Meir Dagan, Israel’s former spy chief, lashed back (Hebrew and shorter English version) against cabinet ministers who criticized him for attacking plans by Bibi Netanyahu to bomb Iran. Finance minister, Yuval Steinitz even called Dagan criminal who revealed military secrets, and should be charged with violating the law. There is a general notion in Israeli political and military circles that operational plans are sacrosanct and should not be discussed in order to alert an enemy to Israeli military plans.
But Dagan and the many media commentators who’ve debated the issue vigorously inside the country have felt the gravity and stakes were so high that convention should be cast aside in order to have a full-throated public debate.
Benny Begin and especially Yuval Steinitz, members of the senior ministerial committee which will vote on such an assault called Dagan’s behavior “disgusting” and a betrayal of Dagan’s duty as a former high government official. Begin said that the media debate encouraged by Dagan’s comments “truly sabotaged the decision-making ability of the government.” Translation: Dagan’s efforts have made it more difficult for us to attack Iran, dammit.
Dagan responded robustly saying:
I, revealed military secrets?? Let them come and charge me. Let them say: ‘Dagan broke the law.’ I will get myself a good lawyer and then we will talk about what the Treasury minister and his friends said in the matter of leaking secrets. And I have a good memory.
He attacked those who accused him of making Israeli operational plans public by saying:
The one who turned Iran into a central [public] issue was [not me, but] the prime minister and defense minister. They were the ones who said they were seriously contemplating the military option. That’s when everyone began talking about it. If they want to charge me–by all means.”
While Dagan is one of Israel’s typically cutthroat spooks, he gives as good as he gets in political combat and it’s great to have someone like this on our side for once. The truth is that the idea of attacking Iran wasn’t first brought up by the anti-war crowd or Dagan, but by Bibi and Barak, just as the Mossad chief said. If they want to charge anyone, let them look in the mirror first.
I think this huge internal dust-up is a healthy sign. It shows that the typical forced consensus in Israel regarding military-security matters is slowly breaking down. There is a very slow movement away from secrecy and opacity toward openness, or at least more openness. One shouldn’t overestimate this phenomenon because Israel still has a long way to go before it reaches the transparency of other western societies it emulates. But the fact that there is an internal debate going on, no matter how truncated is good. It will force the hawks to think twice, and I hope three times, before they commit Israeli lives and treasure to such an undertaking.
Here’s a perfect example of the old order gradually disintegrating under the pressure of a complex modern world:
“A public debate about this is nothing less than a scandal. I don’t think we’ve ever had anything like it.” Deputy Prime Minister and intelligence minister Dan Meridor told the Israeli newspaper Maariv. “The public elected a government to make decisions about things like this in secret. The public’s right to know does not include the debate about classified matters like this.”
Yes, in the old Soviet style system that governed Israeli security matters things could be kept buttoned down & closely-held by a few generals and politicians. But today, in a wired world in which there are a thousand ways to share and leak information, such a regime doesn’t work. Indeed, it shouldn’t. What political fossils like Meridor don’t understand is that the Israeli people may arguably have elected a government, but they didn’t elect it to take them into a potentially catastrophic war with Iran. And the public’s right to know and debate this issue is, in a real democracy, inviolable. It is only a further indication that Meridor can hold such anti-democratic views, that Israeli democracy is quite a stunted plant.