WASHINGTON - Tom Ricks, military reporter for the Washington Post, accused Israel Tuesday of intentionally failing to destroy a number of rocket launchers in south Lebanon, to maintain a moral defense to its striking civilian of targets in Lebanon.
Ricks, who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in journalism and recently published his new book "Fiasco" on the failure of the American war in Iraq, made the comments during an interview on CNN.
Ricks, who was hosted on the Howard Kurtz's weekly media review show on the CNN news network, said: "Civilian casualties are also part of the battlefield play for both sides here. One of the things that is going on, according to some US military analysts, is that Israel purposely has left pockets of Hizbullah rockets in Lebanon, because as long as they're being rocketed, they can continue to have a sort of moral equivalency in their operations in Lebanon."
Shocked by the prominent commentator's accusation, interviewer Howard Kurtz replied, "hold on, you're suggesting that Israel has deliberately allowed Hizbullah to retain some of it's fire power, essentially for PR purposes, because having Israeli civilians killed helps them in the public relations war here?"
Since Ricks made the comments, he has been assailed by numerous organizations which monitor representations of Israel in the United States media. Ricks was also criticized in American radio shows, which represent generally America's conservative right-wing population.
Rush Limbaugh, who hosts the most popular radio show in the US – with an audience of over 12 million listeners (for the sake of comparison, CNN has 1 million viewers at peak hours), devoted a full one-hour program to the foreign media's hostile treatment of Israel.
Limbaugh discussed the scandal of a Reuters photographer who touched up photographs of the destruction in Lebanon for the first half hour of the program. The second half hour was devoted to the Washington Post's military correspondent Ricks.
'Israeli public would never accept it'
During an interview for Hugh Hewitt's popular website, on which Ricks book Fiasco was being promoted, the Washington Post journalist was again asked about his severe charges against Israel. I wish I had kept my mouth shut, Ricks said, but added: Everything I said was accurate.
Ricks noted than in an off-the-record conversation with a number of military analysts, two of them said they believed it was a clever strategy on the part of Israel to leave a few rocket launchers intact to aid Israel in sharpening public sentiment and give Israeli forces more freedom to operate.
The analysts didn't think it was a bad strategy, Ricks noted. Rather, they believed it would be a clever move on the part of Israel if it were true.
Later, however, Ricks attempted to distance himself from the statements. I have heard from a number of very knowledgeable and intelligent people that while such a strategy could be logical and even morally defensible, Ricks said, of course the Israeli public would never accept it.
He said Israelis had criticized his comments were irresponsible.
When asked to reveal his sources, Ricks refused. It was an off-the-record conversation, and I must keep my word, he said.