|A different Jericho missile|
Rachlevsky is a controversial journalist who first made a name for himself with a best-selling investigative book in 1998 entitled Messiah's Donkey, which has never been translated into English. Written in the aftermath of the Rabin assassination and on the eve of Netanyahu's rise to power, the book was an examination of the messianic and racist doctrines of contemporary Israeli religious Judaism and painted an extremely dark portrait for the future of liberal democratic values in the Jewish state. In 2008 he published a second book in a similar vein entitled No Limit. As best I can determine, Rechlevsky became a regular columnist for Haaretz in 2011.
The main point of Rachlevsky's column yesterday was to argue that Netanyahu intends to run yet another Eseq ha-Bish by unilaterally attacking Iran in October of this year -- just weeks before the US presidential elections -- in order to hopefully draw the much more capable yet reluctant American military into an unavoidable attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
The logic is simple. According to Netanyahu and Barak, Israel has the military power to delay Iran's nuclear project by only one year. This is the up-to-date estimate based on operations research by the body in charge of the matter in Israel: the air force. There is no significance to a delay of that length. There is, however, a force that can stop the Iranian project militarily: the United States. The problem, Netanyahu says, is that the U.S. administration is not willing to do so.The solution is simple. A moment before the U.S. presidential elections, when Mitt Romney - the candidate of Netanyahu's patron, Sheldon Adelson - is breathing down Barack Obama's neck, and in the wake of the large number of casualties and the extensive damage that the Iranian response is likely to cause in the region and particularly in Israel, the American president will have no choice but to order his armed forces to join in the war.Netanyahu is gambling that if Obama does not do so, he will lose the elections. Then Romney will replace him and, as a token of gratitude, will complete the military work. And if the gamble fails? For that there is no backup plan.
Whatever the wisdom of Rechlevsky's editorial speculation (and I remain unpersuaded), there is a significant difference between the print version of the article and the e-version of the article. An entire paragraph from the Hebrew print version is absent from the online version, and therefore also from the English online version. This difference was (first?) noted by researcher Avner Cohen, author of two definitive academic studies of Israel's own nuclear program and policy and posted on his Facebook page.
Here is a translation of the missing paragraph:
In 1998, Saddam Hussein, weakened by the American no-flight zone, made one hollow threat. In response, [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu ordered to consider the arming of Jericho missiles. An order that wasn’t issued even during the  Yom Kippur War, under a fear of destruction. Three people went to Netanyahu: Ariel Sharon, [former Chief of Staff and minister] Rafael Eitan, and CoS Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. They told him to relax, take a pill, and forget about it. Some things even a prime minister shouldn’t do. Will [Ehud] Barak be one of the three this time around? I don’t know.
Online speculation has it that the military censor got wind of Rachlevsky's article in the print version, which had not been submitted to censorship review, and insisted that the online version not carry the paragraph. Haaretz, it is then speculated, complied with the order. The 7th Eye reports that neither the military censor nor Haaretz will comment on the article's treatment.
This of course raises the thorny issue of the Israeli military censorship regime. Aluf Benn, the current editor-in-chief of Haaretz, has in the past criticized the censorship regime regarding the nuclear question. There is a long history of combat between Israeli media and the military censor. Normally, it is the paper's responsibility to submit potentially offending news articles to the censor for review. Negotiations ensue, an administrative review might be held, but the censor's ruling is final. Occasionally a paper protests the censor's decision by publishing a blank paragraph or sentence to indicate to readers the hand of the censor. Sometimes an Israeli journalist will "pass" the item to a foreign journalist and get it printed with an overseas dateline. Foreign journalists who run afoul of the censorship regime (a very rare occurrence, insofar as foreign journalists rarely have access to truly sensitive information) have lost their press credentials and been required to leave the country.
It is safe to assume that Rachlevsky's op-ed piece was never submitted for review, insofar as the 1998 incident it recounts is a widely known "urban legend" that has been recounted in public many times. Yet the paragraph must have hit a nerve, as the debate over an attack on Iran has become more heated in recent weeks. One can imagine that there must have been a bit of an argument between Benn and the military censor Col. Sima Vaknin-Gil yesterday, but in the end Haaretz -- as it must according to the long-standing understanding between censorship authorities and the media -- relented. Not a great moment in the history of what many believe is "Israel's only 'quality' newspaper" and not a great moment for the military censor, who apparently demanded a change in an opinion piece before it was placed online. But the "missing" paragraph is nevertheless part of the public record, found in every paper copy of yesterday's edition, and on the internet for anyone who digs a bit.
So this entire episode raises a number of dark semi-secrets that touch upon Israel's plans for Iran, the nature of Israel's free press, and the competency of Netanyahu's judgment. You can draw your own conclusions.