The danger of so-called fake news appears to have reached a new dangerous high, when Pakistan’s defense minister responded to an Israeli fake news article which claimed that Israel would “destroy” Pakistan with a nuclear attack.
“Israeli def min (Defense Minister) threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak (Pakistani) role in Syria against Daesh. Israel forgets Pakistan is a nuclear state too,” Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, tweeted on Friday.
His tweet caused widespread confusion, with many users asking if it was a fake tweet, while others traded belittling comments about the nuclear and foreign policy intentions of both sides.
On Dec. 20, an article on the AWDnews website claimed that the former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon threatened to “destroy” Pakistan with a nuclear attack after Pakistan planned to “send ground troops to Syria as part of an international coalition to fight against Islamic State.”
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"As far as we are concerned, that is a threat, if, by misfortune, they arrive in Syria, we will know what to do, we will destroy them with a nuclear attack,” a fabricated quote attributed to Yaalon read.
On Saturday, the Israeli Ministry of Defense said that both the quote attributed to Yaalon, “was never said” and that the reports in the AWDNews article “are entirely false.”
The outlet is referred to as "a mostly right-wing conspiracy site with a preoccupation for world war," according to the Media bias/fact check website which monitors fake news sources.
As information circulated that the Pakistan minister was retaliating to a fake news story, a number of Twitter users blasted Asif, saying that as a minister his comments were reckless and irresponsible. Asif has not yet made any follow-up tweets.
Amid real historical tensions between India and Pakistan, in September, Asif had threatened to also use nuclear weapons against India.
Both Pakistan and Israel possess a relatively small nuclear arsenal, although Israel has never officially confirmed it. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, estimated in 2016 that the U.S., Russia, China, France, the U.K., India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea possess over 15,000 nuclear weapons.
Pakistan does not currently have any forces in the Syrian conflict, but has given its support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government forces.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump created controversy for his recent comments on nuclear proliferation. “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” he tweeted on Thursday.