Haaretz (Editorial)
April 18, 2011 - 12:00am

Isaac Herzog has rich intelligence experience. He was an officer in the intelligence-gathering department of Military Intelligence, and his father, Chaim Herzog, was in British intelligence and twice headed the Intelligence Corps in the Israel Defense Forces. Who more than Isaac Herzog could be expected to have internalized the hoary axiom of field security that once a word has been allowed to escape, it cannot be called back?

Thus we can understand the Labor MK's distress regarding his appearance in the diplomatic cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to the State Department, which were reported in Haaretz courtesy of WikiLeaks. To his great embarrassment, the documents reveal Herzog to be a reporter of public and personal moods, almost a political correspondent, for American ambassadors and other officials passing through Israel. Naively, Herzog was convinced that he was speaking to the U.S. representatives in secret. And they, as is the way of diplomats for whom cables home are part of their work, let the whole world in on their conversations with Herzog, thanks to WikiLeaks and its massive exposure of diplomatic documents.

Even more than the substance of Herzog's comments - about Ashkenazim and Moroccans, Amir Peretz and Shimon Peres (what didn't he talk about?) - what's surprising is that he was so willing to tell all to the Americans. This is nothing new. There are always politicians, generally not the most veteran ones, who enjoy the perceived prestige of these conversations. The documents that the Freedom of Information Act requires the U.S. government to make public after several decades, or sometimes less, have revealed the names of such politicians. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, for example, Gad Yaacobi - the late Knesset member who was close to Moshe Dayan - was one of them, and there were also others in the ruling party of the time, Alignment, who were cited in diplomatic cables.

Today the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv is of marginal importance in the big picture of bilateral diplomacy. Most of the communication takes place directly, between Israel's prime minister and defense minister and the White House, U.S. National Security Council and the U.S. secretaries of state and defense. But Israeli politicians have yet to fully recognize that the world has changed. And unless they want to hold such talks with their own witnesses in attendance, so they can document the Israeli version of what is said and whip out the records as soon as the conversation is duly leaked, Israeli politicians would do well to keep from chattering today if they don't want to have to issue denials tomorrow.


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