Over the course of the past week, the Israeli media have been consumed by reports of an impending decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to launch a military strike against Iranian nuclear installations.
The hullabaloo began last Friday with a screaming headline in Yediot Aharonot, the country’s most widely read newspaper, which declared that “Netanyahu and Barak want to attack Iran in the autumn.” The article was penned by Nahum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer, two veteran political reporters and commentators.
Not content with revealing the possible timing of a raid on Israel’s enemies, the story went further and sought to undermine the legitimacy of such an operation by insisting that the move is not supported by senior Israeli security officials.
Let’s stop for a moment and consider the ramifications of this report. Assuming it is true, Yediot Aharonot just gave a heads-up to Iran to bolster its defenses and be prepared for an attack within the next two to three months, something for which the ayatollahs are most certainly grateful.
After all, why should Tehran go to the trouble of investing in intelligence-gathering operations against the Jewish state when journalists at Yediot will do the work for them?
Just in case this was insufficiently damaging to Israel, Yediot’s intrepid duo decided to toss still more gasoline on the flames by intimating that Netanyahu and Barak would like to carry out the attack prior to the U.S. election in order to help Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the race for the White House.
What Yediot Aharonot did was nothing less than scurrilous and shameful. Indeed, it boggles the mind that even as Israel faces an existential threat, and a fateful decision over how to confront it, Israeli journalists would throw caution to the wind and undermine the Jewish state’s national security in such an audacious and carefree manner.
Needless to say, the Yediot report naturally compelled other journalists to focus their attention on the story and see what they could dig up as well.
Not to be outdone, Israel’s Channel 2 television decided to devote most of its Friday night news program to the issue of Iran, informing viewers that the premier has “almost finally” decided to launch a military strike in the autumn against Iran. The final decision, it declared, would be taken soon.
Don’t be surprised if in the coming weeks there are more revelations to come, as journalists work their sources and seek to squeeze out still more scoops and headlines on what promises to be a big story.
To be sure, the reporters at Yediot and Channel 2 would argue that they were just doing their jobs, gathering information and keeping the public informed about a major development.
Is an impending Israeli attack on Iran a good story? For sure. Is it relevant to public debate? Absolutely.
But that does not mean it is right or responsible to report it.
As the old saying in boxing has it, “Never telegraph your punches.” You don’t indicate to your opponent what you are planning to do or when, for the simple reason that he can then take the requisite countermeasures to undermine the effectiveness of your plans.
This is so obvious that it should not even need to be said.
And yet this basic, simple truth does not seem to have mattered all that much to some of Israel’s leading journalists.
If I were a pilot in the Israeli air force, or a soldier in the special forces, I would be scratching my head and wondering why the media would choose to endanger us all by letting Iran know when to expect an attack.
This is the kind of reckless reporting that not only affects people’s lives but could very well endanger them. It is possible that Israel’s young men and women in uniform will soon be asked to risk life and limb to take out Iran’s nuclear program. Was there really a need to let the Iranians know when to be ready?
Don’t get me wrong. I am all in favor of a vibrant and free press, one which challenges governments and serves as a watchdog for protecting democracy and civil liberties.
But there is a fine line between responsible reporting and undermining the national interest.
About the Author: Michael Freund is the Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel. He writes a syndicated column and feature stories for the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s leading English-language daily, and he previously served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office under Benjamin Netanyahu. A native of New York, he holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
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