Israel's military censor, who is authorized by law to ban the publication of information he deems compromising to state security, has appeared in recent years to be caving in to pressure from senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office and the Defense Ministry.
The chief censor, Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil, is generally inclined toward a progressive interpretation of the law, based on the public's right to know. But in two central issues - the strike on the nuclear facility in Syria in 2007 and the preparations for a possible attack on nuclear infrastructure in Iran - the censor's decisions have been inexplicable, raising doubts about the motives behind them.
Both issues have a personal and political aspect in common: The senior officials are fighting over who gets the credit for acting in what is presented alternately as an achievement or a reckless escapade.
This dispute over who's responsible - reflected this week in an episode of Channel 2's investigative show "Uvda" - involves former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and former Mossad head Meir Dagan. The Israeli public, vacillating among these contenders or potential contenders in the upcoming Knesset elections, is supposed to be the judge.
Olmert clearly wishes to enhance his performance in security matters and as a statesman, to counterbalance his criminal conviction, the prosecution's appeal of his acquittal in two corruption cases, and bribery charges relating to the Holyland luxury housing project.
Barak, for his part, is making obvious efforts to strike at Olmert and at Ashkenazi - his rival in the so-called Harpaz affair to influence the appointment of Ashkenazi's successor as chief of staff.
The victim of the brawl is state security, in whose name the senior officials claim to be acting. These men have banned every publication revealing details about these two issues in the Israeli media, claiming it could embarrass Syrian President Bashar Assad and drive him to an act of revenge, or disclose intentions and preparations to the Iranians. But now they feel free to go on prime-time television - each to glorify his own reputation and strike at his rivals. The censor, inexplicably, gives in to their pressure and collaborates with them.
The public's trust is essential to the military censor, not only to politicians. Undermining it due to what appears to be political agitation could destroy this trust irrevocably.
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