Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Week - Ship of fools

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Media coverage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's press conference in Eilat publicising a hefty array of missiles, mortars and 400,000 rounds of ammunition found on the merchant ship Klos C allegedly shipped from Iran and headed for Gaza ran the gamut from indifference to downright contempt.

ABC Middle East correspondent Hayden Cooper introduced his video report (March 11) on the seizure with the line: "this is the deadly arsenal that Israel wants the world to see. Forty missiles, over two hundred mortar shells and one culprit in the eyes of Benjamin Netanyahu."

Maybe an independent expert might have been useful to clarify the claims that Iran was the source of the weapons and Gaza the destination? No - apparently only Netanyahu believes this in the ABC's view.

And just in case you missed the hint that the whole thing might well be nothing more than a contrivance, Cooper explained that "the timing is convenient for the Israeli leader. The ship was dragged into port just as Europe's Foreign Policy chief was making a momentous visit to Teheran, progressing talks to halt Iran's nuclear program."

Cooper stated that "Israel's prime minister is determined to wring every ounce of publicity he can from this weapons seizure" and concluded by saying "Israel is holding out as the West warms to the new Iranian regime."

I must have missed those gestures of peace Iran has made towards Israel buried in amongst the steady stream of denunciations and threats since the P5+1 signed the flawed interim nuclear deal with Teheran last November.

An earlier report on the seizure from Cooper on ABC Radio "AM" patronisingly described Netanyahu as "the proud Israeli Prime Minister...there to show them off, and prove a point" before adding that the timing was "auspicious".

Also sceptical but nowhere near as snarky was New York Times correspondent Isabel Kershner's (Australian Financial Review, March 12) description of the weapons on show as "a public relations spectacle" and their capture as "opportune".

But Kershner at least provided more detail of the weaponry, their concealment and the paperwork revealing the journey they took before being intercepted.

Elsewhere, John Lyons (Australian, March 12) quoted IDF spokesperson Peter Lerner dispelling any deliberate effort to time the interception with Netanyahu's recent visit to the US. Lerner explained the capture was "'based on operational considerations. We wanted to intercept it...before it reached Port Sudan'".

Lyons also noted that if the shipment had reached Gaza, "five million people, or 63 per cent of Israel's population" would have been potentially "within range" of the 40 surface-to-surface M-302 missiles.

SBS TV "World News" (March 11) ran a brief straight report, but Fairfax's three dailies, the Sydney Morning Herald, Age and Canberra Times, only reported the initial weapons seizure on March 7, ignoring Netanyahu's subsequent press conference.

Regrettably, what all the reports critically failed to note was the public acknowledgment from US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki that US defence officials not only knew of the ship's existence, but were intimately involved in formulating plans with Israel and other countries to capture the vessel.

- Allon Lee

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