חשיפה: השב”כ חושד שרוסיה היא שגרמה להקדמת הבחירות (כדי לסייע לנתניהו), בכך שלחצה על ליברמן להתפטר
A confidential Israeli security source tells me that the recent resignation of Avigdor Lieberman from the governing coalition was not motivated by his dissatisfaction with Israeli policy toward Gaza, as the former defense minister stated at the time. Rather, he was told to resign by Russian officials. The latter want to aid Bibi Netanyahu in his effort to retain power in upcoming elections. The sooner elections happen, the harder it may be for Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to pursue the four sets of corruption charges facing Netanyahu. Within weeks of Lieberman’s resignation, the prime minister did dissolve his government and call for new elections to be held in April. Now he is pressuring the AG not to announce any indictments until after the election. Doing so would guarantee he would remain in office, making it much harder to force his resignation.
The goal of both Bibi and the Russians was to use the Lieberman feint as a distraction which would divert from the real goal, which was to enable the Israeli leader to call new elections.
Israeli media today reported (Hebrew and Haaretz in English) a related story about a speech delivered yesterday by Shin Bet chief, Nadav Argaman. In it, he released a veritable bombshell: he expected a “foreign country” would attempt to sabotage the upcoming Israeli election. Military censorship prohibits Israeli media from reporting the identity of that nation, but my source confirmed that it is Russia. Putin’s goal is to help Netanyahu remain in power (more on this to follow below). Argaman said that the methods used would be cyber-hacking and other sorts of online attacks.
Meretz’s Party chair, Tamar Zandberg, tiptoed perilously close to the line of violating military censorship when she told a reporter: “We demand that the security services guarantee that Putin will not steal on behalf of his pal, the despot, Netanyahu.”
Given Russia’s role in our last elections, one can expect the exposure of personal secrets and compromising information about key Israeli leaders which would damage their election prospects. Another major target would be either the police, State prosecutor or especially, the attorney general. The divulgence of secret internal deliberations by the Israeli justice system on the Netanyahu case could have a major impact on discrediting both the legal process and any charges to be filed against the PM. There may also be personally compromising information on the key figures involved in the investigation. A second target might be Naftali Bennett, since he appears to be poised as the prime minister’s former chief of staff and most powerful rival currently. A similar social media campaign to the one the Russians orchestrated to deter Clinton voters from going to the polls, could be used to turn off voters intending to choose candidates and parties competing with Likud.
Given that Lieberman initiated the process of weakening the government, he might be a beneficiary. However, his Party currently does not appear to pose any serious threat to the Likud. He appears more of an errand boy delivering the goods for his Russian masters.
Lest anyone doubt Lieberman’s close relationship with Russian intelligence, I’ve written a number of stories revealing that the Shin Bet does not trust Lieberman, and that they refused to deliver briefings to him on highly sensitive matters. Many in the Israeli intelligence community believe he is a Russian asset, perhaps cultivated even before he emigrated from Moldova to Israel decades ago.
Speculating on Russia’s motivation offers several possibilities. More than any other country, Netanyahu has cultivated extremely close relations with the Russians. It seems that every six months he makes a pilgrimage to Moscow ostensibly to lobby for Russia to sever its ties to Iran and exert what control it could in order to restrain Iranian military interests in Syria. This tight relationship has largely (with a notable exception) kept the two major powers from direct conflict in that country, even though territorially their forces are in quite close proximity to each other.
Russia is loyal to its assets, and as long as Netanyahu retains power there is much he can offer Putin, and vice versa. Nonetheless, I don’t see any major change in relations between Israel and Russia if Netanyahu were to resign and be replaced by a rival like Bennett or any number of Likud proteges. They would all seek continuity in the relationship and probably not rock the boat.
The question most Israelis will ask is how did Russia engineer this interference in the Israeli political process? What did Bibi know and when did he know it? Certainly, the Israeli leader is smart enough not to have left his fingerprints on any of this. If there was collusion, an intermediary likely negotiated on his behalf. You might have thought Bibi would’ve exhausted all available intermediaries. Some are in prison, on their way to prison, or serving a state’s witnesses against him in his corruption cases. But there appear to be some he holds in reserve, who are still willing to do his bidding.
It is possible that the Shin Bet already possesses evidence of such collusion. Argaman’s semi-private talk may have been intended as a shot across Bibi’s bow, warning him that if the Russians do intervene they have evidence that would implicate him. That would be an excellent way to hold the Russians at bay.
What might the security service’s goal in releasing this information now? In a normal Israeli government the intelligence services generally, except in unusual circumstances, take the lead from the political leadership. There are of course some situations in which they have gone rogue and exceeded or ignored civilian control. But in this particular case, I speculate that the security agencies themselves are aghast at Netanyahu’s virulent attacks on their colleagues in the police and justice system (who they work with intensively on a continual basis). They likely believe that Netanyahu has exceeded all norms of conduct and worry that he could further erode the security system itself in service to his own survival. They are aware of the havoc the Russians wrought in the U.S. election system and refuse to permit this possibility for Israel.
Another important question: how did Shabak gain access to this intelligence information? There are two possibilities: SIGINT or human assets. The IDF’s Unit 8200 rivals the NSA in its technical prowess. It could either have directly spied on Russian cyber-intelligence; or it could have hacked into their computer systems. However, the Shin Bet is far better known for recruiting human agents and infiltrating foreign governments and intelligence agencies. It may be possible that it recruited a Russian cyber-hacker or that it recruited a double agent who is playing both sides against the middle as Boris Krasny did when he served ostensibly as a KGB agent in Israel, while in reality he was a Shin Bet agent who exposed one of the Russian’s highest-level Israeli agents.
For those whose memories go all the way back to 2016, you’ll recall charges that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian intelligence interests in releasing internal e-mails of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. In addition, cyber trolls working on behalf of the intelligence apparatus created thousands of fake social media profiles designed to gin up racial conflict and deter Democratic voters from going to the polls. It was a raging success. Most analysts and U.S. intelligence figures believe these combined efforts cost Clinton an election victory.
Israelis should learn from our disasters. It happened here. It could happen there. Heed Argaman’s warning before it’s too late.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.