Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
In March 2016, an email account belonging to John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 US presidential campaign, was breached by hackers believed to be Russian. A few months later, the same thing happened to a group of top Democratic National Committee staffers.
The emails were all eventually released by WikiLeaks alongside some 30,000 belonging to Clinton herself, which mostly caused embarrassment for the presidential candidate and her campaign. Was there anything there that directly caused her to lose? Difficult to know, but it definitely did not help.
Is that the same ending we should expect from the story of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s cellphone and its alleged hacking by Iran?
That will depend on what comes out from the data breach, if anything at all. Were there intimate details on Gantz’s phone that will embarrass him, or just pictures of his kids? We may never know. But then again, he is running against a man – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who once went on live TV and admitted to having cheated on his wife, out of fear that someone had gotten their hands on a recording of him in the act. Worse than that is difficult to imagine.
A few important points worthy of consideration:
1) Was Iran behind the phone hack o r was it possibly someone else? Russia has a history of engaging in this kind of activity, oftentimes for the sole purpose of destabilizing a democracy and causing electoral chaos. It allegedly did this ahead of the US presidential elections in 2016, as well as in other countries, like Ukraine.
It might have been Iran, and according to the reports that came out on Thursday night, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) updated Gantz about the phone hack a few weeks ago. How this was then leaked to Channel 12 reporter Amit Segal is another interesting question. But what is clear is that when the nation is focused on Iran and the threat it poses to Israel, there is one politician who stands to gain, and that is Netanyahu.
2) Netanyahu’s supporters claim that he had nothing to do with the data breach or the leak of its happening to Segal. They put out a statement saying that the head of the Shin Bet did not brief the prime minister about the hack. While there is no reason to assume Netanyahu’s office is lying and that the Shin Bet chief did not brief the prime minister, it is still difficult to believe that Iran, Israel’s arch nemesis, hacked the phone of a former IDF chief of staff and the prime minister doesn’t know about it.
The fact that Gantz is Netanyahu’s political adversary shouldn’t necessarily play a role here. It is true that due to elections, this is especially sensitive – but if the Iranians are hacking the phones of top Israeli officials, the prime minister needs to be made aware of it. This is a grave threat that needs be dealt with by the highest levels of Israel’s defense echelon.
Also, is there no one else who could have briefed Netanyahu about the phone? How about the Mossad, which he oversees, or the state’s National Cyber Directorate, which also reports to him? Netanyahu didn’t deny knowing about it. All he said was that he didn’t hear about it from the head of the Shin Bet.
Does that mean that Netanyahu was the leaker and Segal’s source? No. But looking back at the last decade, it would not be the first time that the prime minister has used security situations for his political advantage.
3) And finally, there is the way Gantz handled this whole affair. To call a press conference on the Gaza border at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, just 45 minutes before Shabbat begins, is poor planning. He should have anticipated that all of the questions would be about his phone and not the recent flare-up between Israel and Hamas. This showed panic.
Why didn’t he play it cool and release a short statement to the press saying that he hopes Iran enjoys pictures of his kids? Instead, he was on the defensive and showed that he is feeling pressured. He again fell into the position of responding to Netanyahu instead of initiating and being on the offensive. This is the wrong move; if he keeps it up, the dream of defeating Netanyahu will continue – as it has been over the past few weeks – to slip further and further away.
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