Israel’s champion spin doctors

“Mr Ariel Sharon’s government is not only a master at spin doctoring but also, on levels not seen before in Israel, uses leaks to the media as a main instrument of government,” a senior official in Jerusalem told debkafile. “Every policy move has a leaking process that is prepared ahead in a highly professional manner.”
Leakage has become a way of political life in Israel, with three main sources: the offices of the prime minister, the foreign minister, and the defense minister.
The prime minister’s office. Here the job is handled by Sharon’s chef de bureau, Dov Weisglass. News leaked by him at, say, 6pm will be on the main television news at 8 or 9pm, and published in the next morning’s newspapers. Sometimes the leak will be to the newspapers or radio first.
The leaks are strictly conditional: the material has to broadcast or published in full, with no words missing. This ensures that Weisglass achieves the result he wants.
He and his able young assistants are in constant contact with a group of journalists, known as ” the privileged ones” to the rest of the press, and to the diplomatic and financial community. In other words, people who want to understand the prime minister’s thoughts know which journalists they should pay attention to.
If the issue is very sensitive, Sharon himself joins the briefing process. He handles such contacts carefully, and only favors a few journalists. But he often likes to take charge on Fridays in order to control what is published over the weekend. A senior official who knows how the machine works in other capitals says that he can’t remember any other head of government having such a deep, personal and direct involvement with the press.
The foreign minister’s office. Much the same situation exists in Silvan Shalom’s office. The foreign minister, and his political adviser Aron Prosser, run what is described in Jerusalem as the most efficient and sophisticated leakage system that Israel has known for years. Indeed, in the past few weeks, the system has been the main topic of conversation in political Jerusalem.
Foreign statesmen are known to telephone the prime minister to complain that confidential discussions they have had with Shalom when he visited their countries appear almost instantaneously in the Israeli press or media. Two recent such complaints came from Morocco’s King Mohamed and from political aides of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak.
Shalom defends himself aggressively. On Sunday he asked Edna Arbel, who was standing-in for the attorney-general, to start an investigation into who leaked the fact that there have recently been secret meetings between Israeli and Syrian and Libyan representatives. Later he phoned Avi Dichter, the head of Shin Beit, in order to create the impression that the leakage in question was serious and was jeopardizing Israel’s security.
The defense minister’s office. In Tel Aviv, Shaul Mofaz carries out a similar campaign, helped by Eli Kamir, the ministry`s spokesman. Here too Friday is considered the most important day of the week. Journalists are invited on a one-to-one basis to the minister’s office and he finds time to talk to each one. It is unwise to cut such meetings: if an invited journalist doesn’t turn up, he will get an urgent phone call from the minister’s office. And you are either in the Friday circle, or out.
Journalists who prefer not to take part in the process, get a cold shoulder from the minister. As with the prime minister and the foreign minister, political circles say they cannot remember a previous defense minister operating such a direct and intensive spin operation.
Does the system work? The answer has to be Yes. Without any clear political or ideological policies, and with only a few, and contradictory words, Ariel Sharon is in full control of government, parliament, party and people.
Last week saw new heights in the art of spin. Huge headlines in the press declared that Israel was near reaching peace agreements with Syria, Libya and Iran, that Sharon’s disengagement plan would mean dismantling some 60 settlements in the West Bank, even that Israel might be thinking of getting rid of its nuclear weapons. All nonsense, but all convenient for the prime minister.

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