Spin vs. News

Newspaper readers can be excused for having difficulty discerning between real news and spin — especially when it comes to Israel. Most especially when it comes to coverage of Israel during an election season.

Two recent examples come to mind. One involves an interview given by a former GSS director who blasts Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak for their approach to Iran, their zigzagging and — most startling of all — for smoking cigars during important meetings.

The second story, which came on the heels of the first, is the State Comptroller’s Report revealing a defense establishment that was sharply divided by the hate-hate relationship that existed between the defense minister and his chief of staff. A battle of egos led to a situation whereby senior officers, who were supposed to be focusing on Iran, Syria and Egypt, were busy planning how to undermine their rivals.

Though the stories appear similar, both involving decision making in the political-defense establishment, they are worlds apart. The first is spin, the second is news.

To tell the difference between the two, we need to ask a few questions: Who is the source of the story? What is his motivation? What is the substance of the charges? Who is playing the story up and why? What’s behind the timing of the story?

In the first case, the source of the story is Yuval Diskin, who, during his six years as head of the General Security Service, did an outstanding job. He is credited with developing and fine-tuning the highly-effective “targeted assassinations” which pick off terrorists from the air in pinpoint operations.

But he is also known to have wanted to become Mossad chief after resigning from the GSS in 2011, an option denied him by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. And he is known to be on the left side of the political spectrum when it comes to the so-called Palestinian question and a two-state solution. Readers need to know where he’s coming from in order to understand his agenda.

Indeed, MK Otniel Schneller ecalled that when he was a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Diskin, in his official capacity as GSS chief, would present the committee with his own political thoughts and withhold information to present the situation in a manner that fit his worldview.

“Often, he would tell us ‘half-truths’ and hint at all sorts of political machinations,” Schneller said. “The manner in which he conducted these presentations damaged the authority and reliability of the GSS, as far as we were concerned.”

Even if Diskin disagrees with Netanyahu, which is his right, by going public with these vindictive attacks he is undermining Israel’s position vis-à-vis Iran in the West — making it impossible for the political echelon to let its hair down in the presence of the professionals in the security establishment — and intervening in the current election campaign. This brings us to who is playing up the story and what is their motivation.

With two weeks to go until elections, Netanyahu is considered the only candidate with the experience and judgment to lead the country in the face of threats from Iran. Diskin’s comments challenging the prime minister’s decision-making on Iran is meant to change that perception among the voters.

That’s why Yediot Acharonot, which makes no secret of its hatred for Netanyahu  has given the story such huge coverage. “The political establishment has been shaken in the wake of the serious things said by ex-GSS chief Yuval Diskin in an exclusive interview given to Yediot…” one story begins.

The timing of the story, the motivation of its source and those playing it up make it clear that it is spin.

The story about the State Comptroller’s Report, on the other hand, is a very different matter. It was written by former District Court justices whose position demanded that they investigate a forged letter that was aimed at torpedoing a defense minister’s choice for IDF chief of staff.

The report reveals serious flaws that impair the ability of the defense establishment to do its job. It comes after years of meticulous evidence gathering and had to be released now, despite the upcoming elections, because of its importance.

The report also raises legitimate questions about Netanyahu’s leadership. He had to have been aware that petty rivalries were holding up more than 150 key appointments in the defense establishment and that the icy relations between the defense minister and the IDF chief of staff were having a devastating impact on military operations.

It was Netanyahu’s job, as prime minister, to make it clear to both the defense minister and IDF chief of staff that he would not put up with such childish behavior.

The first story disappeared off the front pages in a flash, as it should have. The second, we hope, will remain on the agenda as a means of forcing the top echelons of the defense establishment to keep their egos in check for the sake of national security.