The IDF and Shin Bet, Where Falsehood Is the Faith and Evil Is Conscience

The fact that Israel is focusing now on the January warning does not change its responsibility for what is happening in Gaza.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen.
Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Look who’s talking, and about what: The chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces and the head of the Shin Bet security service are talking about “morals” and “ethics.” It’s like a slaughterhouse boss who dares to talk about animal rights, a prison warden who talks about freedom or the CEO of a cigarette company who talks about health. It briefly seemed as if Israel had finally woken up to hold a real debate on this summer’s war in the Gaza Strip. After all, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz wrote in his letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about a “moral and ethical fault” and about the Shin Bet’s having “crossed all moral and ethical lines.” But this sanctimonious poesy was of course devoted to the ridiculous pissing contest over the Gaza war between Gantz and Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, two manly men. A generals’ war always erupts when it becomes clear that the victory was not a victory and the accomplishments were not accomplishments. From this aspect, the mutual recriminations have some value.

But the main thing about this little storm is that, like most brief storms in Israel, it dealt with the superficial, the marginal, the unimportant. These scandals are usually intended to obscure reality and evade the truly disturbing questions. Did the Shin Bet in fact issue a warning in January about a possible Hamas-initiated war? Nu, really? We don’t need the Shin Bet in order to know Gaza would not stay quiet forever under its blockade, and we don’t need Military Intelligence to recognize that no one planned the timing of this war. But when the commander of the military accuses the head of the Shin Bet of a lack of morals, it is worth listening to the inherent contradiction in his words.

Gantz and Cohen are not in a situation where they are capable of (or permitted to) speak about morality and honesty, even if personally they are impeccably straight and honest. They head two organizations in which falsehood is the faith and evil is the conscience. As sophisticated and successful as they may be, their respective organizations have no connection to principles. It cannot be otherwise in the current circumstances. Both of them are responsible, for example, for the crimes committed in the Gaza Strip, after which it is impossible to speak of morality. Every decent person who returned from Gaza after Operation Protective Edge — I met dozens of foreigners who did so — was rocked to their very core by what they saw there. Every one of them felt it was an even more vicious and brutal version of Operation Cast Lead, which we thought would never happen again. They can share this dubious credit however they want, Gantz and Cohen were the military leaders. The hundreds who died in vain, the destruction, the terror and the hatred that was sown — all of it listed in their names. The fact that no one in Israel is disturbed by this does not in any way diminish the depth of the horror. The fact that Israel is focusing now on the January warning does not change its responsibility for what is happening in Gaza, which has been abandoned to its suffering.

It is only right that this duo finds it hard to speak about honesty. A significant part of the Shin Bet’s work is built on lies, mountains upon mountains of lies — told mostly to Arabs, but who’s keeping count, and who could tell? When an important part of an organization’s work is based on building a rotten network of collaborators, which depends on lies and false promises and lies, that organization cannot speak of truth.

The IDF also knows how to lie, does it ever. In May the IDF Spokesman determined that in the Nakba Day incidents in Beitunia the army did not use live fire. So he decided. Half a year later the lie was exposed, but not before senior defense officials, including the defense minister himself, claimed the incriminating video clips were “fabricated” and “edited.” The lie was exposed only because it was documented, unlike many other lies that were not recorded. It was not exceptional in the territories, even if the military correspondent on television said “The IDF investigation is a sacred value.”

Gantz and Cohen are not dealing with all this. Nor are the government or the media. Don’t disturb them: They’re busy listening to news about the latest Israeli scandals.

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