In Blow to IDF Chief, New Spokesman Withdraws After Secret Recordings

Gil Messing pulls out citing 'witch-hunt' after Haaretz reveals he aided Israel Police in bringing down officials in ex-defense minister's party

Gil Messing.
Sigal Naftali Kessel

Newly appointed Israel Defense Forces spokesman, Gil Messing, withdrew his nomination Sunday his following what he called a "wild witch hunt, full of lies and manipulations."

After Messing was tapped for the senior position last month, Haaretz revealed his involvement in helping the police gather evidence in a corruption case involving former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party.

In a letter to the IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, who backed the nomination despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's objection, Messing said that despite "proving I was willing to make a personal sacrifice for the good of the public interest … and the rule of law," he doesn't want "to be used to ram the chief of staff or the IDF."

>> Read more: New IDF spokesman is army chief's first test | Analysis ■ Israeli army's new spokesman might lose position over prior role as police agent | Analysis

In a statement, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said Kochavi "regrets Messing's decision and understands the reasons behind it," adding that "assistance to law enforcement and state institutions is part of Israelis' civic duties."

"Messing was nominated for being an extremely ethical person, with great, diverse professional experience," it said.

Kochavi held a series of consultations with senior officers, as well as with Netanyahu and Lieberman, who is speculated to be appointed defense minister, following the reports of Messing's past role as police agent.

Netanyahu had approved Messing's nomination, but his involvement in the Yisrael Beiteinu case changed the situation, sources close to the prime minister said.

As reported in Haaretz in late April, Messing acted as a police agent in the affair, and in late 2014, shortly before the 2015 general election, police arrested several senior figures in Yisrael Beiteinu on suspicion of taking bribes.

One of them – Amnon Liberman, a media adviser to two of the party’s cabinet ministers – later turned state’s evidence. He told investigators about alleged actions of Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and his connections to various wealthy individuals and other high-level government officials.

Messing, who was not a suspect in the case himself, presented himself to Liberman as someone seeking to help his friend in his time of need. But he was actually helping the police obtain incriminating evidence, at their request.

Liberman told investigators that he and Tali Keidar, the former chief of staff of Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, and a close associate of Yisrael Beiteinu party chairman Avigdor Lieberman, had received cash from media consultant Ronen Moshe.

According to Liberman, the money was given to them after they helped a company to which Moshe was connected. Police gave Liberman a recording device and sent him to record key people in the case. During this time, Messing had Liberman stay at his home, accompanied him to police facilities and even went with him on his secret recording missions.

Liberman had met Messing, then a senior executive at the Strauss food company, a few months earlier.

In 2015, Messing was sent to hold and record a conversation with Ronen Moshe, who was at the time suspected of bribery but had not yet been summoned for questioning. During the conversation Messing tried to get Moshe to confess to bribing senior officials.

Apparently to pressure Moshe into making an incriminating statement, Messing proposed that Moshe and Liberman concoct a story that would spare them criminal charges – namely, that the money Moshe gave Liberman was an innocent loan.

Messing also told Moshe that Liberman had told him that he denied everything to the police, and even fainted during interrogation.

Despite having no connection with the case himself, Messing, in an effort to make Moshe think they were both in the same boat, also said he feared he would be summoned for interrogation as well,

Messing told Moshe that he thought Misezhnikov had turned state’s evidence, apparently to spur Moshe to confess to bribing the minister, but to no avail. “I’ve got nothing to do with Stas,” Moshe said.

Messing then encouraged Moshe to meet with Liberman and obstruct the investigation, even offering the use of his home for the meeting.

Toward the end, Moshe voiced his gratitude to Messing. “I’ll never forget this as long as I live,” he said.

Less than two weeks later, police arrested Moshe. The evidence against him included the recording of his conversation with Messing and photos of their meeting at the café. About 18 months ago, Moshe and Keidar were charged with bribery. Their case has not yet gone to trial.

Messing declined to respond for this report. The state prosecutor’s office responded: “Under the circumstances, which we cannot disclose in detail for various reasons, it was not necessary to interrogate Mr. Messing on any suspicion.

Moshe’s attorney, Ravit Tzemah, said she would not cooperate with the media on this matter.

Messing, 36, served in the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman’s Office in the early 2000s, and among other roles represented the office in the IDF Gaza Division, when Kochavi was division commander.

His relationship with the chief of staff continued and he assisted Kochavi from time to time, for example, when the State Comptroller’s Office was about to write a severe report on the performance of the Intelligence Corps, then headed by Kochavi, during the tunnels affair in the 2014 Gaza war.

Messing helped behind the scenes, preparing answers to the report and planning responses to the media.

After Messing discharged from the army, he was spokesman for Minister Tzipi Livni from 2007 to 2012. He then took up senior roles in Strauss and the software company Checkpoint.