Former Shin Bet Chief Strikes at Netanyahu's Weakest Link

Yuval Diskin spelled it out – Israel's senior security establishment are in disagreement with Netanyahu and Barak over the handling of the Iranian issue.

Former Shin Bet Chief, Yuval Diskin could not have chosen a more strategic moment to make his targeted attack on Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak's Iranian policy - the day after the Independence Day festivities, on a slow-news Friday when it could be guaranteed to ricochet for the entire weekend. Diskin's broadside was not only a personal vote of no-confidence by the man who was in charge of Israelis' security for six years, it was also the crescendo of a symphony of dissident voices that began two weeks ago with President Shimon Peres' speech on Holocaust Memorial Day and continued with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz's interview last week. While Peres and Gantz, constrained by their official positions were much more subtle, Diskin spelled it out – Israel's senior security establishment are in disagreement with Netanyahu and Barak over the handling of the Iranian issue.

Diskin's criticism had two major parts, one professional the second personal. It was the second part that is most damaging to Netanyahu.

Yuval Diskin and Benjamin Netanyahu - Michal Fattal
Michal Fattal

"My major problem is that 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. I don't believe in either the prime minister or the defense minister. I don't believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings. They are two messianics – the one from Akirov or the Assuta project and the other from Gaza Street or Caesarea. 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. These are not people who I would want to have holding the wheel in such an event."

Diskin, who for over two years had regular weekly meetings with the prime minister, knows how his mind works. He saw how Netanyahu made major decisions, such as refusing a prisoner deal with Hamas for Gilad Shalit, and then accepting virtually the same deal, based on his own popularity ratings. He understands how public opinion is an integral part of Netanyahu's deliberations and therefore struck at his weakest link, the Israeli public's trust in the prime minister to make the right call on an Iranian strike. In this Netanyahu is different from his defense minister. Barak has scant regard for anyone else's opinion, certainly not the wide public's, and he knows he has very little chance of being re-elected to the Knesset. Netanyahu on the other hand will soon have to fight an election in which the Iranian threat can be expected to be a central plank. Until now, Netanyahu seemed to be ahead on Iran, presenting his strong stand to the public as the reason Iran has become a major cause for the international community and the Americans have announced damaging sanctions.

Surveys carried out over the last few months show that the Israeli public is still on the fence regarding a possible strike on Iran's nuclear installations. Only a third are currently in favor, with over a third undecided. I have written here recently that Netanyahu will have to convince them before giving the air-force orders to attack. That third could also dash Netanyahu's prospects of re-election if they feel he has misled them over the most crucial strategic challenge facing the nation.

Diskin, one of the most respected figures to have emerged from the security community and one as yet untainted by politics, has seriously undermined Netanyahu's position. No wonder the prime minister and his allies have been trying to stick personal motives to Diskin's criticism, claiming he is angry for not having been appointed head of the Mossad and that he now intends to enter the political arena. That may be true, both Kadima and Labor will certainly welcome Diskin to their ranks but so far Diskin has shown no sign of such ambitions. Unlike former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan who has been a continuous and vocal critic of Netanyahu, and whose attacks have lost some of their sting, Diskin's is a new voice to join the fray – he has been silent for the last twelve months since leaving the Shin Bet.

While it was less sensational and did not receive as much media attention, the first part of Diskin's Iranian critique is no less earth-shaking.

"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."

While it is true that many experts have expressed this opinion, this is the first time that a central figure who was so recently within the innermost security circles has said such a thing. The real implication of what Diskin is saying is that following an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear development centers, the regime would still have sufficient material and infrastructure to continue uranium enrichment and atomic research at an even greater pace. This is a dismal prognosis, much worse than those who have said that an Israeli strike will put back the Iranian nuclear program by only twelve months or so, and it should be heeded as much as Diskin's personal attack on Netanyahu and Barak.