:00PM (when the polls closed) to lift the back-out does smell of political meddling and this should absolutely be addressed, but I firmly believe in the necessity of a military censor to prevent helping the enemy with range and azimuth information.

It is also with mentioning that when asked if they have had a political agenda in helping Sharon and now with promoting a better left wing voter pattern, Ha'aretz has been very straightforward and honest. They admitted that they carried water for Sharon during the Gaza withdrawal and they now admit to trying to not help push voters to the right on election day. This means the problem is not with them... it is with the public. That there is relatively little voter outrage over such a violation of accepted media guidlines is the most troubling aspect of this story... at least for me.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Trep: I agree with you 100% that the exact details of where the missile landed are definitely worth keeping censored, but that the missile was a "Katyusha"? That was the detail being censored, and it was blacked out (according to HaAretz) till 8:00 PM to reduce any possible influence on voters. They could have told the public alot earlier that is was a Katyusha, and they could have used the regular line "fired at an Israeli location in Southern Israel"

YMedad said...

Maariv yesterday reported that the military intelligence needed a few hours to correctly identify the type of rocket launched. Hafrumpf!!!

Joe Settler said...

I visit an illegal outpost next door to his house a few times and suddenly I'm a friend and neighbor. I'm honored.

Anyway as Jameel pointed out, they could have censored where it actually hit without a problem ("Katyusha rocket launched from ethniclly cleansed Jew evacuated Gaza hits pre-67 Israel, no injuries, further details are censored for security reasons").

But as Jameel himself pointed out, the army certainly knew by 11:36 AM that the missile fired at 8am was a Katyusha. By then the location and azimuth information would have been irrelevant as the team would have been gone within 2 minutes of launching.

Also if that were the case, then why do they usually announce the hits up North from Lebanon. The reason is that not only are Katyushas a mobile weapon, the troops that use them have to seriously change their location (with the missiles) within 2 minutes to avoid the (I wish) rain of artillery shells on their location.

And of course, why do they announce pretty quickly when it is merely a Kassam rocket? The ground-zero information would be just as useful.

amechad said...

If I remember correctly (though I may not), I think I saw that a Katushya had landed via Google news and thus, I presume, it HAD been reported in the foreign press.

However, doing a cursory report of Google News now, it's possible that I was wrong and everything showing up was after 8PM.

Don Radlauer said...

Hi Jameel!

1) Haaretz is indeed a left-wing paper; sadly, they are sometimes the best available English-language news source in Israel, since they seem to cover somewhat more "small" stories than the Jerusalem Post does. (As a whole, I prefer the Post's editorial slant; my approach to news is to try to "triangulate", getting news from a few different sources and trying to winnow out the biases.) For example, I couldn't find anything in the Post about the fact that the Katyusha attack had been subject to military censorship.

2) "Decent blog" indeed! Hmph! I'm not holding out for "superb", but I'd hoped for "pretty good" at least.

3) I'm not convinced that the censorship of this story was due to political considerations. If that had been the case, I'd have expected the story to be quashed until the actual end of the election. I'm not entirely certain why this news was censored at all, and I'd be quite happy to get an official (and accurate) explanation of this censorship; but I see no reason to assume that it was done out of nefarious motives.

4) Allow me to play devil's advocate here. I discussed the whole issue with Vaguely Sinister Wife, who is a full-time terrorism expert and researcher for the Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT). (I'm just a part-timer, albeit with a halfway decent reputation in Terrorism Informatics.) Here's her "take" on the censorship issue: The Katyusha was obviously launched deliberately on Election Day by Palestinian Islamic Jihad specifically to influence and/or disrupt Israel's elections. Given their motivation, do we really want to let PIJ succeed by making a big deal out of the attack in "real time"?

Remember that terrorism is psychological warfare. Terrorists win when they are able to control what we think and feel; they lose when we refuse to follow their agenda and go about our normal lives despite their efforts to disrupt them. (ICT founder Dr. Boaz Ganor used to say that by playing in his regular weekly basketball game right after a terror attack had occurred, he was doing his bit to fight terrorism. Then his knee went out.)

This is why I try to fight against the "OH MY G_D - THE TERRORISTS ARE GOING TO KILL US ALL!!!" mentality whenever I can. Things like calling suicide bombers (whom I prefer to call "walking bombs") "genocide bombers" are a big mistake: they amplify the fear created by terrorism, and thus actually encourage terror attacks. Bibi Netanyahu is a particular problem in this regard - so much of his political rhetoric is based on trying to scare the willies out of us that he is, in effect, one of the terrorists' best assets. (I strongly suspect that the terrorists know that; certainly Hamas gave Netanyahu a big boost in the 1996 campaign, and PIJ didn't launch Tuesday's Katyusha to help Yossi Beilin!)

5) For what it's worth - from what I've been able to piece together, the two Bedouin were evidently killed by a "dud" Kassam that had been fired some time in the past, not by a Kassam that was fired on Tuesday. (BTW, am I the only one who finds the YNet story to which you refer to be very badly written?) I haven't, however, been able to determine exactly when this Kassam was in fact fired; it may well be that nobody knows. Don's Good Advice of the Day: If you see a Kassam (or, indeed, any piece of unexploded ordnance) on the ground, call the authorities and leave it the heck alone. Mister Unexploded Missile is not your friend!

In summary: I'm no great fan of censorship in general, especially not if it's done for political purposes. However, a completely unrestrained news media is problematic in a society targeted by terrorism, as it effectively becomes a tool of the terrorists. If the delayed publication of the news of the Katyusha attack was designed to benefit one side in the elections, then the decision was clearly wrong and heads should roll; but if (as I strongly suspect) the censorship was non-political, then I think it was likely a good idea.

westbankmama said...

Jameel, I agree with you that this stinks, but unfortunately I don't think it would have made all that much of a difference. Remember the first time Kassam rockets were launched at Sderot? I do, I was on vacation with my family and everyone kept saying, "wow, those Arabs in Gaza are really going to get it now". Did this materialize? No. Did we get used to it? Yes. Operation Chomat Magen wasn't launched until a huge terror attack occurred at a Pesach seder in Netanya, and Sharon couldn't ignore it anymore. Part of surviving in this country is adapting to bad things. Sometimes we adapt too well.

Oleh Yahshan said...

I would like to add my 2 cents to this whole thing.

First about the Beduim, No one seems to know but 4! of them dies on election day, in 2 different occasions. the first is the one we all seem to know, the Dud Kassam, the 2nd occured a couple of hours later (you really had to follow the news closly to catch the change), further south when 2 (other) beduim walked into an Army Training area (Shetach Esh) and well tried to play with another "dud" (it's not a dud if it blows up.)

As for the Katyusha,
I agree with Jameel on the fact that the idea of cencoring the Katyusha was wrong. I heard about it in the morning when i woke up, and then they reported that KAssamim fell south of Ashkelon. It was not that there was a cencorship about the fact that missles landed in Israel, it was the type. Add to that the time that it was realesed, tzahal never works in co-ordination with the news when it comes to reports, so this must have been ordered from Above (out of the army!).
Those 2 factors together Smell VERY political.

I disagree that this would have caused panic in the Israeli public (we stopped panicing a long time ago). But it would have boosted the right's motivation to get people out of their home and got them voting.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Hi Don -

Decent is like, "way decent!" :)

HaAretz clearly stated that the motive was to prevent vote patterns from changing. I can't see how that can be interpreted in anything other than a political decision. It's keeping the truth away from voters.

Tell me, in the scary alternative scenario I suggested, one could use the exact same logic as you applied, as a reason NOT to allow a story of that magnitude to be publicized. One could say - the threat of violence towards Israeli arabs might keep them at home. And then terror would win...

However, (and ask VSW too), can you honestly imgaine for a second that it wouldn't be publicized everywhere, as soon as possible? (And for some reason, I can't imagine the IDF censor stopping the story either).

I totally appreciate your point of mild censorship when a society is plagued by terrorism. As I mentioned previously, Ehud Ya'ari, a respected leftist media analyst was so incesned by the blackout, that he said a parlimentary investigation should be launched.

If HE was so upset by this...then I don't feel my analysis or posting is hyperbolated in the slightest.

WBM: The point isn't even as much if it would have made a difference, but why was the story censored in the first place? (And HaAretz so complacent about it...) Can you imagine my imagined scenario being squashed?

Scraps said...

I think I am going to be sick.

Israel is definitely going down in the Freedom House ratings this year...

Lab Rab said...

Hi folks,

I just got here, so I haven't read closely all the above comments - but permit me to take a contrarian view for a minute.

God hardened Pharoah's heart - why was that fair? Shouldn't Pharoah have been allowed to experience the full emotional blunt of the ten plagues, and only then decide whether to free the Jews?

Why should Pharoah be held responsible for not sending the Jews away if he was denied free will?

Some explain: By protecting Pharoah from having a hysterical reaction from these plagues, God was ENABLING Pharoah to decide objectively.

People have been thinking about this election for months. They have debated this decision with sobriety and equanimity, and they came to a choice for the party that would best lead Israel for the next number of years.

Then, an event happens which has a risk to play to people's emotions and sway them from their "objective" decisions. Is it best for Israel that the people find out? Is it best for democracy?

Was it best for democracy that the Spanish elections a couple of years ago were turned upside down by a terrorist attack a few days before the election?

I don't think so.

People voted the way they intended to vote when they went to sleep the night before. Democracy was served. There is no need to complain further.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Lab Rab: Quick Q for you:

Imagine that 9/11 happened on election day in America.

Do you think it would be a good thing for democracy not to broadcast the event, since it could swing the vote in one particular direction?

Lab Rab said...

In theory, yes - had the danger to life not been so great that day as to require immediate publicity.

That was not the case yesterday.

Everyone talks about not giving in to terrorism. Making sure that a terrorist event that may have been calculated to swing an election passes innocuously is a noble goal.

Lab Rab said...

IIRC, 9/11 was actually the date of a primary election in NY for local representatives. The election was postponed.

FrumGirl said...

This does not shock me at all. Wake up everyone. What do you think the media is used for, anyway? There is a spin on everything and there is a formula to it.

Perception is reality.

Sabzi Aash said...

In response to Don -

Katyushas being fired at Ashkelon is not some irrelevant side issue like if you're out of milk in the morning and go off to work in a bad mood and screw something else up because of it. Arab attacks on Jews and what to do about them is davka what this election was about (for many parties and voters anyway). In order to evaluate how effective the government's policies against our enemies have been, and determine what our future policies should be, we have to know what it is that our enemies are doing to us, and how their methods are changing, for better or worse! Everyone knows voters are already making decisions based on terrorism (the whole Kadima withdrawal plan is a response to terrorism, as is Herut/Hazit's emigration platform, etc.), so hiding one particular attack is not a way of clarifying the picture, but of distorting it.

orange&black said...

No one was going to get "terrified" because Katyushas were launched. The fact that the enemy in Gaza has Katyushas means that the government's policy has failed. By not announcing it, the censor specifically hid the government's failure from the public. The enemy still has more Katyushas, but because the censor assisted in hiding that information, the party that was directly responsible for Katyushas being where they are not meant to be - won.

Of course the enemy launched it to affect the elections, but that is secondary to the fact that they have them, have used them, and the Kadima party is 100% responsible for that and the government knew about it and hid that information in order to to not lose power.

Truth said...

Well now, after I finished laughing at the naivity expressed by certain commenters who 'defend' the censorship/manipulation, I've got to say, what's new about this?

And 'VSW' and her ilk, tend to be either 'part of the problem' (read: professional BS'er of the 'public') or just some hack with 'protekzia' who got a supposedly cool job in the mysterious and exciting world of 'terror analysis'/'security'...

Wake up and snap out of the stupor, almost anything you read in the 'media' is there for a specific purpose (and what you don't read is certainly more informative).

Anyhow, any day now we should hear the sad announcement of the demise of and disposal plans for the dead ex-DiKtator, now that they don't need it anymore (and I bet keeping that room so cold and changing the formaldahyde so many times a day is quite costly).


Lab Rab said...

Independent of any argument hashed out above ... some confused thoughts in the middle of the night:

From the Palestinian perspective, why would this plan make any sense?

Let's go over the chronology:

1. Kadima-types evacuate Gaza
2. Gazan Palestinians, freed from Israeli surveillance, acquire Katyushas
3. Gazan Palestinians fire Katyushas on election day
4. Most sane people blame this event on Kadima; some suggest that Kadima would have lost votes had the matter been publicized.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

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