Insider Info on Netanyahu's Office Shows Israel May Be in Untrustworthy Hands

Amid speculations on a strike on Iran, Israelis should pay close attention to what former National Security Adviser Uzi Arad is saying about the way his one-time boss is running the country.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Amir Oren
Amir Oren

The tale of the relationship between former National Security Adviser Uzi Arad and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is like a classic play, which starts off with a great love and ends tragically, but with an added twist: in this case, Julius Caesar stabs Brutus, only to declare that one should not "judge a man at his time of sorrow."

Arad, bleeding, returned some sharp jabs during a Yediot Aharonot interview with Shimon Shiffer and Nahum Barnea, along with some duller ones during an appearance in Channel 2's "Meet the Press," all aimed at the man who, until recently, was his object of admiration. Arad's personal problems, however, as enlightening as they may be regarding the conduct of Netanyahu, his wife and his bureau, pale in comparison to two essential points: decision-making on vital defense issues – topped by the possibility of a military strike of Iran – and investigations of leaks initiated by the prime minister and executed by the Shin Bet.

Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office, Feb. 22, 2012.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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Dr. Arad, an expert in international relations (though perhaps less so in understanding human relations) knew the gravity of his attack against Netanyahu ahead of the PM's meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. White House officials read every word coming out of Tel Aviv regarding these stirring contexts.

Netanyahu, still recovering from the ouster of his bureau chief Natan Eshel, now reeks, as far as his closest aides are concerned, of weakness and distrust. A few days ago, it was his military adviser, the cabinet secretary, and his spokesman; now, the former national security adviser, the most ardent of his followers. For 15 years, through the glory of power and the frozen dire straits, not only did Arad lay down on the fence for Netanyahu, he was that fence. And suddenly, it was as if his eyes were opened to see the bitter reality.

In the last few months Arad has been informing reporters, off-record, of his negative impressions, saving his "Uzi" volley for an appropriate time. It's possible that he wasn't in complete control of his public onslaught on Netanyahu; he would have rather waited another two months for the State Comptroller's report on the National Security Council, but he couldn't help the words coming out of his mouth.

Shiffer and Barnea quoted him, and he didn't deny it. Arad claimed, among other things, that "something is not right in the Prime Minister's Office," accusing Netanyahu of instructing his aides to lie to the state comptroller "since he believes the comptroller wants to destroy him."

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Arad isn't always an amicable man. He is mission-driven to the point of injury, even to his benefactors. In 1996, toward the end of his tenure as head of the Mossad's research department, he rounded up support for his appointment as the head of the Institute for National Security Studies. Those supporting Arad invested their personal prestige for him, and against others running for the job.

Military Secretary Yohanan Locker, Prime Minister Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Gantz.Credit: GPO

However, once they succeeded, they were informed that he was running for another position – that of national security adviser to newly appointed Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even though you couldn’t torture a good word on Netanyahu from them, they've never forgiven Arad.

Netanyahu and Arad earned their education in prestigious American schools in the 1970s, when Henry Kissinger was at the height of his powers as national security adviser to Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

The U.S. National Security Council was formed following the Second World War, alongside a multi-wing Department of Defense, a Central Intelligence Agency, and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, as a result of lessons learned from mistakes that led to American defeats in the war's earlier stages, such as Pearl Harbor.

Netanyahu and Arad both dreamed of creating a similar institution in Israel, while taking into account all the obvious differences between the two systems of governance. When Netanyahu arrived at the prime minister's office – the first to do so after being voted in personally – it was natural that Dr. Arad would hope to be his Dr. Kissinger.

That did not happen because strong political and institutional forces – mostly then Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai – opposed to the formation of a National Security Council (NSC). Only at the end of Netanyahu's first term, when Mordechai was fired and Moshe Arens, another disciple of the American school, was appointed defense minister, was the NSC put together, headed by former Israel Air Force head and then Defense Ministry Director General David Ivri.

Benjamin Netanyahu taking part in a ceremony commemorating 20 years since the passing of Menachem Begin. Credit: Mark Israel Salem

The celebration, however, was short-lived. Ehud Barak, a persistent opponent of the idea, beat Netanyahu in the elections, sent Ivri to Washington and emptied the council of any real influence. Even after Barak, Israel's prime ministers have by and large let it lie.

It was said of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that he told Ephraim Halevy, who was named NSC head after his tenure as Mossad chief, that, while he would love to know, now and then, what he felt about such issues as Qatar's funding of Sachnin's soccer field, he would largely manage, for, "after all, I know Arabs."

Equipped with that kind of knowledge, Sharon's government, and later that led by Ehud Olmert, found itself making a series of mistakes, which resulted in panels of investigation and various recommendations. In 2007, the head of military investigations in the State Comptroller's Office, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Orr, wrote of "an insufferable gap between the decision to form the council and what it does. The process of implementation seems weak to the point of an ongoing failure."

One of his colleagues singled out for criticism the involvement of the premier's military adviser, a Maj. Gen. in active duty, in roles which a cabinet's decision had stated belonged to the National Security Council. Objections to the activities of the military adviser were also heard from a member of Knesset who participated in a discussion of the State Control Committee, saying that the adviser "did not have the tools," and that "his shoulders weren't wide enough to bear the full load." That MK was Netanyahu.

The council, headed by the national security adviser, must "execute, follow, and lead the command aspects of national security issues for the prime minister," Netanyahu preached. "For instance, today that council should have convened every day with the relevant functionaries, the Mossad chief, or the head of the Atomic Energy Commission, or the IDF chief, or the heads of intelligence, to form a master plan to remove the Iranian threat, because that's a classic case in which you need a national security council, since you need a significant international effort, political work, hasbara [media] work, legal work. Such as, for example prosecuting [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad as a supporter of genocide, or, alternatively, bolstering deterrence. It has major economic consequences. Someone needs to coordinate that project and that isn't being done. Countless things need to be organized into a project. I don’t want to say a "Manhattan Project," but, yes."

Netanyahu got his wish. The National Security Command (NSC) – now a command, not a council – was anchored by law, and when Netanyahu was reelected he named Arad to head it. But at the same time, Barak, the NSC's enemy and a man who has Netanyahu's ear, was appointed defense minister.

Meanwhile Netanyahu allowed his military adviser Yohanan Locker to do in 2010 what a military adviser wasn't supposed to do, according to MK Netanyahu in 2007. Despite the fact that he is detached from any kind of mechanism – with only a colonel (Gilad Izen, the intelligence aide) and several soldiers at his disposal – and with a dependence on the good will of the security and intelligence agencies, Locker became the secretary of the "Forum of Eight," a group of ministers that lacks any real legal status but which determines policy on the heavy issues, such as Iran.

The personal issue would have been solved if Locker had retired from the IDF and was named the head of the NSC, as well as the head of the "Forum of Eight" and the Iran project, while a more junior officer, a brigadier general, served as a limited military adviser. \

That, however, didn't happen, but Netanyahu increasingly pushed Arad away after the latter refused to acquiesce to the politics at work in some of the government's highest places. In the Byzantine atmosphere of Netanyahu's office, Arad's lond-standing loyalty was of no value, while his insistence on obeying the law and cooperating with investigative and oversight officials was considered a betrayal of trust. With the whisper of vicious gossip, dripped into the most senior ear of all, with no ability to defend himself from it, a "super-tanker" because a super-schtinker [tattletale].

Arad is holding back, and still isn't saying everything he knows about Sara Netanyahu and her influence on the lives of Israelis. His testimony chilling: Israel under Netanyahu isn’t a police state, it's worse – a family state. And the Shin Bet, which answers to the prime minister and the director appointed by him (or who received a year's extension or who hopes for another senior position) is used as a malicious tool by those wishing to frame senior officials.

This is done since, among other reasons, when investigating leaks the Shin Bet never probes the prime minister himself, even with his longstanding expertise on the subject. Headed by Yoram Cohen, a Netanyahu appointment, the Shin Bet returned to its problematic ways, reminiscent of the period before the Rabin assassination, and has lost much of the prestige bestowed upon it by Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, and Yuval Diskin.

Netanyahu, it should be recalled, was the recipient of secret material – 1995's so-called "Strauber document" – and was responsible for the dissemination of its content during a speech to the Knesset, safe within his parliamentary immunity.

In 1998, then Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein decided not to open a police investigation against him for contacting a foreign citizen devoid of security clearance – American propagandist Arthur Finkelstein – after the failed Mossad assassination of Khlaed Meshal. Rubinstein's aide said there was a lack of evidence. However, the aide admitted that it was "possible" that classified security information was discussed in the consultation with Finkelstein. That same aide, Noam Sohlberg, will soon join Rubinstein in the Supreme Court.

The reprehensible attempt to eke out journalistic sources, worthy of the name "McCarthyism," entails the agreement of the attorney general, who does not always examine the motivations of those initiating such investigations. Mostly mere trifles are investigated, not worth the investigation's cost. In rare occasions of an essential justification supporting the probe, they should be handed to the police.

The investigations and intelligence department has proven it does not shy away from investigating prime ministers. Its current head, Yoav Sigalovich, is attributed with a willingness to investigate leaks only if all those exposed to the information, including the prime minister and his ministers, would be investigated.

Arad's proximity to the events and his reliability necessitates a professional investigation of his claims. They imply that Israel, on the verge of an adventurous war, is in untrustworthy hands. Those claims, coming from the prime minister's former aide, cannot be left out to dry.



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