The bombings and terror attacks in Israel and the territories have been coming in such rapid succession that the custom of the media, to refrain from reporting on an event in which soldiers were killed before the IDF has informed the victims' families, has gone by the wayside. "Six Israelis were killed," the media informs us, even when the broadcaster knows what the public doesn't - that the casualties were all army personnel and not civilians. For years, the military censor's office tried to serve as a sentry in these matters and block such reports from being publicized, but it has been overwhelmed by the recent flood of events.
Perhaps in an effort to compensate for this, the military censor has recently been active in other matters, in a way that recalls some of the worst episodes in its history. Under the leadership of Brigadier General Rachel Dolev, a military jurist who is close to [IDF Chief of Staff Shaul] Mofaz, the military censor has regressed 20 years, to the eve of the Lebanon War, when then prime minister Menachem Begin, defense minister Ariel Sharon and chief of staff Raphael Eitan were free to plan a war whose true objectives would be hidden from the public that was about to pay the price in blood.
According to Dolev's policy, the content of a conversation between Sharon and officers of the general staff would be banned from publication if, while laying out a totally imaginary scenario, Sharon were to say, for instance, that he aspired to cause the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. In Dolev's book, such a conversation, in which the generals get a sense of the commander's mood, is akin to a prelude to an operational order and thus it must not be revealed to the enemy that the IDF is preparing for an operation. By Dolev's standards, it makes no difference if, at the same time, Sharon publicly declares that he has no aspirations to cause the collapse of the PA - if he is misleading the Israeli public, in other words. Or, even if the opposite is true and he is saying exactly the same thing in public as he is saying in private, in Dolev's view, revealing the internal discourse between the political and military echelons would pose a threat to security. Like the enemy, the public (or maybe the public is the enemy) is not entitled to know what the prime minister says behind closed doors.
If Israel becomes entangled in bloody military folly, the censor will share some responsibility, just like the senior members of the IDF and the establishment who knew of the actual grandiose objectives of the Lebanon War and let those who were going to die in this escapade be blinded by the false, official representations of it. Whether it was because he reached his own reassessment or was prompted by social and legal developments, in his last years in the post, the previous military censor, Yitzhak Shani, abjured the policy that made two generations of Israelis victims of the disregard and deception from above. Dolev has gone back to the end of the line, not only behind Shani, but behind other elements in the security establishment that have an equal appreciation for the importance of secrets, but make judgments about them in accordance with their needs. The air force, which was long averse to including foreigners (especially the Americans) in its exercises, lest some of its aerial combat know-how leak to the Arabs, decided that secrets are important, but relations with friendly superpowers are more so. The Defense Ministry, which is searching for outside partners to fund weapons systems, has given up a bit of secrecy for this purpose, because if it sought to behave as in the past, it would be left with all its secrets and no weapons.
The keepers of secrets in the various security divisions are the advisers to the decision makers. Their advice is taken into consideration and weighed in terms of the overall equation - sometimes in favor of secrecy and sometimes not. For some reason, the military censor is the only one authorized to make such decisions on her own.
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