On 7 August, The Seventh Eye, a website in Hebrew covering media issues published by the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent and nonpartisan research institute, reported:
Ha'aretz Removes Passage on PM's Threat To Use Warheads; Censor Refuses Comment
DNI Open Source Center
Thursday, August 9, 2012 T11:44:11Z
"A passage from an op-ed piece by Sefi Rachlevsky published this morning in the Ha'aretz newspaper is missing from the Ha'aretz website. The article, most of which is still available for reading, deals with the possibility that Israel will strike at Iran's nuclear program. The excised passage dealt with an incident that took place in 1998 when Binyamin Netanyahu was prime minister.On 7 August, the English-language website +972 run by leftist journalist No'am Sheizaf at http://972mag.com, added that the incident referred to in the removed paragraph "revealed for the first time a few details of a little-known incident from 1998."
"'In 1998' Rachlevsky wrote, 'when he was weakened by the no-fly zone policy imposed on Iraq by the United States and its allies, Saddam Husayn uttered an empty threat. In response, Netanyahu considered arming the Jericho missiles with warheads. An order of this kind had not been given even during the Yom Kippur War for fear of Israel's destruction. Three people then went to Netanyahu -- Ari'el Sharon, Refa'el Eytan, and Amnon Lipkin-Shahaq, who was then the IDF chief of staff. They told him to calm down, to take a tranquilizer and to forget it. There are things that even a prime minister must not do. Will one of the three this time be Baraq? I don't know.'
"Readers who noticed the omission reported it on social networking sites, quoted from the print version of the report, and even included a picture of the missing passage. Ha'aretz said in response that the newspaper does not discuss publicly its relationship with the censor. The military censor refused to comment."
Sheizaf quotes Dr Avner Cohen, who he calls "the unofficial historian of the Israeli nuclear program," as referring to the incident in his book The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel's Bargain With the Bomb. Sheizaf quotes Cohen as saying that "while Netanyahu's alleged order couldn't have been discussed in the Israeli media (due to censorship issues)," it "did lead Ze'ev Schiff, Ha'aretz's veteran military correspondent, to publish a very unusual op-ed, titled 'The Red Button Law.'"
Sheizaf continues: "Schiff proposed legislating a law that would place checks on Israel's nuclear decision-making system. Schiff revealed that in connection with the crisis two weeks earlier over Iraq's program of weapons of mass destruction, some Israelis were more worried about Israel's 'extreme and unbalanced' possible action than about Iraq's President Saddam Hussein's possible first strike.
"Schiff, who couldn't describe the issue at hand directly, wrote his piece in coded language, intended for the security establishment and not the average reader. Around the same time, another very well-connected Israeli journalist, Nahum Barne'a, also published an article in which he expressed concern over the judgment of the Israeli prime minister when it comes to weapons of mass destruction."