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As far as Israelis are concerned, there's no more mystery, the case is closed: On September 6, IAF jets bombed a nuclear facility in Syria that was supplied by the North Koreans.
How do Israelis know? From "foreign media reports."
And what better way to find out? There's no stronger justification for an Israeli attack on Syria than if the target were nuclear, and here it's not Israel that's saying so - it's the "foreign media." The ones who hate us! Even they have to admit we did something great!
So the Israeli public is happy. "According to foreign media reports, Israel attacked nuclear targets in Syria. Do you support or oppose this action?" the Yediot Aharonot poll asked Israeli Jews. 78% supported it, only 10% were opposed. (The rest gave no opinion.)
This is all very nice, except for one thing: The foreign media didn't report that Israel attacked a nuclear facility in Syria. Instead, the foreign media reported that Israeli officials claim that this is what happened, and that Bush administration hawks tend to believe them, but that independent experts tend to be skeptical.
The picture of what really occurred in Syria on September 6 is still "extraordinarily murky," as The New York Times put it on Monday.
From news stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, Agence France Presse (in English translation), The Economist, The Observer, The Times of London and GlobalSecurity.org, the only first-hand sources I see who are saying the IAF hit something nuclear are "Israeli sources."
The Israeli account is being passed along to the foreign media by Bush administration officials, but while the Americans lean toward accepting it - the Bush administration leans toward anything that makes Syria and North Korea look bad - no American official, on or off the record, has actually confirmed that Israeli jets in fact hit a nuclear facility.
What's more, the foreign media make it clear that the American sources for this story, not to mention the Israeli ones, aren't impartial. "The accounts about Israeli thinking were provided by current and former officials who are generally sympathetic to Israel's point of view," noted The New York Times. Newsweek pointed out that the Israeli version of the event was politically convenient for "Bush administration neocons." Agence France Presse quoted American "experts" who said "the information could have been provided by hawks within the Bush administration..."
LET ME BE clear: I'm not saying the IAF didn't hit a nuclear target in Syria. I'm saying we don't know. The story is "extraordinarily murky." You would know this from reading the foreign media, but you wouldn't know it from following the media in this country.
From the Israeli media, you wouldn't know that the story which has "put the spark back in our eyes," as Yediot's Sima Kadmon wrote, is based solely on information from the Republican-Israeli echo chamber.
You wouldn't know about the many doubts being raised about this story, that "current and former US intelligence officials... say they've seen no credible evidence yet of nuclear ties between North Korea and Syria, whether before or since the Israeli operation," as Newsweek wrote.
You wouldn't know about the many foreign officials and academics who think Syria lacks the money and skill to develop a nuclear arsenal, and who doubt that North Korea would risk sending nuclear weapons to Syria, especially now when North Korea was on the verge of finally shedding its pariah status.
From reading the foreign and Israeli news, I come away with certain skeletal facts: A North Korean ship docked in a Syrian port at the beginning of the month, and within a few days cargo marked "cement" was transported from the ship to a site in northeast Syria, which the IAF bombed to bits.
There is no evidence, or at least none made public, that the cargo contained nuclear weapons. There are reasons to believe it did, the reasons Israelis have heard a lot about - that Syria was itching to go nuclear, and that North Korea wanted to hide some of its nuclear weapons from inspectors. But on the other hand there are reasons to believe the cargo wasn't nuclear, that at worst it contained more of the non-nuclear weaponry that North Korea has been shipping Syria for many years. These are the reasons most Israelis haven't heard, or if they have, they've gone in one ear and out the other.
MYSELF, I wouldn't be surprised if either version were correct. But the overwhelming majority of Israelis are convinced the IAF blew up Syria's nuclear project. The reason they're convinced is because they only get exposed to one side of the story - the side that makes Israel look as good as possible and its enemies as bad as possible.
And the reason they only get one side of the story is because that's the only side Israelis are willing to listen to. Even if, as in the case of the raid on Syria, all the news is coming from the foreign media, by the time it gets reprinted and rebroadcast here, it's been translated into hasbara, into pro-Israel spin. There's no government control over the news in this country, the media are free to print what they want, with the exception of military/intelligence information that's censored for purposes of national security, like news of the attack in Syria, which the local media can take from overseas reports.
No, what we have here is news that's slanted by popular demand.
Just about the only foreign commentators Israelis get exposed to are Republicans, neocons, Israelophiles and Islamophobes. Who is the local media quoting over and over on the incident in Syria? John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the UN, whose approach to North Korea, Syria and Iran is all stick, all the time. The media abroad take his assessments with a large grain of salt; the Israeli media take it as the revealed truth.
On nuclear proliferation, our expert is Bolton; on Islamic terror, it's Steven Emerson; on Iran, it's Bernard Lewis. Our overseas newspaper of record is The Washington Times, our favorite journals of opinion range from The Weekly Standard to National Review to Commentary, and the think tanks we revere are the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
They love us, we love them, and the rest of the world can talk to the wall.
This is the mainstream Israeli political mindset. This is how information flows to the Israeli public, and how the public absorbs it. This is how a majority of Israelis form their views, how they arrived at their glowing opinion of whatever it was the IAF did in Syria on September 6, and how they will make up their minds on what Israel should do about Iran.
We don't need an IDF censor. The censor's already in our heads.
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