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Photo: Avi Rokah
Benny Gantz
Photo: Avi Rokah
Nahum Barnea
Gantz, Gaza and a very inconvenient hack
Opinion: The Blue and White leader went down south to flex his security credentials, but by then the world had moved on to a more salacious subject - the alleged Iranian infiltration of his cell phone, where Netanyahu's own conduct raises some questions

Benny Gantz was supposed to hold a press conference on Friday at Kibbutz Nir Am. The security officer at the scene refused, because he didn't want a crowd near the fence with Gaza.

 

 

Therefore, Gantz opted for Kibbutz Erez, but that picture from there wasn't heroic enough. So Gantz selected Kibbutz Nahal Oz, for while standing under the observation tower inside the kibbutz, the kibbutz perimeter resembles the Israel-Gaza border fence. Last summer, fire broke out on the fields of the kibbutz, after an airborne incendiary device landed there. The fire utterly destroyed, but today they are blooming and even the wheat is growing again.

 

 Benny Gantz talking to reporters at Kibbutz Nahal Oz  (Photo: Avi Roccah)
Benny Gantz talking to reporters at Kibbutz Nahal Oz (Photo: Avi Roccah)

 

Gantz wanted to gain political leverage from the firing of missiles at Tel Aviv on Thursday night. Although it is not certain that any of the voters were along for the ride. Those with long memories recall what advice Gantz and his fellow Blue and White hopefuls Moshe Ya'alon and Gabi Ashkenazi gave to the politicians when they themselves were the IDF chief of staff, and none of them invented a magic formula to militarily wipe out the threat of terror from the Gaza Strip.

 

Meanwhile, those with a shorter memory were happy to go back to business as usual - with no casualties from the rocket fire and with the prime minister refusing to be excited - what was the point?

 

In the eyes of a large part of the electorate, the right-wing and security are synonymous. Mr. Right-wing is Mr. Defense, and generations of retired generals have failed to change it.

 

A game of telephone

And while Friday afternoon is a bad time for any news conference, the media - both Israeli and foreign - nonetheless turned up for the event in Nahal Oz. Not because of Gantz's views on Gaza, but rather because of Gantz's cell phone.

 

The story that broke on the Thursday evening news was astonishing: the Iranians had managed to hack Gantz's cell phone. Two senior members of the Shin Bet domestic security service had informed the Blue and White party leader about the hacking a few months ago. 

 

When a story like this is reported by a political correspondent, in the midst of an election campaign, there are several questions that must be asked. First of all, who else did the Iranians hack? Secondly, who in Israel knew about the Iranian hacking and how? Thirdly, who has an interest in publishing the story during an election campaign? And last but not least, what material was on the phone  - was it problematic, confidential, defense or personal information?

 

All of these questions were left unanswered after the news, but for that, we have social media. Therefore immediately after the story aired, pundits began spreading rumors about what they said was embarrassing information on Gantz's phone. It was the kind of information, they speculated, that would make him vulnerable to extortion if he became prime minister. 

 

Extortion no less!

 

Imagine that a master spy for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards was enjoying a long-con life in Herzilya under the name of Yogev Segev, a pistachio importer. He called Prime Minister Gantz (he would obviously have the number) to say: "If you don't give me the codes to the nukes, I will tell everyone what you said about Ya'alon in a WhatsApp group." Gantz would immediately buckle in the face of such a terrible threats and give up the codes at once.

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  (Photo: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Marc Israel Sellem)

 

On Saturday, Netanyahu implemented stage two of the telephone story. The Iranians were not only squeezing Gantz - they also supported him, the prime minister claimed. Gantz was actually their candidate for premier.

 

Netanyahu's remarks raise some interesting questions: If the Iranians and Gantz are brothers, why would they need to hack his phone? A second question is: What happens to Netanyahu on Shabbat when he is forced to spend the day with his family.

 

I went to Nahal Oz, to see how Gantz was dealing with the stink bomb that had been thrown at him. It was a wonderful winter's day. The kibbutz was preparing for the Sabbath with the 17 families who joined it this year, and there can be no better news than that.

 

Gaza looked brighter and quieter than ever. Gantz, in a pale blue shirt and jeans, stood in front of the cameras, the sun setting behind him. He began with a statement that hit all the right notes: a potential escalation; extreme failure of leadership; Hamas calling the shots; loss of deterrence. He suggested the use of force, urgently, but declined to say what he intended to do that the Air Force did not do the night before.

 

Then came the barrage of questions about his cell phone. Gantz stuck his notes, but his body language radiated embarrassment.

 

"An imaginary story, completely delusional, political, gossip - just snooping," he said. "I'm not going to stoop to such a salacious level. I know I'm paying a high price and I'll pay even a higher one. I entered politics in order to serve the State of Israel. The state is more important to me than this nonsense."

 

Someone else, more experienced in such incidents, would simply say, "Netanyahu invented this story. He used classified security information that came into his possession as part of his job. This is a serious incident that casts a heavy shadow on his functioning as prime minister. I demand that a criminal investigation is immediately launched into him and his campaign. They are a crime family."

 

An investigation would not have been launched, not really, but the headlines would have changed - instead of the Gantz affair, it would have been the Netanyahu affair.

 

Instead, Gantz issued only the following sentence: "We are in a struggle for our democracy and ethics."

 

But that's not how you win a war, not at all.

 

Netanyahu's election gift

Meanwhile, in Washington, Netanyahu's emissaries are busy ensuring that his visit to the US capital at the end of the month is an electoral winner. Netanyahu would be happy to have Trump's recognition of Israel's 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights. From what I hear from Washington, however, this will not happen. Not because of the opposition from US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, such opposition could be overcome, but rather because of Crimea.

 

Trump and Putin in Helsinki, July 2018 (Photo: AFP) (Photo: AFP)
Trump and Putin in Helsinki, July 2018 (Photo: AFP)

 

In March 2014, just five years ago, Russia seized Crimea from the hands of Ukraine. I was there, during the Russian takeover. The occupation was as easy as a walk in the park. The annexation led to sanctions on Russia by the United States and the European Union. Recognition of the annexation of the Golan Heights would expose Trump to the claim that he is trying to create a precedent for recognition of the annexation of Crimea. Everything in Washington is seen through the prism of the investigation into his ties to Russia.

 

Netanyahu will instead, receive a different gift. Trump's peace plan, the famous "deal of the century," will be split. First of all, the plan for economic peace will be released: Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States will be asked to open their gates to the Israeli economy, and Israel in return will be asked to help in developing the Palestinian economy.

 

A plan for economic peace is not a peace plan, but it is completely acceptable to all possible partners to a right-wing government - Naftali Bennett, Rafi Peretz, Avigdor Lieberman, and perhaps Moshe Feiglin. In other words, Trump's plans will not interfere with the establishment of a right-wing government, and even if they do interfere, they can be postponed again until after the govnrment is safely esconced.

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פרסום ראשון: 03.18.19, 23:28
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