Across the Bay

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Schenker: Relying on Syrian Disinformation

David Schenker excoriates the Israeli press for their irresponsibly uncritical dissemination of Syrian info ops.

On October 21, the Israeli daily Jerusalem Post ran a story that Lebanese MP and Druze Community leader Walid Jumblatt would meet secretly in New York with Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak to discuss regime change in Damascus. That night, the story was reported by Israel’s InfoLive TV, and Haaretz carried the same tale a day later. With the exception of the Jerusalem Post, these Israeli sources all attributed the story to an article that appeared on October 21 the Syrian Government’s online propaganda outlet Champress.

Today, in what appears to be the last chapter of this circular reporting, Champress is now citing an Israeli website ( as confirmation of Jumblatt meetings with Israelis.

Amazingly, none of the Israeli media outlets mentioned that the Syrian press is government-controlled and operated, often unreliable, and typically used to discredit enemies of the Asad regime. Indeed, the Jerusalem Post merely described Champress as “a Syrian internet site.”

In giving the Champress story so much credibility, it appears that the Israeli press was somehow unaware that Jumblatt—a key leader in the Cedar Revolution that expelled Syria from Lebanon and advocates for an end to Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon—is public enemy number one in Syria. No doubt, the Israeli press missed the article earlier this year in Champress titled “Walid Jumblatt: Donkey of Mukhtara and Dog of [US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey] Feltman.”

The reliance on Champress as a credible source for a story that could carry important implications—in the case of Walid Jumblatt life or death—suggests a total lack of understanding of how the authoritarian state of Syria works. In Syria, media is a tool of state power. In this context, the Champress article was a Syrian-government attack on Jumblatt, who was visiting Washington, and making tough statements about Syrian assassinations of Lebanese parliamentary leaders. Israeli media outlets that recklessly carried this story only lent credibility to the Syrian attack.

Sadly, for those in Lebanon who advocate freedom and close relations with Washington, this latest episode will only confirm suspicions that Israel is backing the wrong side in the ongoing struggle for Lebanon’s independence.

I have written about Cham Press here and numerous times on this blog I have described the Syrian regime's information warfare tactics, and how their plants in the media often are related to ops. and assassinations.

As David notes, what they would do is plant the fabricated story, then when it gets picked up, they would quote it back to claim credibility. This is done potentially to set the stage for a certain operation or assassination.

The most egregious example of this info ops has been Sy Hersh, as I've explained here and here. There are others of course. And now Haaretz can claim that dubious honor.