The 'Sunday Times': A mixed record of 'scoops'

The report about the timing of a purported Israeli strike on Iran is the latest of several such articles the paper has carried.

vanunu 88 (photo credit: )
vanunu 88
(photo credit: )
The Sunday Times has a somewhat mixed record when it comes to "scoops" of particular relevance and interest to Israeli and Jewish readers. •It is notorious as one of the newspapers to have triumphantly published the fake "Hitler Diaries" in 1983 - documents that proved to have been prepared by a German con man named Konrad Kujau •By contrast, three years later, it made more credible headlines when it broke the Vanunu affair, headlining its front page of October 5, 1986 with, "Revealed: the secrets of Israel's nuclear arsenal" •Sometimes its "scoops" are hard to confirm or deny, given they are purportedly provided by off-the-record sources in the Israeli security establishment, a case in point being a March 2000 report that claimed the Israeli government was "considering planting small nuclear land mines near the Golan Heights which could be detonated to halt a Syrian invasion." •On occasion, though, even such unsourced headline stories are fairly easily debunked. In December 1999, for instance, the paper prominently reported that Israel was at work on an "ethnic" bomb - a biological weapon "that would harm Arabs but not Jews." The writers were apparently unperturbed by the improbability, acknowledged in their own report, that Israel's scientists could overcome the "hugely complicated" fact that Arabs and Jews are both of Semitic origin. Although the paper may well have been duped by taking seriously a fictional story by Israeli academic Doron Stanitsky, who wrote and distributed a fantasy about an Israeli scientist in the Ben-Gurion era pioneering a virus that would only attack Arabs, the story was never retracted and the article continues to enjoy considerable currency on Israel-bashing Web sites. •Sunday's report detailing the timing of a purported Israeli plan to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities is only the latest of several such articles the paper has carried of late. In July of 2004, it asserted that Israel might "launch a preemptive strike at Iran's Bushehr nuclear power station" if Russia went ahead with plans to supply it with fuel. And in March, it claimed that Israeli commandos had been training for months "for an assault on Iran's nuclear facilities," even providing a detailed account of one such supposed exercise. A sample of the breathless prose: "As the helicopters dropped low over the desert, the commandos adjusted their night-vision equipment. At the back of one craft two large dogs from the Oketz unit strained against tightly held leashes. Close by were packs of explosives that would be strapped to them. As the choppers landed several miles from the target, the soldiers spilt out and ran to lorries hidden by Mossad agents..."