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Much mirth and merriment is being generated by the Sudanese reports that an Israeli vulture has been carrying out espionage over Darfur. In reality, of course, the bird was fitted with a GPS tracker by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The same thing happened in Saudi Arabia last year, when a “griffon” was “arrested” for its role in a “Zionist plot”.This is just the latest in a long and bizarre list of examples of paranoia among Israel’s enemies.My personal favourite, which I have mentioned here once before, occurredin December 2010. A series of shark attacks in Egyptian waters, which led to one death and four injuries, caused the regional governor Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha to blame it on Israel.”The Mossad throwing the deadly shark in the sea to hit tourism in Egypt is not out of the question,” he said. In response, the Israeli foreign ministry made a statement that”the man must have seen Jaws one time too many.”
But this paranoia can have a more serious effect, stoking the flames of hatred of Israel in the Muslim world. Most damaging are the reports that reek of unfounded conspiracy theories, but not quite as obviously as those mentioned above. Last month, in a rather odd turn of events, Al-Masry Al-Youm, a leading Egyptian daily newspaper, ran a story accusing Zipi Livni, the former leader of Israel’s centrist Kadima party and a former Mossad agent, of having sex with the enemy in the 1980s in order to secure intelligence. The story, entitled “Livni: I had sex with Arabs in return for political concessions”, was the most read on the website, clocking up 20,000 shares on Facebook and over 1,800 tweets.
According to theTimes of Israel, the Egyptian story defied all journalistic conventions of newsworthiness in that it was based on a mysterious – and so far elusive – interview Livni is supposed to have given to the Times of London back in 2009. It quoted her as stating that she is “not against having sexual relations in order to obtain information that will benefit the State of Israel”. It omitted, however, to mention that she said had never been asked to “go to bed with someone for my country”.
The story is especially pernicious as it was not entirely without a modicum of truth. After all, the Israeli side is not without its own excesses of strangeness, albeit not on the same scale. The Egyptian newspaper referred to “research” carried out by the Zomet Institute – a non-profit, Orthodox “public research organisation” – which ruled that from the point of view of Jewish law, it would be permitted under certain circumstances for female Mossad agents to sleep with the enemy if this would protect many lives from terrorist atrocities. Although the Times of Israel seemed to pooh-pooh the story, it was in fact published in theJerusalem Postin 2010.
Rabbi Ari Shvat, who led the “study”, explained that there were many Biblical precedents for “honey-trap” strategies, including the story of Queen Esther sleeping with the Persian King Ahaseurus to save her people, and the seduction of Sisera, a Canaanite general, by a Hebrew girl called Yael, who later chopped off his head.
The Rabbi explained that according to Jewish law, women are passive partners during sex, and so seduction for intelligence purposes is permitted when lives are at stake. However, there are certain restrictions: although female Mossad agents do not need specific Rabbinical authority to seduce an enemy target, they must not commit such acts in public, and should not do so if they are known to be Israeli. According to Rabbi Shvat, seduction assignments should “be given to a woman who in any event is promiscuous”, and if she was married, the husband should divorce her beforehand, and they remarry her afterwards.
Nevertheless, as the saying goes, the Egyptian newspaper took the ball and ran with it. Although their story is unlikely to damage Livni’s popularity at home, it may easily do so abroad. Livni is one of Israel’s foremost moderate politicians and brightest hopes for peace, who has often criticised Netanyahu’s excesses; she is an ardent supporter of the two-state solution and has a long-standing reputation for integrity. Recently she has marked her return to frontline politics by forming a new party, Hatnuah. The future may see her becoming one of the main decision makers in Israel; the more her reputation is damaged by Egyptian paranoia, the more obstacles may litter the path to peace.