Where Satire Meets Truth: Did The Onion Just Predict a Real Israeli Headline?

When the online paper published a spoof last week about the United States placating Israel with some ballistic weapons, it was eerily prescient.

The Onion's spoof story on the U.S. offer to give Israel weapons following the Iran nuclear deal
The Onion's spoof story on the U.S. offer to give Israel weapons following the Iran nuclear deal. Screengrab

Reality and satire often correspond with each other. But sometimes they actually intersect.

Consider the report that appeared in Haaretz on July 15. According to the report, which quoted a senior U.S. official, U.S. President Barack Obama has spoken to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone and, in the wake of the deal on Iran’s nuclear program, had offered to begin immediate talks about upgrading the Israel Defense Forces’ offensive and defensive capabilities.

Haaretz’s headline: “After Iran deal, Obama offers military upgrade to help Israel swallow bitter Iranian deal.”

Now consider the report from online satirical newspaper The Onion, published just a day before: “Following Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s heated objections to the nuclear deal struck between the United States and Iran,” the report wrote, “American officials announced Tuesday that they were calming the upset head of government by treating him to a nice, big shipment of ballistic missiles.”

The Onion’s headline: “U.S. Soothes Upset Netanyahu With Shipment Of Ballistic Missiles.”

There’s no other way around it: the fake newspaper broke the story.

Not the whole story, of course. According to Haaretz, Netanyahu did not accept Obama’s offer, after refusing a similar offer last April, believing that any kind of reciprocal deal would be construed as Israel having come to terms with the Iran nuclear deal.

The Onion, on other hand, included “quotes” from a “State Department spokesperson” saying, “Bibi always gets a little cranky when he sees us talking to Iran, but a few dozen short-range surface-to-surface missiles usually cheer him right up ... Of course, we try not to spoil him by giving him a whole new tactical ballistics delivery system every single time he throws a fit,” the fake spokesperson says, “but our guy’s pretty good at getting his way. At least we’ll have a couple months of peace and quiet around here.”

Back in the real world, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter landed in Israel on Sunday and met with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, with reports claiming Carter has come under instruction from Obama to offer Israel increased military aid (logistical support, apparently – no actual weaponry is said to be on offer), as a way of alleviating Israel’s security concerns regarding the deal.

The way it looks right now, the United States would have to do a lot better than a few dozen short-range surface-to-surface missiles if it wants to appease Israel.

And still, The Onion, a fake newspaper, had it right: Netanyahu may not have accepted Obama’s offer, but the offer was made. The same dynamic – United States talks to Iran, Israel throws a fit; United States tries to give it more military aid to placate it – exists in both versions.

It’s a funny coincidence, but also telling: When The Onion is the most reliable news source about your country, you know you’re a mess.