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9 Jan, 2019 14:02

‘Don’t read Israeli media’: Kremlin jokes over rumors of meddling in Israel’s upcoming election

‘Don’t read Israeli media’: Kremlin jokes over rumors of meddling in Israel’s upcoming election

Israeli media outlets are awash with speculation that Moscow is preparing to meddle in April’s parliamentary election to help Benjamin Netanyahu stay in power. The Kremlin advised ignoring these reports.

The speculation was started by Nadav Argaman, the head of the Israeli domestic security agency Shin Bet, who said Monday that a foreign power is preparing to interfere with the snap parliamentary election scheduled in April. The warning came during an event hosted by Friends of Tel Aviv University, but the broadcast was partially redacted by the Israeli military censor.

“I can’t say at this point for whom or against whom” the intervention will be, “but it involves cyber[attacks] and hacking,” Argaman was quoted as saying. He added that he was “100% [certain] that [redacted foreign state] will intervene in the upcoming elections, and I know what I’m talking about, I just don’t know in whose favor.”

The speech was attended by a large crowd, which makes the effort of keeping the identity of the foreign nation secret seemingly pointless. Censorship-restrained Israeli media resorted to referring to accusations against Russia in the 2016 election in the US or a report by Israeli security firms on how Russia could interfere in Israel to fill in the gap.

Some Israeli politicians were more forthcoming in pointing the finger and also expressing certainty of who they expected Russian interference would benefit.

“We demand the security services make sure that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin doesn’t steal the elections for his friend, the tyrant Bibi,” Tamar Zandberg, head of the opposition left-wing Meretz party, said in a statement. “Bibi” is Benjamin Netanyahu, the right-wing Israeli prime minister, who is running for a fifth term while fighting off three separate corruption investigations.

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The Kremlin responded to the allegations on Wednesday, reiterating that it was not in the business of interfering with other nations’ elections. “Don’t read these Israeli media,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov joked, paraphrasing a famous quote by Mikhail Bulgakov, who suggested the same about Soviet newspapers.

Russia never interfered, is not interfering and does not intend to interfere in an election in any nation of the world.

The Israeli prime minister too commented on the unfolding scandal, reassuring the public that the country is prepared to defend itself against any cyberattack on the upcoming election. A similar statement came from Shin Bet after its chief made the remarks.

Netanyahu’s government decided to call for a snap election in late December, stating that it was necessary due to a debate over conscription of Orthodox Jews between the ruling coalition members.

The announcement came after Netanyahu lost the support of former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and his right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party. It left the ruling coalition with a razor-thin majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat legislature. The election is to take place on April 9, about eight months earlier than required by law.

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