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Unsubstantiated 'false flag' story exaggerates Israeli power

Mark Perry’s report on a false flag operation is not only unverifiable, it displays naivety about American foreign policy and bolsters the ludicrous thesis that Israel is the mastermind behind American Middle East belligerence.

By Rafael D. Frankel

The “false flag” operation conducted by the Mossad, as described by Mark Perry in an article published just after another assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist, is an affront to the United States if it is true. The Mossad certainly has no business posing as the CIA in order to recruit a Pakistan-based terrorist group to make hits on Iranian targets. But without one single on-the-record source for this reporting, Perry should not have written the article and Foreign Policy should not have published it.

Reputable media outlets insist on named sources because of accountability. Anonymous sources are accountable to no one. There is no consequence to unnamed sources getting facts wrong, telling half-truths, or outright lying. Anonymous sources can use the media for their own purposes as well. Perhaps one of the people quoted in Perry’s story has a personal axe to grind with the Mossad. Perhaps he or she is an opponent of going to war with Iran and feels that placing such a story in a prominent magazine will diminish those chances. There is no way to know his or her motivation for talking to the author of this article and therefore no way to confirm the veracity of the claims.

Especially regarding something as important as this false flag operation, the burden is on the reporter and the media outlet to substantiate the claim either with a paper trail or with on-the-record quotes. There is no point in having reputable media outlets if anyone who has written a book on a related topic can present “news” as fact even if the facts are non-corroborated. This is exactly the problem with so many blogs today that have become sources of news. Since they don’t operate with the same standards as traditional journalism, rumor and innuendo get treated as facts, are repeated ad infinitum, and eventually become part of the public narrative even if they are false. (To be clear, I am not implying that Foreign Policy generally engages in such behavior.)

In a recent interview with +972, Perry said he’d been working on this story for 18 months. If he was not able to come up with one person during all that time who would talk to him on the record (even someone who is now retired), or provide him with copies of the actual memos he references in the article, then there must be a reasonable doubt as to whether the story he is telling is mostly true.

Perry’s interview also smacked of naivety in his regard for American morals and standards of conduct in executing its foreign policy. He hopes that the United States is not responsible for the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists “because if we [the US] are, then we are a state sponsor of terrorism, and the ‘war on terrorism’ is a lie.” After Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition, and hundreds of “targeted killings” of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, during which hundreds of Pakistani and Afghani civilians have been killed, the United States (my country too) is already a state sponsor of terrorism according to Perry’s definition. Killing Iranian nuclear scientists would only be the expansion of an assassination policy the Obama Administration has implemented with cruel effectiveness.

Perry’s false flag story brings to the fore another disturbing trend beginning to emerge. In much the same manner as Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer blamed the Israel Lobby  for the Iraq War despite all evidence to the contrary, a segment of the anti-war establishment is once again propagating a false construct that paints Israel as the party mostly responsible for a coming war with Iran. In this narrative, Israel is either an all-powerful state that has the global dominance to dictate the foreign and security policy of the United States (and a host of other world powers as well), or it is acting on its own to provoke a war while a hapless and uninformed Obama Administration desperately tries to stop the crazy Jews from dragging the United States into a war it doesn’t want.

Both ideas are ludicrous. While the former paradigm presents a drastically exaggerated view of Israeli power, the latter robs the United States and others of any agency and responsibility for their own actions.

Hillary Clinton insisted that Washington did not have a hand in the latest assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. A high-ranking Israeli official insisted that the false flag story was “absolute nonsense.” Why should the American denial be any more believable than the Israeli denial? Even a cursory reading of US history reveals that American leaders routinely lie about their actions around the world, e.g. the Iraq War, Vietnam War, Iran-Contra Affair, etc., etc. There is no reason to expect that American leaders would have any compunction about concealing the truth this time around if it suited American interests. Nor is there any reason to discount that any number of other actors, including the Iranian regime itself, could be responsible for the latest killing.

Officials from Israel and the United States routinely state that they coordinate on multiple levels and to a degree that is unsurpassed by any other of their respective alliances. If the United States wanted to stop Israel from attacking Iran, there are a variety of means Washington has at its disposal to do so.

There is clearly a covert war being waged against Iran. Israel and the US are probably just two of many states who are targeting the Islamic Republic. If the US becomes involved in a war with Iran, it will not be because Israel forced it to, but rather because many actors across the world—not the least of which are the Obama Administration and the Iranian regime—made decisions that lead to that point. It should be possible to be against war with Iran while acknowledging that basic truth.

Rafael D. Frankel (@rafaeldfrankel) is a former Middle East and Southeast Asia Correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe, and The Chicago Tribune, among other news organizations. He is now a Ph.D. candidate at Georgetown University.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. directrob

      “… If the US becomes involved in a war with Iran, it will not be because Israel forced it to …”
      .
      So we have an unsubstantiated article and an unsubstantiated rebuttal. The rebuttal has more outrageous unsubstantiated claims than the Perry interview.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Hobbs77

      Of course the author of the rebuttal is no doubt Jewish and feels obligated to malign his own country in favor of Israel’s innocence…the fact is that it could have been Israel,the US or even Iran itself…

      Reply to Comment
    3. Rob

      I’m glad someone followed up on this, the idea that Israel is somehow grossly distorting America’s historically pristine, honorable and “Kum ba yah” flowers-and-teddy-bears foreign policy is laughable. If only Israel hadn’t forced Nixon into bombing Cambodia!! If anything, it has historically been Washington which has used Israel as a front with which to do some of its dirty work (and it has happily complied).

      This does not mean, however that the Mossad isn’t responsible, as it has a history of assassination programs. The only question is how complicit US intelligence was. It also seems to be true that Bibi Netanyahu has decided to do everything in his power to get Obama out of the Oval Office, so maybe he has decided to go a bit rogue on some things… He seems to have flown really off the handle, and it would probably be advantageous to everybody concerned to remove his hands from the levers of power.

      “Since they don’t operate with the same standards as traditional journalism, rumor and innuendo get treated as facts”
      - I don’t see how this doesn’t apply also to traditional news outlets like the NYT or any other establishment journalism organization. Mainstream media also lends itself to gross manipulation – look at all the bad reporting on Iran’s nuclear program, the massive propaganda build-up to the Iraq invasion, “Operation Mockingbird”, the bland, middle-of-the-road babbling of the Thomas Friedmans… “Anonymous officials” leaking information is ubiquitous in mainstream journalism too, esp. in the US.

      “There is clearly a covert war being waged against Iran. Israel and the US are probably just two of many states who are targeting the Islamic Republic.”
      - You could surely add Great Britain to this list.

      Reply to Comment
    4. CasandraPeel

      Haha – Of course there is “reasonable doubt whenever a story is leaked with unnamed sources. However, if Rafael Frankel’s article is to be taken seriously then she must name HER “senior Israeli government official” who denies the Mossad resoponsiblity. Israel has made no official denial! Perry would doubtfully disclose this information if there were no real source – and he sayds there re two – that the story has been collaberated and that memos exist to prove it. So, come whatever time period need to find the memos under freedom of information, we will see in the long run, won’t we? Meantime, remember that there was a huge distancing from the Mossad in 2009.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Amused

      Mr. Frankel is understandingly trying to deny reality.

      Mr. Perry is very well connected to the military establishment. Having said that, however, it’s also important to remember that this is a man who has a clear pro-Palestinian, just like Mr. Frankel has a clear pro-Israeli bias.

      But the only major lobby pushing America to war with Iran now is the Israel Lobby. Nothing and nobody even comes close.

      The brutal sanctions now put into place could easily lead to war, professor Robert Pape has gone through the history of sanctions against states and it’s exceptionally rare for them to work. In fact, the harsher they are the more likely the countries are to go to war.

      If there’s a war soon, Israel and it’s domestic lobby is guilty for about 80 %.
      The other 20 % is the spineless politicians in DC and the president afraid to stand up for his own country.

      Reply to Comment
    6. aristeides

      If the US becomes embroiled in a war with Iran following an Israeli attack, it will be because the Lobby forced it to with the control it exercises over the US Congress and politicians.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Rachel

      Some of the most important and groundbreaking American reporting has been done through anonymous sourcing. Deep throat was an anonymous source and I’m glad the Washington Post ran that story. Journalists often cannot name their sources and sometimes the information is easily corroborated and sometimes it’s not. The premise in the first half of this article would gut the fourth estate, to the detriment of the public. And all in the name of defending the indefensible (Israel).

      Reply to Comment
    8. Sol

      “Reputable media outlets insist on named sources because of accountability. Anonymous sources are accountable to no one.”

      Frankel, which “reputable media outlets”? Names please. And not just names, but specific factual instances of when said “reputable media outlets” published a story with named sources and declined to publish a story with anonymous sources.

      Facts, son, facts.

      And, please, don’t claim that The Jerusalem Post and The Wall Street Journal only use named sources. If you do, I’ll post five or 10 stories from each littered with anonymous sources in the past, oh, week.

      “Perhaps one of the people quoted in Perry’s story has a personal axe to grind with the Mossad. Perhaps he or she is an opponent of going to war with Iran and feels that placing such a story in a prominent magazine will diminish those chances. There is no way to know his or her motivation for talking to the author of this article and therefore no way to confirm the veracity of the claims.”

      This leads me to the question of “what’s in it for you?” Perhaps you’ll get more bylines at The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe, and The Chicago Tribune? Perhaps you’ll land a scholarship at Georgetown University? Perhaps you’ll get your thesis more readily approved? Perhaps there’s already a professorial chair, financed by the likes of Sheldon Adelson or Irv Moskowitz, with you name on it somewhere in the U.S. or Tel Aviv?

      Surely you didn’t write this out of the goodness of your heart. So I ask again, with all due respect, “what’s in it for you?”

      Reply to Comment
    9. Sol

      Don’t worry, Frankel. I know you won’t answer. Integrity’s not exactly your strongest suit.

      Reply to Comment
    10. As Max Blumenthal points out, Eric Lichtblau and James Risen won a Pulitzer for the following piece http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/politics/16program.html?pagewanted=all which also deals with intel matters and also contains not a single named source. So that argument is out. Also, the claim that Walt and Mearsheimer have been utterly refuted re: Iraq is rather exaggerated. Google the words “A bold strategy for securing the realm”. As rebuttals go, this is a rather weak one.

      Reply to Comment
    11. re:
      “the burden is on the reporter and the media outlet to substantiate the claim either with a paper trail or with on-the-record quotes.”

      It is worth noting that almost all major stories are with anonymous sources and confidential paper-trail. In fact, in the Anat Kamm case, it was the publication of the documents by Haaretz that exposed the source, and ended up with Anat being sentenced to a long prison term and the reporter facing prosecution himself. Perhaps this was the fate the author wished for Mr. Perry as well.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Rafael Frankel

      I’ve read the criticism of my article and I have one larger point to make and a few smaller ones.

      First, the large point…

      Having reported for some years from Gaza and the West Bank, I’m quite accustomed to taking heat from the right wing. I’ve been called a “self-hating Jew” and “anti-Israel” more times than I can count. So when I’m criticized from the left wing, I keep in mind what my journalism professor at UC Santa Cruz told me way back when: “When both sides hate your work, then you are doing a good job.”

      To some smaller points…

      Some have used the NY Times wiretap story to point out that newspapers use anonymous sources when reporting on intelligence matters. But they neglect to mention that when the NY Times took that story to the Bush Administration, the administration ADMITTED that it was true. That’s even better than getting an on-the-record source—that’s an outright admission. And that’s a huge difference from this case where all sides are making denials.

      I see how the fact that the Israeli denial was anonymous while the American denial came from Sec. of State Clinton is somewhat glaring given the content of my article. Perhaps I could have been more careful here. But the large point of that paragraph is that, given history, there is no reason to believe that either side is more believable than the other.

      Comments on my article accusing me of lacking integrity in reporting, or loyalty to the US, because I’m Jewish are just downright bigoted.

      Many people accused me of waging an ideological argument. I find nothing can be further from the truth. In no place in my article do I make a single ideological point. The article makes no case for or against war (covert or otherwise) against Iran; no case that Israeli or American actions are or are not justified; no judgment as to what extent the US should or should not support Israel; and no case that generally hawkish or dovish foreign policy is better than the other. The two main points I make are… (1) Given the sourcing, Perry’s article is weak. (2) That the US, like every other state, is responsible for its own actions. If you disagree with US policy, then pointing fingers at Israel, or anyone else, unjustifiably relieves the US of responsibility for its actions. Those two points I wholeheartedly stand by.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Itamar

      Perry’s article relies on anonymous sources, but as many here have mentioned, that is not necessarily something that weakens it, and the Israeli government has done many things against the interests of the United States in the last 60 years.

      But I completely agree with the author when she says that the idea that US foreign policy is dictated by the Israel Lobby is a crazy idea. Here’s an article by Noam Chomsky (another pro-Israel firebrand)

      http://www.zcommunications.org/the-israel-lobby-by-noam-chomsky

      Sometimes we forget that there are people other than powerful American Jews running around in Washington.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Sol

      Frankel,

      The above questions remained unanswered by you…

      “Perhaps one of the people quoted in Perry’s story has a personal axe to grind with the Mossad. Perhaps he or she is an opponent of going to war with Iran and feels that placing such a story in a prominent magazine will diminish those chances. There is no way to know his or her motivation for talking to the author of this article and therefore no way to confirm the veracity of the claims.”

      This leads me to the question of “what’s in it for you?” Perhaps you’ll get more bylines at The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe, and The Chicago Tribune? Perhaps you’ll land a scholarship at Georgetown University? Perhaps you’ll get your thesis more readily approved? Perhaps there’s already a professorial chair, financed by the likes of Sheldon Adelson or Irv Moskowitz, with you name on it somewhere in the U.S. or Tel Aviv?

      Surely you didn’t write this out of the goodness of your heart. So I ask again, with all due respect, “what’s in it for you?”

      Again, I respectfully ask, what’s in it for you, son?

      Reply to Comment
    15. Sol

      And Frankel, let’s not fall back on this hollow tripe yet again.

      “Comments on my article accusing me of lacking integrity in reporting, or loyalty to the US, because I’m Jewish are just downright bigoted.”

      The reader is left with seeing you as a self-described victim – not a responsible journalist and wannabe academic.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Surely you jest? Have you read any column or news story in Haaretz lately on even the most remotely sensitive subjects (& many not so sensitive)? How many do you know that quote named sources? In fact, how many quote any source at all?

      Have you read the NYT lately? Have you noted the huge number of stories lacking named sources? You might reasonably argue that in general the practice is a bad one. But to argue that in this particular case Perry’s story is suspect because it had no named sources is beyond ridiculous.

      In fact, if you read Perry’s story carefully, you’d note 2 specific names mentioned who likely were among Perry’s sources though he doesn’t name them as such.

      Lord, if you’re the quality of PhD that Georgetown is producing these days, God help us.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Gabe Abu Dan

      The so-called Israel Lobby did not push the US into war with Iraq. Full stop. President Bush and his administration — along with a complicit Congress — own the results of the decision to launch a campaign. No one forced them to do anything.
      However, even if you believe that tired trope, the ad hominem attacks do a disservice to those making them. Feel free to disagree with Rafi as much as you want on the substance. I know Rafi on both a professional and personal basis and I can testify that he has an enormous amount of integrity. He likes a spirited debate — we’ve had our fair share — but the name-calling is pretty juvenile and weakens your argument.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Kibbutznik

      Wow !!
      We have Richard Silverstein posting on here , what an honor , not .
      .
      ” Lord, if you’re the quality of PhD that Georgetown is producing these days, God help us.”
      .
      If you represent American progresives , God help us .
      .
      We Israelis are all racists according to you and you dont hesitate to publish material that could threaten our sons serving in elite units .
      .
      You dont speak for the Israeli Left Richard, you serve your own ego , not us .

      Reply to Comment

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