Netanyahu zeros in, not on Iran, but on his own ministers, as high-level Israeli military-intelligence officials become increasingly concerned about Netanyahu’s behavior.
In the wake of a year of bitter recriminations between Netanyahu and several of his former top military and intelligence officials, most prominently ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan, a new report in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth claims that disagreement over Netanyahu’s policy of threatening to launch a war against Iran has split his administration as well. To the degree that Netanyahu’s war threats are primarily designed to maintain his personal hold on power, solidify his influence over Congress, and provide a cover for Israel’s policy of swallowing up Palestine, the public surfacing of a split within his administration may provoke Netanyahu to even more extremist public behavior.
The report, as summarized by BBC News, clearly implied that both Mossad and Shin Bet (the Israeli internal security organ) were counseling Netanyahu to employ sanctions “which had yet to be used” rather than launching a war. Former officials of both intelligence organizations have previously warned of the uncontrollable nature that such a war would have. It appears that concern over Netanyahu’s extremist foreign policy is rising among Israeli military-intelligence officials.
In April, recently retired Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin slammed Netanyahu’s professionalism with charges that must concern any Israeli patriot:
I don’t believe in either the prime minister or the defence minister. I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings. Believe me, I have observed them from up close … They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off.
They are misleading the public on the Iran issue. They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won’t have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race.” [The Guardian 4/28/12.]
On May 3, Defense Minister Barak condemned Diskin, as well as Dagan and former Israeli prime minister Olmert for their opposition to the Netanyahu-Barak policy of whipping up war fever, essentially accusing the three of being traitors. [Haaretz 5/3/12.] Olmert retorted that Barak would “surely disappear from politics soon,” a remark that may yet be haunting the defense minister. Accusing high-level officials with dissenting viewpoints of being traitors is a common tactic of leaders advocating hard-to-justify wars of aggression. In a further step toward a garrison state that would suppress democracy in the name of (an almost surely highly aggressive stance on) national security, Netanyahu is now reportedly considering polygraph tests for high officials to find out who may be leaking information about his Iran policy, thus effectively confirming the report of administration dissention. [Times of Israel 9/7/12.]
Bitter as this debate is, it appears in a sense to be only a tactical dispute among warmongers. No one in Tel Aviv or Washington with real influence is publicly advocating sincere negotiations based on a reasoned effort to define a positive-sum solution to the U.S./Israeli conflict with Iran, nor is there much sign in Tehran for such creativity. Tehran at least has the excuse that, as very much the weaker party and the only non-nuclear party to the squabble, it can hardly afford to be the first to back down, but its tactics nevertheless appear dangerous and poorly thought out. Tehran also has the excuse of having been cheated repeatedly by the West whenever it offered concessions, such as its help to the Bush/Cheney invasion of Afghanistan that brought it only a slap in the face when Bush termed Iran part of the “Axis of Evil.” Decision-makers in Washington and Tel Aviv seem intent on playing their strong hand for all it is worth, with little regard for the long-term impact. Whatever the excuses, no real peace party is in evidence anywhere, Netanyahu continues to whip up war fever, with U.S. Republicans playing into his hands in hopes of buttressing their electoral chances, and the Israeli military-intelligence opposition at least to Netanyahu’s tactics, if not his desire for a war at some point, is rising.
Rising concern within the Israeli intelligence community would be consistent with the hypothesis that Netanyahu is truly considering starting a war against Iran rather than just exploiting high tensions for political purposes. Or, perhaps he is playing his cards so close to his chest, in an effort to scare—if not the Iranians—at least pliable members of the U.S. Congress, that he his undermining support within his own increasingly worried administration. In the event, while Netanyahu is claiming that Israeli national security requires that he be able to govern in secrecy, at least one of his own ministers evidently feels that Israeli national security requires that Netanyahu’s behavior be exposed for judgment by the Israeli people. Meanwhile, Netanyahu, increasingly shrill and attacking former and current Israeli military-intelligence officials harder than he attacks Iran, appears unbalanced. And that should worry all of us.