Updated: Post’s Thomas Ricks Charges Israel Intentionally Leaving Hezbollah Rockets Intact

See update1 and update2 below.

A few days ago a CNN anchor leveled the outrageous charge that Israel had the ability to shoot down the Katyusha rockets that have been killing scores of its citizens, but had chosen not to do so. Now the Pentagon reporter for the Washington Post, Thomas Ricks, has gone one step further. Appearing on CNN’s media program, Reliable Sources, Ricks told viewers, and the astounded host Howard Kurtz, that Israel had intentionally left some Hezbollah launchers intact to ensure that there would be continued attacks against Israel. Here’s the clip; the passage from the transcript is below:



KURTZ: Tom Ricks, you’ve covered a number of military conflicts, including Iraq, as I just mentioned. Is civilian casualties increasingly going to be a major media issue? In conflicts where you don’t have two standing armies shooting at each other?

THOMAS RICKS, REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I think it will be. But I think civilian casualties are also part of the battlefield play for both sides here. One of the things that is going on, according to some U.S. military analysts, is that Israel purposely has left pockets of Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon, because as long as they’re being rocketed, they can continue to have a sort of moral equivalency in their operations in Lebanon.

KURTZ: Hold on, you’re suggesting that Israel has deliberately allowed Hezbollah to retain some of it’s fire power, essentially for PR purposes, because having Israeli civilians killed helps them in the public relations war here?

RICKS: Yes, that’s what military analysts have told me.

KURTZ: That’s an extraordinary testament to the notion that having people on your own side killed actually works to your benefit in that nobody wants to see your own citizens killed but it works to your benefit in terms of the battle of perceptions here.

RICKS: Exactly. It helps you with the moral high ground problem, because you know your operations in Lebanon are going to be killing civilians as well. (August 6, 2007)

One wonders who these “military analysts” are and why they have apparently not gone on the record. And why has Ricks so far not written the story in the Post? Can it be that his claims are too much even for the Washington Post to publish?

Whatever the reason, a reporter who thinks that Israel would intentionally allow Hezbollah’s Katyushas to rain down on Israeli civilians would believe anything about Israel, no matter how monstrous. And a reporter who believes that reserve Israeli soldiers would follow orders to not attack rockets that are aimed at their children and wives, and that these soldiers would not immediately go to the Israeli media with the story, is an idiot.

The fact is that Israeli soldiers are fighting and dying, going house to house in Lebanese villages that Hezbollah spent six years preparing as killing zones, to stop those rockets, while at the same time minimizing Lebanese civilian casualties. Hezbollah, on the other hand, has been reportedly forcing civilians to stay in the villages to create human shields. Mr. Ricks’ charge is therefore nothing short of obscene, and he should put up or shut up. Let him name his so called “military analysts,”and let him, as the Post‘s Pentagon correspondent, explain why their views are persuasive and credible. If he can’t or won’t, he should publicly retract his claim and apologize.

Update — August 9: Ricks can’t decide if his source is Israeli or American

Thomas Ricks has now offered a contradictory apology/retraction for his remarks on CNN. In a note to the Washington Post Ombudsman, Ricks wrote:

Ugh. I wish I hadn’t. I’ll attach a transcript at the end. What I said was accurate: that in an off-the-record conversation with military analysts, a couple had suggested that the Israeli strategy involved leaving Hezbellah ‘rocket pockets’ in place so as to shape public perceptions and give their forces more freedom of maneuver in Lebanon. Such a strategy might be considered logical and even moral, in that while suffering some short-term casualties, it would provide more protection for more Israelis in the long run.

But I’ve since heard from some smart, well-informed people that while such a strategy might be logical, that the Israeli public just wouldn’t stand for it. And they were pretty dismayed that I has passed on the thought.

My comments were based on a long conversation I had with a senior Israeli official a couple of years ago …


There is a serious problem with Mr. Ricks’ note to the Post ombudsman: on CNN’s Reliable Sources Mr. Ricks described his source as “some U.S. military analysts,” while in the note he describes his source as “a senior Israeli official.” Which raises the question of whether Mr. Ricks had any source at all – besides himself, that is.

Update 2 — August 17: Post Executive Editor Len Downie Weighs In

Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie has been sending the following response to people who complained to him about Thomas Ricks’ false anti-Israel charge:

I have made clear to Tom Ricks that he should not have made those statements.
Len Downie

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