Editorial |

The Problem of Censorship

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Workers prepare an MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle at Michael Army Airfield, Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, in 2011.
Workers prepare an MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle at Michael Army Airfield, Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, in 2011.Credit: Handout / REUTERS
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

Most military aerial operations in the world today are conducted by drones. Countless models, from toy-sized drones to huge aircraft, serve to gather intelligence, attack targets and even mark territory. Israel was a pioneer in the use of armed drones when it used them to conduct targeted killings in Gaza during the second intifada. In the two decades that have passed, other countries have followed in its footsteps, among them the United States and Iran, and now Ukraine, in developing, manufacturing and operating these aerial vehicles.

But unlike most Western countries in which there has been a lively debate on the moral implications of the use of weapons operated by remote control far from the battlefield, on the psychological difficulties faced by the operators, and on the budgetary preference for drones over piloted aircraft – the use of attack drones by the IDF was heavily censored.

If, during the early years of use of unmanned craft, there was a justification for censorship because of the desire to surprise the enemy, this justification passed a long time ago. Every child in Gaza knows how to identify attack drones and their munitions. Earlier this week, the censor lifted the blackout following a review; why this was done, and why now, is unclear. The news followed reports that Iran plans to sell drones to Russia.

The exposure is welcome but it emphasizes the problem of censorship. As in similar cases in the past – the bombing of the Syrian nuclear reactor is the example that stands out – the information censored was known to the enemy for years and had also been widely reported on by foreign media. It is only the Israeli media that is required to infer or to quote “foreign sources,” thus dealing a severe blow to the essential debate on security affairs.

The military censor operates as a veil behind which anonymous security and intelligence sources can hide after “advising” the censor when to make use of his authority. In fact, these sources dictate the policy of censorship and exposure without any transparency or public responsibility. The time has come for the new chief censor, Brig. Gen. Kobi Mendelblit, to internalize the High Court of Justice ruling that censorship is only justified in cases of “certainty of clear damage to state security.” Bans on publications whose time has passed, as well as sudden exposure, awaken heavy doubts about the credibility of the censor’s considerations.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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