The Temple of Security

The military censorship's philosophy is that Israeli journalists should be official spokesmen for the defense establishment, but is that what the rest of the world thinks?

The Mossad employs 2,421 people, 73 of whom are case officers who "run" agents. Its annual budget is NIS 1,470.239 billion. It has hired the services of five companies that provide consultancy in matters of human resources, information technology and data storage.

This is fictitious information made up for the purposes of this article. Otherwise, whether the data was accurate or not, military censorship would have blocked the article's publication.

IDF soldiers in front of the Kirya in Tel Aviv

On the other hand, if that exact same data, irrespective of whether true or not, were published in foreign media, censorship would have to allow its publication in Israeli media, on condition that it includes the statement: "according to foreign publications." This sentence is based on the assumption of the censor and his bosses in the defense establishment that the enemy treats reports by Israeli journalists as being more credible - especially those by defense reporters. This reflects the military censorship's philosophy that Israeli journalists should be official spokesmen for the defense establishment.

In this nearly impossible situation, the ability of Israeli journalists to investigate and provide information to the public on defense and intelligence establishment organizations is very limited. These limitations run contrary to the purported goal of being a western democracy.

Military censorship decisions are the main reason that a report like the one recently published by the Washington Post would never see light in Israel. Under the headline "National Security Inc.", the American daily revealed the process of privatization that the U.S. intelligence community has undergone, increasingly granting secret missions to private companies, starting with securing intelligence agents in Iraq and Afghanistan, to data analysis, code breaking and more. American reporters, even though they imposed self-censorship, did not hesitate to expose the addresses of thousands of firms providing these services. The aim of the investigative report was to inform taxpayers that contrary to the claim that costs are being cut, the privatization of intelligence is expensive and wasteful.

The situation in Israel's intelligence community is still far from that of its American counterpart, but here too there are first signs of privatization, in the name of savings and efficiency. Ministers are secured by private security guards, not the Shin Bet security service; more and more Mossad, Shin Bet and Military Intelligence projects are handed over to private firms.

The question of privatization is just one example of the lack of public supervision over the way the defense establishment expends public funds. For example, was the spending of millions of shekels on the assassination attributed to the Mossad in Dubai worthwhile (even if it had gone by unnoticed ) when the cost is weighed against the benefit for national security?

The main difference between Israel and the U.S. is in the ability of the media there to expose failures and waste, because of the protection offered by the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression. In Israel any such attempt is bound to fail, because the intelligence agencies are protected diligently by the military censorship and the courts, who rush to issue gag orders. Even arms exports by Israel enjoy their defense, although the issue here is mostly of economic and moral dimensions, and less security related.

Security in Israel is treated like a religion that must not be doubted, and whose weaknesses must not be exposed. So long as this does not change the Temple of Security will continue to be wasteful, without feeling the need to be accountable to the public in whose name it operates and whose funding it enjoys.