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Privatised psi-ops

April 16, 2016 at 1:19 pm

A recurring theme of this column has been Israeli propaganda. More specifically, I have looked at some of the ways in which Israeli government entities, and Israeli corporations like to over-value and exaggerate their impact on the world and their effectiveness against their enemies.

In a way, one can understand why they do this. And there is nothing unique about it. All states and most combatants in wars engage in psychological operations against their enemies.

During the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, it seemed that every time the US and its allies engaged in a bombing we’d hear about a “top leader” in al-Qaida or other armed groups being offed. This even reached the stage where some armed enemies of the US have been declared dead more than once – a phenomenon the excellent American journalist Jeremy Scahill has written about many times. Clearly propaganda and exageration was at work in some of these cases.

Israeli psi-ops have taken some rather unique and disturbing forms, however.

A book by a former Israeli military intelligence officer which came out last year revealed for the first time how Israel had deliberately fostered and encouraged an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory for its own nefarious ends.

In an interview in the Israeli press to promote his book, Alpher gave away this particular scheme.

Of some of the anti-democratic regimes in the region he was seeking to forge ties with, he stated the following: “we knew that the issue of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion plays a very important role for them. To a certain degree even, we played that card, so they’d think we have immense influence over the world, and could manipulate US policy in their favour in particular. The Moroccans, the Iranians, the Turks, Idi Amin – they were all sure that one word from us would change Washington’s position towards them” (my emphasis).

In other words, Israeli spies and diplomats (despite propaganda claims to be the protectors of the Jews of the world) actively encouraged the dissemination of a notorious anti-Semitic fake for their own cynical power-political reasons.

To convince certain regimes it had powerful influence over the Americans, Israel actually encouraged belief in the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that the Jews control the world (as is reflected in the “Protocols,” a notorious Tsarist forgery).

So Israel overstated its power in this way, so that potential allies would be impressed and want to join forces, increasing Israel’s diplomatic standing in the world.

The Zionist state apparently had no scruples about the obvious implication that such a cynical manipulation would have the effect of increasing the amount of anti-Semitic hatred in the world.

Israel has a long history of exaggerating its power in the Arab world. When it works this strategy makes it seem to its enemies that it is unbeatable. One example from the Nakba (the 1947-48 Israeli ethnic cleansing of the majority of the Palestinian population from what would then become Israel) was the Deir Yassin massacre.

As bad at that mass murder of Palestinian civilians by Zionist militias was, the Zionist movement actually encouraged exaggerated casualty figures to circulate, knowing the result would be for more Palestinians to flee: thus emptying the land of Arabs – as was exactly the point of this racist movement.

A more recent potential example caught my eye this week – it is perhaps a kind of privatised psi-op.

A report in the Israeli press claimed last month that an Israeli company was helping the FBI to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooters. The FBI had been demanding that Apple create a backdoor which could have been used on many other iPhones in order to help them get around the phone security of the killers. Apple went to to court to resist this demand. In the event, the FBI got into the phone without creating such an insidious counter measure.

Critics had argued that the FBI could have found a way into the phones anyway if it had really wanted, without needing an Apple-created backdoor which could have potentially been used to defeat the encryption of perfectly innocent users. This was what happened in the event.

But it seems to me likely that it was Cellebrite itself – the Israeli “digital forensics” company in question, which leaked the original report to Ynet. The article cited only  “experts in the field familiar with the case”. They would have done so as a way to make themselves look big, important, in demand, formidable and bankable.

But another report this week, in The Washington Post, seemed to show this was not the case at all.

The Post (which does indeed have good FBI sources – far too good, critics like myself would argue) said it was in fact a “grey hat” hacker, contracted by the FBI, which used a “zero day” exploit to get into the killers’ phone – not the Israeli company.

If this report is accurate, it seems Cellebrite was buffing its own interests and, again, exaggerating its capabilities for its own propaganda ends – something with a history in Israel.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.