Israel's Defense Ministry Lied to Media About Defensive Missile Tests, State Watchdog Says

PR department issued two factually incorrect press releases and disseminated the defense minister's political messages

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman participating in military exercises in the south of Israel in December, 2017.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman participating in military exercises in the south of Israel in December, 2017.Credit: אריאל חרמוני / משר
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

Israel's Defense Ministry lied to the media on two occasions, the state comptroller said in a report released Wednesday, sparking criticism about the credibility of the ministry and its public relations staff.

As the watchdog puts it, the ministry's public relations department issued untrue press releases about a test of the Arrow-3 anti-ballistic missile system and about Iranian involvement in Thyssenkrupp, the German company from which Israel is buying submarines.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira also said the department published statements conveying political messages from Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a contravention of civil service rules.

A test of the Arrow-3 missile defense system in 2014. Credit: משרד הביטחון

In December 2014, the Defense Ministry spokesman told the media the Arrow-3 passed the test, but that later transpired to be false.

When the Arrow-3 failed tests twice in 2014, the ministry obfuscated over the tests' objectives and even concealed the results for several hours.

"Inaccuracies in media releases in general, certainly when they deal with sensitive content as happened in December 2014, could affect the Defense Ministry's image and public confidence in it," the state comptroller wrote in the report.

The other case of mendacity involves Thyssenkrupp, the German company at the center of an Israeli criminal investigation into allegations of graft dubbed Case 3000.

In 2016, answering reporters' questions about ties between Iran and Thyssenkrupp, the ministry's PR office claimed it was not aware of amy. But just days later Lieberman acknowledged that there were people who had known about the Iranian connection with the shipyard as long ago as 2004.

In August 2016, the Defense Ministry PR office issued statements comparing the Iranian nuclear agreement with the world powers to the Munich Agreement permitting Nazi German to annex portions of Czechoslovakia, an important precursor to World War II. Like that agreement with Hitler, the Iranian agreement would turn out to be a mistake, the ministry stated – triggering harsh criticism from the U.S. and forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do damage control.

The state comptroller also criticized the PR department for not publishing its announcements in Arabic. It publishes in Hebrew and English and, since Lieberman became defense minister, in Russian as well. The Arabic-language media have to translate the announcements into Arabic themselves. Explaining the Defense Ministry's actions and goals in Arabic could benefit Israel's public diplomacy in Arabic-speaking communities in Israel and abroad, the report said.

In a response, the Defense Ministry said it had a close relationship with all Israeli media outlets and foreign outlets operating in Israel, including those involved in new media. The PR department is involved in all activities in all the ministry's units, works daily with the minister's office and coordinates fully with the Israel Defense Forces spokesman's unit, the Prime Minister's Office, emergency agencies and other government ministries, the Defense Ministry said.

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