Israeli security and military commanders have criticised Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, accusing him of misleading the Israeli people on important policy issues.
“[Diskin’s] words represent his own opinion but the Israeli public overwhelmingly supports Netanyahu’s policies and history teaches us that the supreme leader is the elected leader not the more junior officials. So with all due respect to Diskin’s words, the public stands very strong behind every decision [Netanyahu] might make viz a viz Iran.“
– Naftali Bennett, a former Israeli chief of staff
Does this signal a rift between the prime minister and the country’s security establishment and how might it affect Netanyahu’s chances of re-election?
Yuval Diskin, the former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, has become the latest member of the country’s security establishment to openly criticise Netanyahu.
He said Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, his defence minister, should not be trusted to lead policy on Iran and that attacking the Islamic Republic might accelerate Iran’s nuclear programme.
“I don’t believe in either the prime minister or the defence minister,” Diskin said. “I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings.”
Diskin is not alone in his opposition to the prime minister.
In comments that contradict those of Netanyahu, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, Israel’s military chief of staff, told the Haaretz newspaper that he does not think Iran has already made a decision to build nuclear weapons.
“Iran is going step-by-step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb,” Gantz said. “It hasn’t decided yet whether to go the extra mile.”
Gantz added that he believes the Iranian leadership is composed of “very rational” people who will not take the risk of building a nuclear weapon.
Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s foreign intelligence service, Mossad, has also joined the fray, calling military action against Iran the “stupidest idea” he has ever heard.
“[Diskin] was closer to [Netanyahu and Barak] than anybody else and he was really the guy that knew everything. He was there until a year ago so you cannot dismiss any word he says and the headlines in the Israeli press show a division among decision makers ….”
– Daniel Ben Simon, a member of the Knesset
But, despite the many current and former high-level members of Israel’s security and military establishment making similar statements, Netanyahu continues to stick to his hard line.
On April 18, he said: “The truth is that a nuclear-armed Iran is an existential threat to the state of Israel. The truth is that a nuclear Iran is also a potential threat to other countries in the region and a serious threat to world peace. And the truth is that it is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is the duty of the world. But first of all, it’s our duty.”
Netanyahu’s domestic popularity has also suffered in the face of last year’s mass protests when more than 100,000 people took to the streets in protest against the state of their country.
So, is public opinion turning against Netanyahu? And do the mixed messages emerging from Tel Aviv reveal a growing rift between the country’s prime minister and its security and military establishment?
Inside Story, with presenter Teymoor Nabili, discusses with guests: Naftali Bennett, a former chief of staff to Binyamin Netanyahu; Daniel Ben Simon, a member of the Knesset; and Rami Khouri, the director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.
ISRAEL’S POLITICAL CLIMATE:
- Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, says he does not fear the prospect of early elections
- An Israeli poll published in the Jerusalem Post newspaper said Likud, the party Netanyahu leads, would still fall far short of securing a parliamentary majority if early elections were called and would once again be forced into a coalition
- But Netanyahu has said: “I won’t remain subject to extortion by coalition partners”
- The poll of 500 Jewish and Arab Israelis said that if Netanyahu brought forward a general election scheduled for October 2013, Likud would take 31 seats in the 120-seat legislature
- That tally would be well ahead of that of Labour and the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, one of Likud’s current coalition partners, which would each secure 15 seats
- The centrist opposition party Kadima, which is currently the largest party with 28 seats to Likud’s 27, would, according to the poll, shrink to 13 in early elections