Vocativ's ridiculous I.S.I.S. story fails to mention the company's deep links to Israeli intelligence

By Gary Brecher , written on July 16, 2014

From The News Desk

I’m sure you’ve heard the latest scare headline: “I.S.I.S. Has Now Infiltrated the Gaza Strip”!

Yes indeed, this is a huge breakthrough. You know why? Because it’s the stupidest, most fake headline involving I.S.I.S. in all the years that I.S.I.S. has been featuring in fake scare headlines. I’m about ready to suggest that everybody who doesn’t have a clue about the Middle East just STFU for the duration — but then, I do take a mean-hearted pleasure in working out on these dorks. So let’s get the workout started and bruise a few knuckles on the knuckleheads pushing this I.S.I.S. in Gaza scare.

The most obvious absurdity of the headline, for anyone who’s been following I.S.I.S., is the notion that they would ever want to “infiltrate” anything. , I.S.I.S. is a hype-monster, a publicity machine, way more interested in fund-raising and online profiles than military success.

So it’s about as likely to “infiltrate” Gaza as Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian are to show up incognito at a club, asking the paparazzi to respect their privacy. It just doesn’t happen that way.

I’ve talked about this in my last article, tracing the pattern I.S.I.S. established long ago in Syria, where every time they managed to take some insignificant hamlet in the desert, they announced a new “Emirate” and did the chicken dance like “Genghis, eat yer heart out!” Infiltrate? Please. These guys don’t do infiltration.

In fact, how did anyone find out that I.S.I.S. has a “presence” in Gaza at all? Because I.S.I.S. supporters have been staging demonstrations in Gaza, getting themselves photographed in the standard Syrian-jihadi outfit of ninja PJs and basketball shoes, with prop suicide vests and automatic rifles.

That’s not infiltration, that’s a protest vote by local hotheads who are upset that Hamas, the Gaza-based Islamist militia, hasn’t been aggressive enough in fighting the IDF. It’s an inevitable expression of frustration — and Gazans have plenty of reason to be frustrated, as they watch Hamas throw harmless backyard DIY rockets into Israel to be intercepted, or land on waste ground, and then see Israel responding with precision air-to-ground munitions that kill hundreds of Gazans. You’d be pissed off too if you lived in that miserable strip of dirty shoreline, and if you were one of the tens of thousands of young men watching your neighborhood blasted to rubble with no effective retaliation, you’d damn well think fondly of a group like I.S.I.S., which has a genius for making itself look more powerful and victorious than it’s ever really been.

So there’s nothing surprising, or secret, or significant about the fact that some Gazan kids have been expressing their rage against this one-sided war by waving the black flag of I.S.I.S., the one seemingly effective Sunni military force in the world at the moment.  It’s just the result of a very effective propaganda campaign I.S.I.S. has been conducting for years — and, as usual, I.S.I.S.’s best friends and secret allies in this campaign is none other than the propaganda wing of the Israeli Army itself.

Yes, I’ll say it plain: Israel and the Sunni jihadis in Syria are allies. If anybody had the sense to look carefully at how the IDF has reacted to the Syrian Civil War, god damn it, they’d have seen this years ago. Every time Israel has used its air power against any military force in Syria, it’s been against the Alawites and their Shia allies, Hezbollah. Especially Hezbollah. Never, never once, against these supposedly fearsome Sunni jihadis overrunning Syria. You know why? Because (a) they ain’t that fearsome, just a handful of undisciplined assholes; and (b) more importantly, by being undisciplined thug assholes, they make for wonderful Israeli propaganda, while also (c) bleeding Hezbollah and Assad, who are organized enough to really worry Israel in a way the grab-bag of Sunni militias never could. There’s no moral distinction between Assad and his Sunni enemies. Assad is a mass murderer many times over — but he happens to be an Iranian client and an ally of Hezbollah and those are the only two forces that really worry Israel.

There, that’s Syria for you in thirty seconds, as seen from Israel. If you want it confirmed, just look at a map — I don’t know why nobody ever looks hard at a map! Look at the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel. Look east, and notice that right under the heavy artillery of the IDF lie the lowlands occupied by Sunni jihadis — sitting ducks for air or art’y strikes — yet who have never once been hit by the IDF. All this time, as the IDF’s planes and tubes blasted Hezbollah every chance they got, they’ve looked down onto the plains east of Golan and gazed upon a patchwork quilt of Sunni thug militias with the fond eye of a poisoner watching his petri dishes of Ricin bubble and fizz.

Israeli military intelligence has a thousand and one uses for a group like I.S.I.S., and now that Gaza has exploded again, they’ve found a new way to use their little Sunni thug buddies: As a way to smear Hamas, a more serious, sane Sunni militia. And that — Jeez, I can’t believe I even have to explain this it’s so fucking obvious — that, friends, is why you’re getting all this “I.S.I.S. in Gaza!” crap.

There was a time when the IDF didn’t even have to justify its occasional kill sprees in Gaza. For most of my lifetime, and the lifetime of all Americans, Israel was always right, period. If Gazans threw rocks and got bullets, rubber or steel-jacketed, in response, the US headlines would read “Arabs Attack Israeli Security.” And if the casualties of that encounter were 12 dead Palestinian kids and an Israeli soldier with arthritis in his trigger finger, the first sentence of the news story would be, “An Israeli serviceman was injured today by Arab rioters.”

That began to change, very slowly, in the new millennium. The reasons for the shift are too complex for me to go through here; the point is that Israeli military PR can’t count on that kind of automatic indulgence these days, not even from the American press.

So they’ve had to become more creative, as nations at war always do. And that’s where I.S.I.S. has come in so very, very handy. I.S.I.S. is insane and reckless enough to slot nicely into the space in the Western press’s group mind labeled “Crazy Arabs with Guns.” That space used to be occupied by the Palestinians, until the world noticed that the Palestinians seemed to be doing a lot more takin’ it than dishin’ it out. They started to seem more pitiable than scary.

Ever since the world press — including, for the first time, the US press — had a collective retching fit at the images of mangled Palestinian kids produced by “Operation Cast Lead,” Israel’s 2009 attempt to make up for its 2006 wimp-out against Hezbollah by killing as many civilians as possible in Gaza, Israel has had to find new ways to scare the US public into accepting its latest raids on Gaza.

Imagine you’re an Israeli Army press officer, in charge of finding a new PR strategy; what do you do when you’ve got the urge to blast Gaza again, but want to avoid tapping into that “Palestinians as pitiable victims” meme going around?

Thanks to the dumb-ass thugs in I.S.I.S., it’s simple: You just replace “Palestinians” with “I.S.I.S.” Now you can tell the world press your F-16s aren’t blasting Palestinians — kids with faces and families — but eeeevul I.S.I.S. jihadis in black masks, kind of like two-legged viruses that somehow jumped across miles of desert from I.S.I.S.’s actual turf in eastern Syrian and Western Iraq to the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.

And voila! You can blast Gaza without upsetting your American backers, just like the good old days.

But maybe you feel like asking, “I don’t know, Brecher, aren’t you being a little paranoid here? Aren’t you just guessing about all this?” (see I’m doing the Little Bighorn thing here, fluttering around in a show of weakness in order to draw you into a misguided attack).

Nope. If the online news sites passing on this crap about I.S.I.S. had bothered to spend five friggin’ minutes researching the sources who fed them the nonsense about I.S.I.S. in Gaza, they’d have realized they were being fed a line by Gatestone Institute, which happens to be one of the oldest and sleaziest IDF PR outlets around. (And yeah, Inquistr, I’m talking to you here.)

These sites didn’t do anything as boring as check out their source. They just jumped like puppies at the I.S.I.S. angle, barely mentioning in passing that the original source was Gatestone. Gatestone’s story on I.S.I.S. in Gaza is the fountainhead of this flood of BS, the source of the whole fake meme.

And — what a surprise, huh? — Gatestone is a notorious Likud front, created and financed by a bigoted heiress named Nina Rosenwald:

Nina Rosenwald is founder of the Gatestone Institute—a New York-based offshoot of the neoconservative Hudson Institute—and an important funder of a panoply of right-wing "pro-Israel" and anti-Islamic organizations. Dubbed the "Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate" by journalist Max Blumenthal, Rosenwald is an heir to the Sears Roebuck fortune…

Rosenwald has helped funnel millions of dollars to rightwing "pro-Israel" causes. In its 2011 report on the U.S. "Islamophobia network," the Center for American Progress identified the Anchorage and Rosenwald foundations as key financial backers of anti-Islamic messaging in the United States… So there’s your source, a hate site that’s been funding scum like Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz for years. Gatestone even "rolled out the red carpet" for far-right Dutch loon Geert Wilders. I’m not one of the “Islam is always right” doormats, but these people are genuine, old-school bigots who just plain hate all Muslims. You should think twice, and then a few more times, before you take any story on faith from a source like that, even if the story is that the sun shines in the day time.

When you look at how the BS story of I.S.I.S. in Gaza spread from Gatestone to the online press, you see two lines: One, the sources like Inquistr who just seem gullible and hasty; and the other, more sinister one, consisting of sources that actually share Gateway’s very sleazy ties to the Israeli right and its propaganda wing.

The most interesting — not to say suspect—media outlet involved in this effort is something called Vocativ. What got me involved in this story in the first place is that my editor at PandoDaily got an email from a reader asking me to look into a Vocativ story headlined, "ISIS: We Are Operating in Gaza: The extremist terror organization is establishing a toehold inside Gaza, despite Hamas' claims to the contrary"

Notice the way Vocativ is pushing the idea that there’s something secret about I.S.I.S.’s franchise startup in Gaza, despite the fact that I.S.I.S. is as publicity-shy as Donald Trump? Vocativ’s whole article is full of absurd claims to have uncovered something hidden, thanks to its Sherlock-Holmes like skill in navigating “the Deep Web.”

Vocativ analysis of deep web chatter in ISIS forums suggests that the extremist Sunni organization, which has taken over roughly half of Iraq and threatens Assad in Syria, has ties with militant groups operating in Gaza.

This “Deep Web” stuff is Vocativ’s big selling point. Well, its official one anyway. Its real selling point, from what I can see, is a whole lotta photos and videos of nekkid ladies, always with some kind of nano-millimeter deep justification, like “Four Questions for Nude Artist Milo Moire” and “Naked Ambition: The Queen of Nudist Real Estate.”

Seriously, those are Vocativ headlines. And when you realize that Vocativ is also a mouthpiece for Israel’s armed forces, you have to stop and have a moment of silent appreciation for the sheer sleazy hilarity of this world. I mean, a site that’s half soft porn and half IDF press releases, with a side bet on a fake occult skill in Deep Web summoning…that’s just amazing. Darwin, baby, you made us an interesting world. Not a very nice one, maybe, but interesting as all Hell.

Vocativ’s claim to have uncovered I.S.I.S.’s Gaza presence via “chatter” on the “Deep Web” is nonsense, of course. Like I said, these are not shy people, I.S.I.S. Every time they do something, they publicize it til their throats are sore. If they run some poor guy off the road and fill his truck with bullets, they’re not gonna try to hide it, they’re gonna post the video all over the net and brag about it over and over like the mean kids you remember from ninth-grade PE.

If they manage to recruit a few teen hotheads in Gaza, they’re gonna get all ten of them dressed up in the team uniform and blast the group photo all over the world. So using the “Deep Web” to find I.S.I.S. in Gaza is a lot like the old Gary Larson cartoon of a Neanderthal sitting on a giant microscope looking into the fur of a huge hairy pachyderm and announcing like Mister Science, “It’s a mammoth.”

Except, when you’re talking about I.S.I.S. in Gaza, it’s more like a little mouse in a Mammoth suit. So why would Vocativ make such a fuss about this fake story? Well, a look at its staff and funding gives kind of an interesting answer. The first thing you notice about Vocativ when you look into its origins is the prevalence of the name “Kochavi.” Mati Kochavi is “the company's founder and primary financial backer

And Mati Kochavi also happens to be well connected to Israel’s very big and lucrative spying industry. From Haaretz:

Mati Kochavi, the Israeli businessman behind the Zurich-based AGT International, whose safety and security control systems are sold worldwide, as well as the Israel-based high-tech company Logic, came up with the idea of bringing together experienced American journalists, Israeli technology and intelligence analysts to generate original and genuinely exclusive content. His online news site,, launched last month...
As befitting someone coming from the field of computer systems and security services, Kochavi often hires analysts - he calls them “ninjas” with a background in Israeli intelligence. We met former Google analysts, people with multi-language fluency and people who served in the Israel Defense Forces’ signal intelligence unit, Unit 8200.
Kochavi is actually quite a lot like I.S.I.S. in his media strategy, bragging about his darker accomplishments instead of hiding them. He also seems to have found a place at Vocativ for every other Kochavi he knows; Vocativ’s story puffing I.S.I.S.’s role in Gaza was co-authored by one Adi Kochavi.

All those Kochavis! It’s a name I happen to know pretty well, because I naturally follow the career of General Aviv Kochavi, one of the most important strategic minds in the Middle East. General Kochavi has had an interesting career. He commanded the Gaza Division before being promoted to head of Military Intelligence.

Kochavi is a man who understands the importance of the world press in the sort of war being carried out in Gaza. In fact, he’s on record as saying the IDF’s most important battlefield is online:

Major General Aviv Kochavi, speaking at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, went on record as saying "cyber, in my modest opinion, will soon be revealed to be the biggest revolution in warfare, more than gunpowder and the utilization of air power in the last century."

And when General Kochavi talks about “cyber,” it’s naïve to think he only meant the stuff that hackers do. Cyber-warfare means controlling the online narrative and using it to keep the world press on your side, or at the very least, off your case, while you kill the people you want to kill. That’s a fact of war in the new millennium.

So, though I don’t know if Mati and Adi Kochavi are genetically related to General Aviv Kochavi (Pando contacted Vocativ for comment but had not received a response by press time. A later statement said there is "no connection" between Adi Kochavi and Gen Aviv Kochavi.) the IDF’s new cyber-intel boss, it seems pretty safe to say they’re his descendents in ideological terms. He runs IDF propaganda, and this ridiculous meme, “I.S.I.S. in Gaza,” has all the marks of an IDF experiment in finding a new solution to the old problem of maintaining press supremacy, with Vocativ as the new vehicle for experimentation. The weird cynicism of all those naked women mixed in with BS techie boasts about “Deep Web” occult skills makes for a perfect platform to mess with the heads of Western, and especially US, tech nerds, whose money and words have a wildly disproportionate influence in contemporary politics, and thus warfare.

So the I.S.I.S./Gaza meme turns out to have two parents: One, the dull, old-school Beltway “Institute,” Gatestone, pushing out the claim in its stolid way — and the other, the zippy little Vice-wannabe site Vocativ, drawing clicks with naked women and using tech-geek claims to occult Deep-Webbery, Harry-Potter style, to try out the IDF’s fallback position — that the harmless ol’ Palestinian groups are being replaced by a new, less-human I.S.I.S., much less sympathetic, much easier on the conscience when it’s time to bomb them.

Update II: Story updated to include quotes from Haaretz.

Update: A spokesperson for Vocativ sent Pando the following statement:

Your headline is incorrect -- Vocativ has no ties to intelligence, and nothing in your story demonstrates otherwise.

[Editor's note: Haaretz says "Kochavi often hires analysts - he calls them “ninjas” with a background in Israeli intelligence. We met former Google analysts, people with multi-language fluency and people who served in the Israel Defense Forces’ signal intelligence unit, Unit 8200."]

Brecher’s only “proof” is an insinuation that there’s a connection between Major General Aviv Kochavi and Vocativ founder Mati Kochavi — which there is not — and a comment made by a former employee from one of Mati's other companies, who left his employ seven ago — roughly four years before Vocativ was even an idea. Of course the Israelis Mati employs have military backgrounds, as all Israeli citizens must must serve in the military, other than ultra orthodox. A McDonald's in Tel Aviv has employees with military backgrounds.

It's also important to note that Vocativ is a NY-based company whose newsroom operates independently. Regarding Vocativ’s ISIS story, it clearly states that the information was found on open, official forums and social media – and with full transparency, included links to the sources in the piece. Using its deep web technology, Vocativ surfaced facts -- not an unhinged rant.

Lastly, nowhere did we use the word "infiltrate", per your erroneous and irresponsible headline.

[Editor's note: Our headline also doesn't use the word "infiltrate."] [illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]