Last summer Meir Dagan called an attack on Iran the stupidest idea he ever heard, but it was Friday's full-fledged assault by Dagan's close friend former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, that poured fuel on the fire of the Iranian issue. Since the end of his term as head of the Mossad last January, Dagan seems to have been on a self-ordained divine mission to stop the bombing, prompting him to say many harsh things. Until now though, Diskin, who shares those same views, had kept a low profile. The scathing and personal attack he unleashed against the two leaders was clearly planned ahead of time: When asked about Iran during his meeting with residents of Kfar Sava on Friday, Diskin promptly pulled out of his pocket a note on which he had written a Biblical verse.
The accusation that Netanyahu and Barak are tainted with messianism in their attitude toward the Iran issue is whispered every so often by senior officials in the security services. So is the claim that the two cannot be depended on to decide on such a sensitive issue. However, this is the first time that an official, who is not part of a rival political party, has used such wording in public. In doing so, Diskin is trying to undermine the very legitimacy of Netanyahu's and Barak's status as decision-makers on this question. Dagan has not yet gone that far.
As expected, Likud and Atzmaut ministers and MKs responded within hours with a counter-attack on Diskin, raising three central arguments: that's no way to talk; he should have made these remarks behind closed doors while in office; and after all, he was a poor Shin Bet chief. One may argue over style here (what do the luxury homes of Netanyahu and Barak, mentioned by Diskin, have to do with anything, anyhow? ). But Diskin in fact did present his opinion clearly before he retired. And with regard to his performance in that office, he was actually one of the better Shin Bet directors we have had in recent decades. They tried that kind of mud-slinging against Dagan at the time. We can expect that now, too, it will not be very successful.
What lit a fire under Diskin? The roots apparently lie in a dramatic meeting that took place less than two years ago, at which an alliance of top security officials - Dagan, Diskin and then-IDF Chief Gabi Ashkenazi - with the aid of minister Moshe Ya'alon, blocked decisive ideas laid out by Netanyahu and Barak. Diskin, who had been appointed by Ariel Sharon, derived no pleasure from working closely with either the prime minister or the defense minister. Tensions flared near the end of Diskin's term, when Netanyahu pushed him to become Dagan's successor as Mossad head, but changed his mind at the last minute. Then Netanyahu appointed Yoram Cohen to replace Diskin as Shin Bet head, over Diskin's opposition and to everyone's surprise.
One cannot ignore the timing of Diskin's attack. Last Wednesday, Haaretz published an Independence Day interview with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Alongside assurances that an IDF attack was "practical and possible," the IDF chief described the leadership in Tehran as "very rational," and expressed doubt that Iran would dare to complete its nuclear weapon. The American media, hungry for any moderate signs from Jerusalem, jumped on Gantz's words. Barak, who is trying at all costs, to preserve the image of an Israeli attack as a real threat, was quick to respond to Gantz's statement. In a detailed speech on Independence Day, Barak called the Ayatollah regime "not rational in the Western sense of the word," and reminded the crowd that the role of the IDF is to prepare operational options. A close reading of Barak's speech shows that like his other statements over the past year, the defense minister presents a set of detailed arguments in favor of an Israeli attack.
Diskin, in contrast, presented the viewpoint also supported by the Americans: there is no certainty that an Israeli attack will stop the Iranian nuclear project. Moreover, it might even push it forward, because following such an attack the leadership in Teheran would have the perfect pretext to return to the project, claiming that it needs it for self-defense.
The White House is now devoting most of its efforts to making sure that Israel does not attack Iran before U.S. elections in November. The assumption is that a war in the Gulf will immediately spark an oil crisis, raising prices for American consumers and may even cost the president the election.
In 2013, Washington will apparently listen more attentively to a discussion about a military attack by Israel or the United States, but it is too soon to tell.