When Fake News Is Real News

When a news source controlled by the government puts out information that may be false, it is, nevertheless real and significant news. Pravda’s report of the meeting between PM Netanyahu and Putin on August 23rd is a chilling example.

The August 25th Pravda report opens with, ‘Benjamin Netanyahu’s nightmare is coming true. The guards of the Islamic Revolution of Iran and Hezbollah fighters prepare to attack Israel by using Syria as a springboard. The Israeli Prime Minister shared the “terrible news” on August 23, 2017 during a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Sochi (the meeting lasted for almost 2.5 hours). Despite Netanyahu’s emotional state, the Russian leader remained calm. “Iran is Russia’s strategic ally in the Middle East,” Putin said. “But Israel is also an important partner for Russia in the region,” he added.’

Portraying Netanyahu as a quivering nincompoop may be fake news, but it only reinforces the real message. Iran is now Russia’s strategic ally in the Middle East and Israel will just have to live with the consequences. Pravda describes Iran’s expansionary plans in a favorable light stating, ‘While Netanyahu was feverishly describing the sinister scenario {Iranian expansionism}to Putin, the latter was sighing with sympathy, as if saying: “Unfortunately, we can not help you here.” The truth is that Tehran is the only counterbalance for Moscow to the powerful alliance of wealthy Arabian monarchies that try to establish an Arab analogue of NATO in the endeavor to impose Washington’s rules in the entire Middle East.

Therefore, the Kremlin is interested to further strengthen Tehran’s influence in the region. The question of accepting Iran into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has almost been resolved. It is Russia that advocates the early adoption of Iran at the SCO. When it happens, the fact itself will remove US plans for air strikes on the Iranian territory. Most likely, the Pentagon will not risk attacking a member of the SCO, where Russia and China, permanent members of the UN Security Council, act as locomotives. To crown it all, Iran has already purchased S-300 air defense systems from Russia and put them on operational duty.
Benjamin Netanyahu failed to convince Russian President Putin of the need “to stop Iran’s expansion in the Middle East.” Israel is a friendly country for Russia, but it is not up to Tel Aviv to teach the Kremlin how to structure Russia’s policy in the Middle East.

There were later denials by Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov that the tenor of the meeting was so harsh. But the real news is – Iran is in and Israel is out in the Kremlin. The personal invective against Netanyahu in the Pravda article is meant to drive that point home.

Israel is extremely dependent on US support – and unfortunately the US is not taking an active role in determining the future of Syria. With Russia’s support, the Iranian buildup in Syria is a major threat to Israel.

The Iranian problem is intimately connected to the N. Korean situation. If N. Korea continues its nuclear buildup and and harsh new sanctions are not imposed, you can be sure that Iran will take note and ignore any US threat of increased sanctions. If the Iran deal (JCPOA) is abrogated, an Iranian nuclear buildup would proceed very quickly as N. Korea is always a willing seller of weapons technology.

The N. Korean situation is complicated by Chinese fears of a N. Korean collapse – a likely result of a cutoff of fuel exports from China. One scenario of a collapse is an attempt by N. Koreans to flee to China. A second scenario is a united Korea, allied with the US, on China’s border. Neither scenario is acceptable to the Chinese government, although it has no love for Kim Jong Un. See the Washington Post September 4 article in the complete version of the newsletter.

Another example of the pervasiveness of fake news is Bibi’s latest tactic vis-a-vis the many allegations of corruption. By claiming that the media is trying to bring him down, he is trying to distract attention from the ongoing police investigations of corruption. As Gil Hoffman writes in the August 30 edition of the Jerusalem Post, ‘Netanyahu used US President Donald Trump’s term “fake news” and said “an industry of depression” was the best way to describe Israeli media. “They won’t defeat us at the polling stations,” Netanyahu said. “The public is sick of the press… and the public knows the truth” Netanyahu accused the media of not covering the criminal investigations of former prime minister Ehud Olmert as much as they have covered his. He slammed allegations against his wife, Sara, as false, referring to a probe into how she has handled the finances of the Prime Minister’s Residence.’

Bibi’s fake news is – the press trying to bring me down and destroy the Likud. But in fact, the press is reporting ongoing police investigations. That sells papers. It doesn’t matter what the press says or doesn’t say. It’s the decision of Attorney General Mandelblit (a Netanyahu appointee) whether or not to indict that matters. Bibi claims that the press was much easier on former PM Olmert than it is on him. He forgot to mention that Olmert was indicted and convicted – the claimed lack of press coverage didn’t matter. Bibi also claims that the allegations against his wife are false. AG Mandelblit is holding pre-indictment hearings. If she is indicted, will Bibi throw her under the bus?

An antidote to Bibi’s fake news is the statement by Benny Begin, a Likudnik whom I have long admired for his integrity. An August 31 article in the Times of Israel states, ‘Maverick Likud MK Benny Begin on Thursday derided what he described as a growing trend in his party in which members are expected to express personal loyalty to faction leader Benjamin Netanyahu. “I recently heard that among the Likud values ​​there is a new value called ‘loyalty to the leader.’ I hear this from the Likud leadership. I was not aware of such a value… I think it is a very grave development, and utterly ridiculous nonsense,”

With Bibi (1) talking about ‘fake news’ (2) expecting members of the Likud to express personal loyalty to him, and (3) being the subject of ongoing investigations, it’s getting hard to differentiate between Bibi and Donald. In all fairness, it should be noted that Bibi has a much better command of the English language than does Donald.

We have also included two articles on the planned referendum by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) which is the semi-autonomous administration of the Kurds in Northern Iraq, The referendum on an independent Kurdish state is scheduled for September 25 and will be binding according to the KRG. Anshel Pfeffer reports in Haaretz that the referendum is opposed by the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. According to the CIA factbook, there are 14.5 million ethnic Kurds in Turkey, 6 million in Iran, about 5 to 6 million in Iraq, and less than 2 million in Syria, which adds up to close to 28 million Kurds in Kurdistan and adjacent regions. Turkey, Iran and Syria fear that an independent Kurdistan breaking away Iraq would fan the flames of Kurdish independence in their countries. Russia backs Iran and the US is committed to the (implausible) policy of the territorial integrity of Iraq.

Israel takes a more favorable view of the referendum. Pfeffer writes, ‘There are a number of advantages for Israel in an independent Kurdistan. Its location astride Iran’s route to Syria and Lebanon is just the most obvious one. Kurdistan would be a headache not just for Iran, but for other potential rivals including Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Israeli businessmen are already welcome in Erbil, and the development needs of a new emerging and potentially pro-western nation would be worth billions. But Israel is loath at this point to do anything without coordination with the Americans.’

About the Author
Richard Chasman, 1934-2018, was a member of the Modern Orthodox community in Chicago. Professionally, he was a theoretical nuclear physicist. Richard, who described his perspective as "centrist," wrote a newsletter for more than 20 years called "Chovevai Tsion of Chicago," on subjects of interest to the Modern Orthodox community.