Netanyahu draws fire in Israel over secret trip
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew the wrath of Israel's most influential newspapers on Thursday over what they described as lies issued by his office about a secret flight to Russia.
Netanyahu's first major media fiasco since taking office six months ago began with a simple question many Israelis, using their leader's nickname, asked on Monday: Where's Bibi?
Explaining why he had disappeared from public view for a day, a statement issued on Monday by the prime minister's office quoted his military attache as saying that Netanyahu had visited a security installation in Israel.
Israeli media reported he had toured a facility belonging to the Mossad intelligence agency.
But on Wednesday, Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Netanyahu had, in fact, flown secretly to Moscow to voice concern over the possible sale of Russian anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.
Keeping sensitive matters under wraps, newspaper commentators said, could be acceptable on grounds of national security.
But a false cover story? Israeli media, which have long abided by military censorship rules that force them to sit on security-related news, were outraged.
"Secrets and lies," complained identical headlines in Yedioth Ahronoth and its main competitor, the Maariv daily.
"Look what happened to the prime minister on the way to Russia -- his credibility, which was never high, was dealt a sharp blow," Maariv political commentator Ben Caspit wrote.
Even after the cover version was blown, a spokesman for Netanyahu, -- stopping short of denying the report -- said the earlier official explanation of his whereabouts still held.
In Moscow, Russian officials originally said no visit had taken place, a denial few in Israel were buying.
But on Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko appeared to take a more ambiguous line, telling reporters: "I am not saying yes or no, I am just saying I don't have any information."