Members of the Orlando chapter of the Syrian American
Council attend a vigil honouring Steven Sotloff on the
campus of the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Israel says it prevented local media from reporting that
slain US journalist Steven Sotloff was also an Israeli citizen,
in a bid to reduce the risk to him after he was seized by
Islamist insurgents in Syria last year.
Islamic State, a militant group which has overrun large areas
of Syria and Iraq, released a video this week of Sotloff
being beheaded, calling the execution retaliation for US air
strikes. His Israeli dual nationality was made public after
the White House authenticated the footage.
Sotloff, who was Jewish, immigrated in 2005 to Israel. Its
government became aware "at an early stage" of his captivity
that he was Israeli, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said.
"The censors issued a gag order against reporting that he was
an Israeli citizen. We are also in close touch with the
United States on this entire matter, both ISIS (Islamic
State) and the journalist Sotloff," he told Israel's Channel
Israel's military censors are empowered to preemptively block
media stories deemed harmful to national security.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing foreign calls to
advance stalled peacemaking with the Palestinians after
Israel's seven-week Gaza war against Islamist Hamas, cast
Sotloff as an example of liberal Western values shared by the
Offering condolences to Sotloff's family during a speech in
honour of an Israeli police counter-terrorism unit, Netanyahu
said: "Steven was murdered because he represented, for these
murderous terrorists, a symbol of the West - that same
culture that radical Islam wants to eradicate."
He added: "I think there is the beginning of a certain
realisation, with many in the world understanding better than
in the past that the threats against Israel are the same as
the threats against them."
Lieberman sidestepped a question on whether Israel had tried
to rescue Sotloff, saying only that "there have been
attempts, both American and European, to free hostages. To my
regret these attempts did not succeed".
Under Israeli law, citizens who travel to enemy states such
as Syria with second passports are subject to prosecution on
their return. If they fall captive, the Israeli government is
not required to take action for their repatriation, experts
"I know of no protocol whereby Israel is compelled to get
involved in such instances," said Boaz Ganor, head of the
International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at IDC
Herzliya, a college near Tel Aviv where 31-year-old Sotloff
Ganor noted, however, that there could be case-by-case
exceptions such as Israel's 2004 release of Arab security
prisoners in exchange for Elhanan Tenenbaum, a retired
Israeli army colonel who was abducted by Lebanese Hezbollah
guerrillas while on an illegal trip to Dubai. The bodies of
three Israeli soldiers killed by Hezbollah were also
recovered in that deal.
A senior Israeli official briefed on intelligence affairs
told Reuters he had no knowledge of any effort by the
government to rescue Sotloff, who was kidnapped in Syria in
"But I do know that he shouldn't have gone to such places,"
said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Sotloff had contributed stories to several Israeli media
outlets, who said they had sought to suppress their
connection to him, and his Jewish identity, while he was held
Israel on Wednesday officially outlawed Islamic State in what
local television station Channel 2 said was a response to
Western intelligence reports that several Palestinians from
the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip had joined the
Lieberman said some among Israel's 20-percent Arab minority
had also shown solidarity with Islamic State.
"ISIS in not an immediate military threat on Israel, but
there is no doubt that the ISIS ideology is spreading, and
this is no less a dangerous matter. To my regret we have
already seen identification with ISIS and ISIS flags, both
within the State of Israel, in Arab Nazareth and in other
places," he said.