Something in the air in Washington does it to them. Former senior officers of the IDF and the intelligence community, holders of state secrets, arrive in the U.S. capital, are intoxicated by the cherry blossoms even when not in season, and let loose the heavy burden of the secrets.
In the past few months, the former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon and the former chief of the Shin Bet Avi Dichter did so, at the Hudson Institute and the Brookings Institute, respectively. Ya'alon talked about a possible attack in Iran, and Dichter told tales now available to every reader from Hamas to Al-Qaida about fighting terror, giving food for thought about how the Shin Bet exploits the weak spot of underground cells - their fear of using telephones - so that the service target envoys can be arrested, interrogated, duplicated and turned into double agents.
And before the print is dry on Ya'alon and Dichter's revelations, the former head of the Mossad, Ephraim Halevy goes to the head of the line, with his memoirs: "From the Shadows: Inside the Middle East by the man who led the Mossad." True, Publishers' Weekly cooled the enthusiasm, saying readers seeking "fireworks" will be disappointed, but all hope is not lost. In his promotional tour for the book, Halevy will be in Manhattan on April 24 for an appearance at the headquarters of the Jewish organization Makor, and organizers are promising he will speak openly about the Mossad, CIA and other things. Ticket buyers pay $12 for advance sales or $15 at the door.
At the door, meaning outside, the defense establishment heads feel differently. The people who were enveloped in the authority of their office and forbade talk by their subordinates and civilians who were not their subordinates, sometimes even threatening journalists with "aggravated espionage," are in a hurry to sell the wares brought from the office in the manner first established by Isser Harel, the national silencer who suddenly stopped being silent. In his wake, as is appropriate for preachers who say, "Watch what I do," the head of the Timbuktu station will yet report how he enlisted the local chief to the Mossad, and the Shin Bet controller for Jenin will expose the truth about the relationship between an Islamic Jihad activist with the wife of the local clan head who works for the Israeli counter-terror agency.
The defense establishment always claims that a plethora of exposure is also indirectly deterring foreigners from enlisting in the cause to help Israel. That is a reasonable espionage test: What would be the thinking of an Arab or Iranian hesitating before deciding whether to start or continue cooperating with Israeli intelligence, upon reading revelations of the intelligence officers. To close the holes, military censorship is deployed, waving the whip of heavy fines, and to restrain the rats, the Shin Bet Law includes tough Article 19, which punishes former and present Shin Bet officials with three-to-five years of prison if they reveal, without permission, even through negligence, classified material that reaches them as a result of their jobs or activities.
The great prophet of the law was Dichter, and he is also its first test case. In fact, it's a test case for his successor, Yuval Diskin, who did not know about his former commander's intentions, until last May, of letting the world and rivals know about the usefulness the Shin Bet makes out of the envoys of terror, arrests and detentions, and IDF checkpoints. If Diskin is hot and bothered by the seriousness of Dichter's tattling, the way the censor tried to prevent its publication in Israel, he will have to ask Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to take action against Dichter. If he mitigates the damage, he will harm his own credibility when he asks judges or orders journalists to prevent publication of similar secrets.
The problem is not only Diskin's. Mazuz, State Prosecutor Eran Shander, his deputy Shai Nitzan, and the deputy chief of the Police Investigations Unit in the Justice Ministry, Shlomo Lamberger, have taken the lead in security cases in using the argument of the "potential harm" - a guess that cannot be proven through the prevention of an incident that might or might not have taken place, but is nonetheless used to persuade judges. If there was no damage in Dichter's revelations, one can start preparing the festivities for the end of censorship. Something here is out of place and must disappear: either the censor, or Article 19 of the Shin Bet Law.
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