Others with more and longer background can correct me, but I can’t remember a time in Israeli history when a sitting prime minister was at war with the former Mossad and Shabak chiefs over plans to go to war against an Israeli enemy, and did so publicly. It’s simply unheard of, and violates so many conventions of Israeli political and intelligence discourse, I can’t begin to count. That’s what makes this scene so interesting. You’re watching the dissolution of old, opaque rules of discourse, hopefully to be replaced with a regimen that is more open, more transparent. When it comes to making war, Israel is a bit like the old Soviet Politburo. A few generals and intelligence figures agree with a prime minister and defense minister on a course of action and it happens. Just like that.
And of course, you’re watching a never before seen spectacle of a public debate among the lions of Israeli political and intelligence cultures about whether Israel should go to war. Hardly ever happened as far as I can recall.
The Kuwaiti paper, Al Jarida who, the Guardian says, has a history of publishing authoritative stories using high level Israeli sources, reports (Arabic and Hebrew here and the Guardian’s report here) that Bibi Netanyahu has demanded an investigation of leaks orchestrated by Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin designed to sabotage his plans to attack Iran. This will bring about the unlikely scenario of the current Shabak director, Yoram Cohen investigating his former boss and its most recent chief, Diskin, and the former Mossad chief as well. Again, I can’t ever recall something like this happening. They may’ve investigated a general or cabinet minister, but two intelligence chiefs at the same time?
Netanyahu is said to believe that the two, Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin, wanted to torpedo plans being drawn up by him and Ehud Barak, the defence minister, to hit Iranian nuclear sites. Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition Kadima party, is also said to have been persuaded to attack Netanyahu for “adventurism” and “gambling with Israel’s national interest”.
The paper suggested that the purpose of the leaks was to prevent an attack, which had moved from the stage of discussion to implementation. “Those who oppose the plan within the security establishment decided to leak it to the media and thwart the plan,” it said.
This development is at least partially in response to a dare flung down by Dagan yesterday in a speech he gave, in which he railed against Yuval Steinitz for calling him a criminal who leaked military secrets. Dagan dared anyone to prosecute him. This appears to be Bibi’s response. It’s gettin’ mighty interesting. Add to this that Haaretz reported yesterday that Ehud Barak had reporters in to his office to lobby them in favor of an Iran attack. If you’re going to investigate Dagan and Diskin, why not the sitting defense minister as well? The Iranian have to be sitting back and watching all this with great interest to see which of the Israeli Titans will be left standing in the ring at the end of the match.
It goes without saying that it is Diskin and Dagan who are doing a great service to Israel by forcing this issue out into the open. They know that if Israelis knew about what was at stake they might question the assumptions of their leaders about going to war. I can’t think of a higher calling in a democracy than that. Of course, the irony is that while they were intelligence chiefs their agenda involved repressing or criminalizing others who held the same or similar goals among the Israeli Palestinian population and even Israeli Jews. But what matters is less what they did in the past, and more what they do and believe now.
The Walla report linked above is interesting because the source speaking from the prime minister’s office makes the bogus claim that Dagan and Diskin leaked the information “in order to damage the prime minister and defense minister.” That’s trying to turn this fight into a grudge match. Whatever mutual hostility there may be between Dagan and Bibi, stopping a war goes far beyond getting back at someone for not extending your term (as Bibi did to Dagan). Further, Bibi has at least as much of a grudge against Dagan, since the latter dissuaded the senior ministerial committee last year from attacking Iran, according to Dagan’s account.
Walla also quotes “authoritative” Israeli security sources as saying that plans for an Iran attack passed from the planning to the operational stage. In other words, given approval by the political echelon, the strike was good to go. Which explains why the former security chiefs acted.
It’s also worthwhile noting that another Israeli media outlet reports that Netanyahu, when asked to comment on this story “didn’t deny it.” The Channel 2 news reported linked in the previous sentence notes that its source is the same one who leaked to the Kuwaiti paper and that the source is within the prime mininster’s office. I’m trying to figure out why Bibi would be leaking to a Kuwaiti newspaper. Why would he want a foreign, Arab news source to be reporting this?