The Test That Never Was

Who is interested in discrediting the Nautilus anti-rocket system to the point of deception?

"Real embarrassment, indeed," the Channel 2 military correspondent agreed with the presenter of the main news broadcast. "The Defense Ministry's director-general, Pinchas Buchris, went to the United States, among other things, to examine this system [the Nautilus laser system], and to everyone's surprise and chagrin, during the test the system simply did not work."

As our correspondent was reporting on the Nautilus' failure, two subtitles appeared on the screen - "Failed test of the Nautilus" and "A trial demonstration of the firing of the anti-rocket system for Israeli representatives has failed."

Our correspondent also said "a total of 36 Qassams were fired. They expected to hit 27, and very surprisingly hit only eight." The next morning both the mass-circulation daily Maariv and The Jerusalem Post reported on the failure of the test held in New Mexico during Buchris' visit to the test site.

But all this is not correct: There was no test of the Nautilus while Buchris was in the United States. There was a leak here from inside the defense establishment and the journalists - without checking the facts - reported exactly what the source of the leak wanted them to report.

When the Defense Ministry spokesman was asked for the truth and to confirm if there had been a test, he said the test had not taken place recently.

Rather, it took place in 2005.

However, it emerges that this too is not correct. The last time the Nautilus system was tested (successfully) was in November 2004.

Beyond the fact that we have a grave journalistic failure here and a continuation of the tradition of a press committed to the cause, this is a serious disinformation and deception campaign conducted by some people at the Defense Ministry in recent months.

Who is interested in discrediting the laser to the point of deception?

Apparently, there are people in the defense establishment who fear that there will be an investigation of their decision to support the development of the Iron Dome system against Qassams, and that details and figures will be exposed to throw their decision into question. It is possible they are worried about an examination that will touch on their decision to reject an outright acquisition of the Nautilus system.

It appears that in the Iron Dome affair, the defense establishment has crossed quite a number of red lines.

Baseless promises to Sderot's inhabitants that the system will protect them, the concealing of the truth from the policy makers and the use of falsified information have become the modus operandi of some of the partners in the decision-making process.

Experts at the Defense Ministry knew that because of technological limitations Iron Dome will not be able to protect against Qassams at a range of less than 4 kilometers.

Not only did they not inform the inhabitants of Sderot and the Gaza envelope of this, they did not reveal it to the policymakers.

Last week close associates of former defense minister Amir Peretz, at whose bureau the decision to acquire Iron Dome was taken in February 2007, agreed to reveal a glimpse of what happened at that time.

The associates who helped make this decision made it clear that the minister was not at all aware that the system he had chosen is unable to protect his own home in Sderot from most of the Qassams launched from the Gaza Strip (which have a range of between 2 and 4 kilometers).

Because in the tender for the development of a defense system it had been defined that "it had to protect Sderot as well," the associates elucidated that "at the time of the presentation of Iron Dome it was clear to the defense minister that it would also protect Sderot and the Gaza envelope locales. He did not even bother to ask about this and no one revealed the bleak truth to him."

What should be cause for worry now, it would seem, is not only extraneous considerations by some people in the defense establishment affecting decisions, however the damage to the basic norms of democratic activity.

Deceiving the media, cynically and coldly, to protect a problematic decision is a dangerous step toward a further erosion of Israel's fragile democratic fabric.