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Israel handed US 'edited intelligence file' to justify bombing Gaza tower

Israel's internal intelligence had edited a dossier, stressing Hamas activity, to convince Americans that the bombing of al-Jalaa tower was necessary
The al-Jalaa building housing Middle East Eye, Associated Press and Al Jazeera media offices is hit by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, 15 May 2021 (Reuters)

Israel’s internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, reportedly edited and altered a dossier handed to officials in the United States to justify an air strike that knocked down al-Jalaa tower, which hosted several media agencies, in the besieged Gaza Strip in May.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed that the intelligence file was retroactively edited to show that the bombing of the building was "necessary," to review and close the gaps in the report and to stress that the Hamas movement used the tower as a jamming signal station. 

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Al-Jalaa building, which was used by media outlets including Middle East Eye, Al Jazeera and the Associated Press, was bombed on 15 May by Israel.

Reporters and media workers had fled the tower after being issued a one-hour notice by the Israeli army, which later destroyed the building.

The strike caused an uproar and prompted widespread condemnation.

At that time, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington had requested a “justification” for the bombing, adding that he had not seen evidence linking Hamas to the building.

Israel claimed Hamas movement had used al-Jalaa tower as a station to try to jam its Iron Dome missile defence system.

'Uncomfortable conversation'

According to Haaretz, former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave US President Joe Biden an altered intelligence report, which Israeli officials were concerned about, as it might "adversely affect the trust" between the two sides on defence and strategic issues.

The intelligence gathered by the Israeli military about al-Jalaa was viewed as not being "solid" justification by Israel. And so the Shin Bet edited the report, closing gaps and stressing Hamas activity and operations in the building, sources told Haaretz.

A report by the Israeli military was submitted to Blinken following the strike, and he reiterated that it proved the air strike was "necessary."

A phone call between Biden and Netanyahu, described as an "uncomfortable converstation" by Israeli officials, followed. Biden asked Israel for additional information about the reasons leading to bombing al-Jalaa. The Americans had received an additional report, which they did not comment on.

Last week, Israel claimed that it did not know that al-Jalaa tower had housed media offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera.

Media organisations working in Gaza had informed the Israeli military of their locations in May, at the beginning of the war

The Israeli military said it "only discovered" that during a "knock on the roof” - a military procedure in which Israel fires a small missile to warn the building residents and occupants to evacuate before bombing it.

However, media organisations working in Gaza had informed the Israeli military of their locations in May, at the beginning of the war. Haaretz reported that the army knew about the presence of media offices at al-Jalaa tower a few days before it was knocked down.

But this information was not shared with the military intelligence or Israel Air Force, creating poor coordination, according to Haaretz.

Israeli senior defence officials had warned of PR damage if an air strike on the building was carried out when it became clear to them, during an urgent meeting before the strike, that it housed international media agencies.

A senior official in the Israeli armed forces told Haaretz that they failed to "comprehend the consequences of the attack," even after it was done.

"They posted videos of the strike, before-and-after pictures,” the source said. “For an hour the whole world watched the building crumble in live coverage, and even that didn’t get the most senior figures to understand what Israel had got itself into.”

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