The former head of Shin Bet minced no words. “I have no faith in the current leadership of the State of Israel, which is supposed to lead us in the event of a major event, such as a war with Iran or a regional war,” Yuval Diskin told a group of retired security officials on Friday, in a restaurant north of Tel Aviv. Diskin, who stepped down a year ago as head of Israel’s internal security apparatus, was apparently videotaped by at least one of the attendees and excerpts appeared in Israeli media over the weekend. “I have no faith in either the prime minister or the defense minister,” he added, referring to Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, respectively. “I am very mistrustful of a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic senses…. I’ve seen them from up close. They’re not messiahs, either of them, and they are not people whom I, on a personal level at least, trust to lead the State of Israel into an event of that scale and also to extricate Israel from it. I am very worried that they are not the people whom I truly would want to be at the helm when we set out on an endeavor of that sort.”
Diskin’s pronouncements were a bombshell in the Israeli media, coming after a string of similar public pronouncements from the previous chief of Mossad Meir Dagan, whose former agency is charged with doing overseas what Diskin’s does at home. Dagan, who left office last year, stopped short of Diskin’s indictments of the judgment of Netanyahu and Barak. But he has repeatedly called the duo’s threats to bomb Iran “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” The former spymaster, under whom Mossad carried out an ambitious espionage campaign against Tehran’s nuclear program, warned that a military strike would ignite a regional war that could go on for years.
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Like Dagan, Diskin said that a military strike likely wouldn’t stop Iran from getting The Bomb. “I object to the operational discussions that are held here as to how to attack, whether to attack, why to attack and how much to attack,” he told the retirees. ” A barking dog doesn’t bite, and I regret to say that I’ve been hearing too much barking in the State of Israel in that context. They’re creating a misrepresentation for the public here on the Iranian issue. They’re creating the sense that if the state of Israel doesn’t act then Iran will have a nuclear bomb—and this part of the sentence apparently contains a kernel of well-founded truth. But, the second part of the sentence, in which they appeal to, pardon the phrase, the ‘dumb public’—or the lay public would be more correct—and they say to it that if the State of Israel does act, there won’t be [an Iranian] nuclear bomb. And that is precisely the incorrect part of the sentence, or the misrepresentation in the sentence. A very large number of experts have been saying for a great many years that one of the results of an Israeli attack in Iran could be a dramatic acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program. In other words, that which the Iranians currently prefer to pursue slowly and quietly these days, they’ll have legitimacy to pursue quickly and within a far shorter period of time.”
Also in the background of Diskin’s broadside was last week’s interview by Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the Israeli military chief of staff who assessed the Iranian threat in terms pointedly calmer and more nuanced than his bosses. Gantz contradicted Netanyahu by calling the Iranian leadership “rational” and unlikely to try for a nuclear weapon. Calling for calm, he offered assurances that Israel is “a temperate state” that will make decisions “without hysteria.”
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Diskin did not limit his criticism of Netanyahu to the Prime Minister’s Iran policy and, indeed, to a world that historically sees Israel through the prism of its conflict with the Palestinians, more damage may have been done by the ex-Shin Bet chief’s assessment of the peace process. Diskin, whose portfolio included keeping Israelis safe from terror, blamed Netanyahu for the lack of progress toward a peace deal, saying the Prime Minister’s right-wing coalition prevents anything more than rhetorical support for negotiating a two-state solution with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.
“The state of Israel needs to aspire to a long-term arrangement on the basis of a two-state solution, with maximum security for the state of Israel in the long-term, but without any illusions about the finality of the conflict,” he said. “That is why I think that despite the fact that it is super complicated, every passing day makes the problem harder to solve. The fact that we’re not talking with the Palestinians—and guys, forget about all the stories they’re selling you in the media about how we want to talk but Abu Mazen doesn’t and so forth. I’m telling you, we’re not talking with the Palestinians because this government has no interest in talking with the Palestinians. I was there up until a year ago. I know from up close what is going on in that area. This government has no interest in talking with the Palestinians. It most certainly has no interest in resolving anything with the Palestinians. The prime minister knows that if he takes even the smallest step forward on this issue then the well-established rule of the prime minister in the State of Israel and his strong coalition will fall apart. It’s that simple. That is why no one here has any interest in resolving anything with the Palestinians, and that is the source of the Palestinians’ frustration—and incidentally, I’m not defending the Palestinians in the least. They have made their mistakes.”
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The Sunday papers all led with either Diskin’s remarks, or the return fire from supporters of Netanyahu and Barak, calling Diskin several variations on a disgruntled former employee. But both Diskin and Dagan left their government positions with high praise from all quarters, including from Netanyahu, with whom they met routinely. Along with the army, Shin Bet and Mossad are the agencies Israelis depend on to prevent crisis and preserve security, dealing efficiently with the kind of sensitive issues that cannot brook mismanagement. As analysts loyal to the prime minister scrambled to discredit another critic once praised as a consummate professional, Israel’s most prominent columnist, Nahum Barnea of Yedioth Ahronot, insisted the question of character is better directed at the prime minister himself. “The question… is not why Diskin but, rather, why Netanyahu? How has it happened that this man, who is currently at peak popularity, peak public respect, fails to earn even a smidgen of respect from the people who knew him best of all?”
Diskin’s remarks on peace talks, incidentally, echoed the view he offered a conference room of foreign reporters in late 2010, when he was still in charge of Shin Bet, known in English as General Security Service. “In order to keep the legitimacy of the Palestinian security forces we need real progress in the peace process,” Diskin said then. “Everything is connected to the progress we will have or we will not have in the peace process.” Ben-Dror Yemini, a conservative columnist for the daily Ma’ariv, called Diskin’s remarks a windfall for Abbas, especially on the heels of a statement one day earlier by Israeli president Shimon Peres that “Abu Mazen really wants peace with Israel.”