The past week has seen stinging rejections by former top officials of the war footing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have put Israel on with regards to Iran.
The harsh criticism, in which the pair was accused of “messianic feelings,” exposed deep misgivings about a potential Israeli military strike to stop Iranian progress toward a nuclear weapon.
“I have no faith in the current leadership, which must lead us in an event on the scale of war with Iran or a regional war,” said Yuval Diskin, the former head Israel’s domestic security service, Shin Bet, akin to the U.S. FBI.
“I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,” he said Friday. “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.”
Diskin’s comments were all the more notable because he left at the end of his term last May on good terms with the Israeli leadership and hasn’t spoken publicly since then.
His thoughts echoed earlier comments of Meir Dagan, the former head of the foreign intelligence service Mossad, who told “60 Minutes” that an Israeli attack on Iran would have “a devastating impact” on Israel and couldn’t stop an Iranian nuclear weapons program.
At a forum in New York on Sunday, Dagan said he agreed with his friend Diskin who “spoke his truth.” At the same conference Sunday, sponsored by The Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert wouldn’t comment on Diskin’s remarks, but said, “There is no reason at this time not to talk about a military effort…but definitely not to initiate an Israeli military strike.”
Netanyahu and Barak have long warned that Iran is intent on obtaining nuclear weapons. At a Holocaust Remembrance Day event on April 18, Netanyahu said Iran was “feverishly working to develop atomic weapons to achieve that goal [of destroying Israel].”
They have expressed doubt about the effectiveness of international nuclear talks with Iran in Baghdad next month and the harsh international sanctions imposed on Iran’s oil industry and financial system.
“The chances that such pressure will cause Iran to answer to international demands to halt its program permanently seems low,” Barak said last Thursday, Israel’s Independence Day. Both have also dismissed others’ talk – - including Dagan’s – of a rational Iran, with Netanyahu telling CNN recently he would not want to bet “the security of the world on Iran’s rational behavior.”
That interview came before the Netanyahu and Barak view of a looming Iranian nuclear bomb was further eroded when their military chief, who rarely gives interviews, said Iran is not only “very rational” but “hasn’t yet decided whether to go the extra mile.”
“I believe [Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei] would be making an enormous mistake, and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile,” Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told the Haaretz newspaper last Wednesday.
“Dagan and Diskin’s public condemnation of Netanyahu and Barak’s Iran narrative will mean that the Israeli public could from now on have more questions and less faith in the government’s official narrative on Iran,” Iranian-Israeli analyst Meir Javedanfar from Israel’s IDC Herzliya told ABC News. “This could reduce the probabilities of a unilateral attack as the current public warnings could translate into evidence against Barak and Netanyahu if things go wrong during an attack and they have to answer to a postwar commission.”
Diskin has stayed silent in the wake of his explosive comments, but Netanyahu and Barak allies soon sprang to the leaders’ defense, accusing Diskin of lashing out because he wasn’t named head of Mossad.
“Diskin is acting in a petty, irresponsible way, motivated by personal frustration,” Barak aides told Haaretz. “He’s harming a heritage of generations of Shin Bet heads, as well as the organization’s operational norms and values.”
“If those are his views he should have said them in appropriate circles while in office,” said Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz. “It’s clear that the timing and style of the comments is motivated by personal interests, not the issues at hand.”