Opinion |

I’ve Been Covering Israeli Intelligence and Security for 38 Years. The Legal System Exhausts Me

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
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An Aeronautics Defense Dominator drone, 2018.
An Aeronautics Defense Dominator drone, 2018.
Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

About four and a half years ago, I exposed a suspicion of criminal behavior on the part of Aeronautics Ltd., a drone manufacturer from the city of Yavne, and some of its executives. According to the information I had, company employees had ordered that a specific activity be carried out, although they knew that in doing so they were in violation of the law that regulates defense exports. They did so at the request of a foreign country.

The company denied it. As a result of my report, Nir Ben Moshe, who headed the Defense Ministry’s security department, along with the Israel Police, were forced to open an investigation. They were blatantly reluctant to do so.

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Since its establishment about 25 years ago by Avi Leumi, Aeronautics has changed hands several times, and at present it is owned by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. Although its name has been tied to controversial arms deals in Nigeria and India totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, whose reverberations reached the courts, it has always remained the favorite of the defense establishment and its former officials. Among its former employees were Omri Sharon (son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) and Itai Ashkenazi (son of former Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi),Yaacov Peri former head of the Shin Bet security service Eitan Ben Eliyahu, former head of the air force and former Navy Commander Yedidya Yaari.

Immediately following my report in Maariv about the suspicions against Aeronautics, the police and defense officials rushed to ask the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court to place a gag order on the affair. Judges Amit Michaels and Guy Avnon willingly acceded to the request. They later rejected my petition to revoke the order, which was submitted by attorney Elad Man, the legal adviser at Hatzlacha, an NGO that seeks to promote good governance.

The gag order was so sweeping that it even forbade the publication of information I had already published. And that was despite the fact that to this day, the information – including the name of the country in which the incident took place – is easily accessible to anyone on foreign media websites, on Wikipedia and on social media. And yet, the judges were willing to serve as extras in this theater of the absurd, which is being staged – not for the first time – by the defense establishment and the police. It should be noted that all the proceedings took place behind closed doors, some of them in the presence of only one side, after Man and I were removed from the courtroom.

What also contributed to the judges’ fear and awe was the fact that the Mossad intelligence agency intervened and handed down an opinion, warning that any report on the affair would harm Israel’s security interests. And if that weren’t enough, the defense minister of that country, which is considered a highly important strategic asset for Israel, visited Israel at the time and warned that security and intelligence-military cooperation with it would be undermined if the reports continued. The media in that country, which is headed by a corrupt dictator, cursed me and described me as an agent of another country that is engaged in a military conflict with it.

A few days ago, the State Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment against Aeronautics and three of its executives, thereby confirming the accuracy of my original report from August 2017. But despite my satisfaction from helping to expose corruption, and thereby also contributing to democracy in Israel, my frustration and disappointment with the conduct of the defense and legal establishments only increased while I was covering the story.

I have been a journalist for 47 years, during 38 of which I specialized in covering intelligence and security affairs. For a substantial part of that time, as part of my writing assignments I petitioned the courts to lift gag orders on past and present corrupt and embarrassing security stories. With the perspective of age, I am aware that the situation is only continuing to deteriorate. The judges’ immune system and its ability to deal with the defense establishment is only becoming weaker.

I have accumulated experience in petitions that I submitted to all the courts in Israel: the Magistrate’s Court, District Court, Supreme Court and High Court of Justice. I appeared before justices considered “liberal,” including Aharon Barak, Ayala Procaccia, Menachem Mazuz, Yoram Danziger, Edna Arbel, Uri Shoham and current President Esther Hayut, and judges labeled “conservative”: David Mintz, Noam Sohlberg and Alex Stein.

When it came to security issues, there were no differences between them. Both groups stand at attention when they hear the word “security.”Both are lackeys of the defense establishment. They are willing to whitewash almost any injustice committed by the defense establishment, and to quickly brush aside, without a thorough discussion and while demonstrating a contemptuous and arrogant judgmental nature, any petition or request by media outlets, lawyers, human rights activists and any supporter of justice.

In recent years, the judges have received and justified decisions by the Defense Ministry and the Mossad to arm cruel dictators and leaders who violate human rights and in countries such as, to name a few, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, Myanmar, South Sudan and Saudi Arabia – and to prevent the publication of documents from the state archives about acts of slaughter, rape and expulsion during the 1948 War of Independence, about the murder of prisoners during wars or about intelligence operations in which drug dealers are involved. Of course, that’s all done in the name of “national security,” but the fact is that this term is sometimes used in vain in order to cover up failures and embarrassment, or to conceal illegal acts of which the defense establishment is ashamed of.

The “deep state” – meaning a state that is hidden beneath the surface – is a term from the field of political science. It describes a situation in which a secret group composed of hidden power networks operates independently, outside the country’s elected political leadership, and tries to advance its own agenda and goals.

The concept acquired prominence and legitimacy during the presidency of Donald Trump in the United States. Far-right circles there and in Israel began to use it to disseminate groundless conspiracy theories in order to attack left-wing and liberal circles, to weaken the legal system and the media and to undermine democracy.

But in Israel, this dubious term is metaphorically appropriate for describing the defense establishment, which operates like a state within a state and does almost anything it pleases, without effective parliamentary supervision, and with close cooperation and backing from the legal system. This combined pincer movement is exhausting the minority that is still ready to fight for justice, human rights and morality, and against injustices. I also feel that I’m exhausted and that I’m tilting at windmills, like Don Quixote. I will keep writing, but I’m losing the desire to petition the courts once again. Maybe I’ll try one more time.

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