Israel’s Channel 12 led its prime-time news broadcast on Thursday night with a leaked report that Iran had hacked the cellphone of Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz.
According to the report, Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, was warned five weeks ago by the Shin Bet security agency that officials in Tehran were now in possession of his personal address book, messages and photos—something that could leave him vulnerable to extortion.
Exactly one hour later, the figurative bombshell was upstaged by the literal launch of two Iran-made FAJR-5 rockets from Gaza into Tel Aviv. Because it had been nearly five years since the last time that rockets fell in the White City—during “Operation Protective Edge,” Israel’s 2014 war against Hamas in Gaza—everyone was taken by surprise. So much so that the automatic slide telling residents of the greater Tel Aviv area to enter their nearest bomb shelters appeared on TV screens before studio anchors were even aware of it.
Even the wailing of air-raid sirens didn’t completely register in the minds of most Tel Avivians. Those of us who were indoors at the time had our windows closed against the chilly, rainy weather. People huddled in bars and restaurants weren’t sure about the source of the racket. Some of those caught on the street thought that it was a false alarm. Until two distinct booms were heard, that is.
When the rockets landed, a delegation of Egyptian intelligence officers was in the midst of a meeting with Hamas officials in Gaza, as part of a mediation effort by Cairo to broker a ceasefire with Israel. As soon as news of the attack reached the room, the Egyptians also exploded.
Accusing Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh of playing a “double game,” by pretending to negotiate a deal while firing rockets, one Egyptian delegate warned: “Just so you know, if Israel decides to launch a comprehensive military operation in Gaza, we won’t do a thing to stop it, even if it decides to simultaneously topple Hamas and conquer the Gaza Strip.”
Sinwar insisted that Hamas was not behind the attack, but the Egyptians weren’t buying it.
“You are lying!” they shouted. “The blood of Gazans who will be hurt in the Israeli response is on your hands! By your own hands, you will bring about the destruction of Gaza and the fall of your regime, and you’ve also gambled with our own safety in Gaza by shooting at Tel Aviv while we are here!”
Israel came to believe Sinwar, however. After striking 100 targets in Gaza during the night, the IDF joined some of the political echelon in Jerusalem in accepting Hamas’s version of events (conveyed through Egypt) that the rockets had been fired “mistakenly” by a maintenance crew keeping the launchers in tip-top shape for future use against the Jewish state.
In exchange for taking Hamas at its word, Egypt insisted that the terrorist organization cease its incessant riots along the Gaza-Israel border. Acquiescence on this issue was short-lived, of course. Though, for the first time in nearly a year, Friday’s weekly “Great March of Return” protest was called off, Hamas announced on Monday that it would increase its violent activities against Israel, which was not able to meet all of its demands for a ceasefire.
This was no more surprising than the thrill in Gaza at the news of a West Bank Palestinian terrorist killing two innocent Israelis near Ariel on Sunday morning. As the distraught families of 19-year-old IDF soldier Gal Keidan and father-of-12 Rabbi Achiad Ettinger laid their loved ones to rest, Gazans distributed candy and cake to passersby to celebrate the slaughter, and the fact that the killer, Amar Abu Lila from the village of Zawiya, was and (as of the time of this writing) still is on the loose.
Nor was it unexpected for Gantz to respond to the report about Iran’s hacking of his cellphone by lashing out at Netanyahu for being behind the leak, rather than answering questions about what potentially compromising data might be on the device or explaining why he hadn’t taken the Shin Bet’s cautioning seriously. He further deflected by re-introducing a suggestion of criminal wrongdoing by Netanyahu in the “submarines affair,” a case that the police and attorney general decided long ago not to pursue against the prime minister.
All of the above is par for the course in Israel, particularly with the fast approach of the April 9 Knesset elections. But the scant attention being paid to Iran by Israeli pundits this week is startling.
After all, the phone hacking was committed by Iran, where the rockets fired on Tel Aviv were produced. Meanwhile, on Monday—a day before the 27th anniversary of the Iran-backed bombing of Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires—two Iranians were apprehended entering Argentina on forged Israeli passports. Also on Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave a televised address in which he urged viewers to “put all your curses on … the United States and the Zionists” for causing the Islamic Republic’s dire economic straits.
This is the same propaganda tactic used by Tehran’s burgeoning buddy, Hamas, which spends all its money on deadly weapons, while the people it controls remain in poverty. Both Iranians and Gazans have begun to protest, but no sane Israeli is holding his breath for either Islamist entities to be overthrown by a democratic revolution any time soon.
It is no wonder, then, that for the first time in weeks, Netanyahu—who famously said that the three greatest threats facing Israel today are “Iran, Iran and Iran”—is gaining an edge on Gantz in the polls.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”