Philadelphi Route of Leaks

The IDF is investigating hundreds of officers who spoke to the press during the Lebanon war, threatening to prevent necessary information from reaching the public in the future.

A great storm came from Lebanon and sent the structure of the Israel Defense Forces flying in all directions. The roof tiles scattered, the walls tumbled down, and only one door remained standing alone - and in its center is a keyhole. Trying to seal this aperture, around which everything is wide open, are four military elements - the chief of staff, military advocate general, Information Security Department, and Investigative Military Police. The records of hundreds of senior and middle-ranking officers' incoming and outgoing conversations with journalists have been retrieved. Among these discussions, the investigators are focusing on about 25 officers who were involved in half a dozen war-related events - the details of which were obtained by the press at telephonic speed.

This is the Philadelphi Route of leaks, with dozens of tunnels between officers and journalists, and the army is sucked into it headfirst, as usual without knowing how it will get out. The declared motive is positive: protecting the forces and their missions. If the pipeline, or perhaps the top line, leaks secrets to the point where it is dangerous, especially during a war, sealing it is essential, and therefore, it is justified to call in the plumbers. But if so, why wait for two months? And if there is a battle against a phenomenon that is threatening the IDF, why did Chief of Staff Dan Halutz hold back for many weeks upon hearing brigadier generals who put into operation the weapon of mass vilification against their commander colleagues while they were conducting battle?

Like their predecessors throughout the generations, the chief of staff and military advocate general, Brigadier General Avihai Mandelblit, are following a policy of selective enforcement according to status, with eternal forgiveness toward corruption and ignoring the commands of the most senior people and their close associates. With them, justice is never harsh toward the chief of staff, who wants to avoid a political cooling-off period by means of backdating his discharge, or the one who meets with politicians while he is still actively serving in the IDF. Hypocrisy celebrates, and trustworthiness is at a nadir: Everything that is forbidden in law is permitted in actuality, except for a private connection with the press, and even this doesn't apply to everyone.

After trumpeting the investigation of the leaks at the General Staff and Military Advocate's Office, they got scared and began to realize where the end of the slippery slope is liable to be in Paragraph 113 of the Punishment Law (espionage "grave" or not), which is often used to threaten mostly writers and journalists, as well as occasionally against their security sources. An important analysis of aspects of potential charges can be found in a judgment written in May 2002, by Judge Dr. Amiram Binyamini in the trial of Brigadier General (res.) Yitzhak Yaakov. In a reasonable interpretation of the arguments for Yaakov's conviction, it emerges that when it comes to an officer who has given security information to an officially recognized military reporter - who is committed to send the information to the censor so it can be authorized for publication (and this is how, from the censor, it became known that the information had leaked) - the defense of innocent intentions can barely stand up.

Binyamini, formerly an officer in Intelligence Unit 8200, is now a member of the senior criminal-security bench at the Tel Aviv District Court, headed by Court President Uri Goren and including Judge Hila Gerstl. The Goren-Gerstl-Binyamini court hears cases that deal with similar charges of damaging the state's security, and its next customers are liable to be from the colonel to major general level, on condition that Halutz and Mandelblit seriously believe they have identified a destructive problem that cries out for deterrent punishment.

But this condition is not expected to be met. The investigations have been limited to Paragraph 117, "disclosure entailing the breaking of an obligation," for which the punishment is far milder than for Paragraph 113. It is possible that the recommendation will be for disciplinary proceedings or command measures, and officers who refuse to undergo a polygraph test will not be compelled to do so. Such a test is required only in the context of a new or repeated security classification check. Though the chief of staff may take revenge on refusers and harm their promotion, the next chief of staff will be able to forgive them. The path from the output (of the conversations) to the input (at the Induction and Classification Base's discharge department) is long. And what if the military investigation absolves the officers, and points to secret sharers from among the government ministers and officials?

Despite the caprices of the chief of staff and the military advocate general, the Israeli media are not absolved from thrashing out the influences of early exposure that thwarts and endangers, both before and during combat moves. Direct broadcast is the enemy of the indirect move; in the presence of an all-seeing camera and satellite relay with no delay, there is no "fog of battle" or "low signature."

If during the past six years, the media coverage of operations to fight Palestinian terror had been as feverish as the coming attractions of divisions' entrances into Lebanon, so many suicide terror attacks would not have been prevented. In such circumstances, even another Operation Entebbe is not possible. The Saturday broadcasts would be interrupted for a special report from the extraordinary government meeting, and the commentators would raise the hypothesis that a military action to rescue the hostages was discussed. At night, on the backdrop of burning airplanes and slaughter in the terminal, criticism of the chief of staff for the sin of pride that caused his successor to initiate the failed operation would already be broadcast.