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Friday, April 09, 2010

Israel's traitors

I've had a story open on my computer all week (and part of last week) that I assume most of you abroad already know about. In Israel, there was a gag order on publication, and since I live in Israel and blog from Israel and had no particular desire to violate the gag order, I have remained silent about it.

On Thursday, it was cleared for publication (when the prosecution withdrew its secrecy request) that a 23-year old 'journalist' has been arrested and indicted for stealing some 2,000 confidential IDF documents during her compulsory army service and handing them over to Israel's Hebrew 'Palestinian' daily. The reporter who actually used the documents to write the article in question is hiding out in London, where no one is threatening to arrest him under England's universal jurisdiction law, unlike Doron Almog and Tzipi Livni.

Here's what the State of Israel allowed to be released on Thursday.
Journalist Anat Kam, 23, is accused of stealing over 2,000 IDF classified documents, many hundreds of which are termed “secret” and “top secret.” The alleged crimes occurred when she served as a soldier clerking in the IDF military - specifically, in the office of the Commander of the Central District - between 2005-2007.

She allegedly handed over many of the “top secret” and “secret” documents to Haaretz reporter Uri Blau. Blau, who was abroad when the investigation started, has refused thus far to return to Israel for investigation. It is suspected that many of the classified papers are still in his possession – despite an offer made to him that the returned documents would not be used to prosecute him or his source, Anat Kam.

Kam, who was secretly arrested during the investigation, has been indicted in the Tel Aviv District Court. She stands accused of collecting secret information, giving it to unauthorized individuals, and attempting to harm state security.

Some of the documents include detailed plans for military operations, the deployment of IDF forces in routine and emergency situations, operations against terrorist leaders, evaluations, and more.
According to foreign media, Kam's trial is due to begin on Wednesday and she is being charged with treason. Treason is one of two crimes in Israel that carries the death penalty (the other is Nazi war crimes), but I doubt Kam would be sentenced to death. It is far more likely that she will be sentenced to a lengthy - perhaps even lifelong - stay in prison (cf. Mordechai Vanunu). The New York Times claims 15 years (I believe that Vanunu was originally sentenced to 18).

The Blau article that is the main subject of the indictment - according to the foreign media - is here. It is titled License to Kill (or Licence to Kill in some foreign media - that's for the benefit of the Google searchers) The foreign media claims that it was cleared for publication at the time by the IDF censor. Blau makes the same claim in an article in Friday's Haaretz. The article was published just three weeks before Operation Cast Lead began. It is clear from reading the article that Blau must have had access to confidential IDF documents. Kam worked in Central Command Chief Yair Naveh's office and apparently stole the documents that were the story's basis from there.
On April 12 Naveh convened another meeting about Malaisha. This time he decided that permission would be granted to carry out the assassination of the target and "another two people at most." On the day of the meeting in Naveh's office another discussion took place, chaired by the head of the Operations Directorate, Brig. Gen. Sami Turjeman. At the meeting, the plans for a preventive operation against Malaisha were presented, and the head of the Operations Directorate explained that "a preventive strike in Ayush [Judea and Samaria] is an exceptional sight ... It could be seen as an attempt to damage the attempts to stabilize, which means that it requires sensitivity to causing a minimum of collateral damage. Everything possible must be done to prevent harm to those who are uninvolved." The target of the operation, he added "leads a 'ticking' infrastructure and meets the required criteria for a preventive strike."

At this point Turjeman spelled out the conditions of Malaisha's incrimination, and ruled that only if they existed would the targeted assassination get a green light. He added that no more than five people (including the driver) should be assassinated in the operation. Turjeman approved the operation even if there should be one unidentified person in the car. Regarding the matter of timing, he said that "in light of the anticipated diplomatic events, the prime minister's meeting with Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and the visit of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, I recommend ... implementation afterward." In the discussion Turjeman also referred to the High Court ruling about appointing a committee whose job would be to examine targeted assassinations after the fact, and said that in light of the High Court instructions on the matter, the operation should be documented.

The next day the operation was brought up for the approval of Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. A limited number of senior officers convened in his office, including his deputy, the head of the Operations Directorate, the head of the Operations Brigade, the chief military prosecutor, a representative of Central Command and a representative of the Shin Bet. The paper summing up the meeting says that Ashkenazi "emphasized that due to the High Court orders regarding the establishment of a professional committee on targeted assassinations, the composition of the committee should be agreed on with the Shin Bet as soon as possible."

Although Malaisha was defined as part of a "ticking infrastructure," Ashkenazi too was disturbed by the timing of the action and said that "in light of the diplomatic meetings anticipated during the course of the week, the date of implementation should be reconsidered." Ashkenazi prohibited attacking the vehicle in which Malaisha was traveling if it was discovered that there was "more than one unidentified passenger" in it.

Two months after the Two Towers plan was approved, and long after the diplomatic visits and meetings that took place in the second week of April 2007, came the operation in which Malaisha was killed in the Jenin area.
I've written on this blog before that I don't believe that the Supreme Court should be interfering with the nitty gritty of IDF operations. But here's what the court's ruling that's the subject of Blau's article actually said (according to Blau - I have not looked up the original ruling):
According to the High Court ruling, well-founded and convincing information is necessary in order to classify a civilian as being part of a group of civilians who are carrying out hostile acts; a person should not be assassinated if it is possible to use less damaging methods against him; and he should not be harmed more than necessary for security needs. In other words, a person should not be assassinated if it is possible to arrest him, interrogate him and indict him. However, if the arrest involves serious danger to the lives of the soldiers, there is no need to use this means; after every assassination a thorough and independent examination must be conducted regarding the degree of precision, the identity of the man as a terror activist, and in the case of mistaken identity, the payment of compensation should be considered; harm to innocent civilians should be avoided as much as possible during an assassination, and "harm to innocent civilians will be legal only if it meets the demands of proportionality," ruled Barak.

In this context, Barak gave an example according to which "it is possible to fire at a terrorist who is firing from the balcony of his home at soldiers or civilians, even if as a result an innocent bystander is liable to be hit. Such a strike at an innocent civilian will meet the demands of proportionality. That is not the case if the house is bombed from the air and dozens of its residents and bystanders are hit."

Barak stated that, "The struggle against terror has turned our democracy into a 'defensive democracy' or a 'fighting democracy.' However, this struggle must not overturn the democratic nature of our regime."
The main accusation of the Haaretz article in question is that Malaisha could have been arrested rather than killed. However, even Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak did not require that terrorists be arrested rather than killed when doing so would involve "serious danger to the lives of the soldiers."

The JPost reports that the documents allegedly stolen by Kam had a significant effect on how the IDF conducted operations during Operation Cast Lead. It doesn't elaborate.

From my perspective, there are two takeaways here. First, the IDF has got to get those papers back as quickly as possible and at all costs. I'm amazed that they have not managed to do so since December 2008 (at which time they should have known that there was a problem with anything in Naveh's office). I'm also amazed that Blau was not also placed under house arrest, but was allowed to leave the country in November or December 2009, as is clear from his Haaretz article this morning. Despite Kam's mother's protests (cited by the JPost in the article that I linked) that her daughter is not a traitor, I would not put it past Kam or Blau to hand the article to the US media or even to the more hostile British media, which would gladly splash them all over their front pages. Given that the documents include "detailed plans for military operations, the deployment of IDF forces in routine and emergency situations, operations against terrorist leaders, evaluations, and more," the verified recovery of all copies of those documents has to be the top priority.

Second, I don't know a whole lot about how secret and top secret security clearances are given in the IDF (if I'm really lucky, maybe someone from the IDF will come on and speak to this in the comments section), but I have a sense that it's not always as rigorous as is the case in, for example, the US. I once applied for a job in Israel for which I needed security clearance. I received the security clearance (I then declined the job offered), and from what I recall the thing that most interested them was speaking with people who knew me at various stages of my life who now lived in Israel. I wonder whether native born Israelis go through less rigorous screening than I went through at the time (this was around 1993 and I had only been here two years). But clearly, the IDF must examine how someone with Anat Kam's proclivities managed to get security clearance to work in Yair Naveh's office.

For those of you sitting overseas and trying to judge us through the lens of American or British or other Western democratic values, please keep in mind that living in Israel means constantly being at war, and in war sometimes liberties get restricted. It's unfair to hold Israel to an American standard of free speech or press that was made at any time subsequent to the civil war. And as to the Brits - most of our laws in this area derive from what they did during the Mandate.

I don't like everything that is done here in the name of 'security' either and yes, I believe it has a lot of potential for abuse. For example, in the mid-90's, I argued extensively against administrative detention (a law that allows the authorities to hold people for up to six months - subject to extension - without any indication of what the charges against them might be). But when you are surrounded by what the US would term 'enemy combatants' and the people you are holding are alleged to have stolen "detailed plans for military operations, the deployment of IDF forces in routine and emergency situations, operations against terrorist leaders, evaluations, and more," I don't believe that you have a choice but to act.


At 12:03 PM, Blogger Alexander Maccabee said...

Whatever means are necessary to bring the traitors to justice are justified. - This is an attack on the people of Israel.

No mercy.

Maybe I am heartless, but arresting the family of the traitors would be a card on my table. I am a firm believer in "group accountability". - Of course Israel does not need the bad PR right now, but I have no desire to be a diplomat. I'm only a patriot who believes in HaShem, and loves the Jewish people. - Those who seek to harm either are... Amelek.

At 12:15 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

What is amazing is how Israel's leftist media have rallied around Haaretz and depicted Anat Kam as a victim. The truth is Haaretz helped a wanted fugitive escape the country and they keep him on salary even after his complicity in a crime became known. This is how a responsible paper conducts itself and I agree with Michael Ben Ari of National Union that that Haaretz should be banned but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Israeli authorities to apply the rule of law as rigorously to treasonous leftists as they have to Zionists and rightists.

The other thing that deserves comment is that the IDF will have to tighten security policies to make sure that individuals with left-wing views or proclivities are not allowed access to highly classified information. This means checking the ideological views of people who serve in sensitive positions. And in passing, Kam should get the death penalty - treason is a serious crime in a country at war and an 18 year sentence makes a joke out of the offense. If anything, the least she should get is life in prison and never be allowed out again.

Above all, the real scandal of this case is not what she did but the assumption people who take an oath to be loyal to Israel get the right to decide for themselves what kind of policies it should have. People like Kam are the last people who should be allowed to influence public opinion within Israel. Then too, the reaction of the Israeli media has been a complete disgrace.


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