Analysis

No One Knows What Was on Gantz’s Phone, but We Know Whom the Scandal Benefits

The phone hacking affair doesn't necessarily makes Gantz vulnerable, but it does serve Netanyahu, who wants to create the impression that Iran has control over his rival

Chairman of Kahol Lavan, Benny Gantz, Israel, February 28, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

In the absence of verified information about the “embarrassing” material on Benny Gantz’s phone, allegedly obtained by Iran, media coverage has focused on guessing who leaked the story.

The immediate suspect is Defense Minister and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israel National Cyber Directorate is part of the Prime Minister’s Office, and he has authority over Mossad, Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet security service. There’s only one person through which 100 percent of the country’s intelligence passes through. The timing is also dubious: Three weeks before the election, a story is leaked (to Channel 12 journalist Amit Segal) that discredits Netanyahu’s main political rival. Adding to that recent developments in the submarine affair that implicate — again, allegedly — Netanyahu, and the conclusion is almost foregone.

In the past decade, we’ve grown accustomed to trusting Netanyahu as a statesman and regard him as measured in matters of security, as someone who wouldn’t drag the country into unnecessary wars. But as a politician and a contender who maintains norms and ethical barriers, he’s made of an entirely different cloth. To him, this election is also “do or die” in the personal sense. The working assessment of all political players should be that this man will stop at nothing.

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In the end, the source is known only to one person: the publisher. It is only clear the leak didn’t come from someone who has Gantz’s best interests at heart. It is also obvious that the goal was accomplished: The combination between Iran, the hacked phone of a former army chief of staff and the leader of a party gunning for leadership, intimate details and the risk of extortion all ignite the imagination. In a flash, the real, unspeculative dynamite was forgotten: A draft indictment against the prime minister for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. This triviality is barely touched on.

A few things should be noted:

1. Gantz was briefed on the breach by the senior Shin Bet officials over five weeks ago. Days later, he officially entered the political arena. He has to be either suicidal or a complete fool to put himself in danger and leave his fate at the hands of an Iranian general. Perhaps he has nothing to worry about?

2. Why would Iran put in the effort to hack the phone of someone who left the army four years ago? Perhaps the hacking includes other officials, ministers, generals and various confidants, whose phones and email accounts hold security treasures of considerably higher value?

The only certainty is that the Iranians have something on Gantz. It’s not evident at all they were the hackers, but this is less relevant. What do they have? No one knows. It’s all rumors and speculations that feed themselves. The notion that this affair necessarily makes Gantz pliable, and is powerful enough to decide the election, isn’t reliant on any fact. It directly serves Netanyahu, who seeks to create the impression that the enemy has control over Gantz. “We don’t have to say anything,” said a senior Likud official in a private conversation Friday. “You’re doing the work for us.”

Gantz was forced to address the issue on Friday. He stood before representatives of the media in Kibbutz Nir, close to the Gaza border, and answered a few questions. He seemed tense and distraught. The fact he neglected to update his partners in Kahol Lavan — Yair Lapid, Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon — on the matter most definitely does not benefit the atmosphere in their electoral alliance. But over the weekend, the three comrades demonstrated loyalty and friendship. They reported to the TV studios and defended their leader. At this advanced stage, there’s no other choice: Had they hung him out to dry, they would have suffered a similar fate. Now they must decide where they’re headed. Do they ram into Netanyahu at 1000 km/h, forcing him to retaliate — or ignore the story and let it die a natural death?