Aluf Benn / In Israel, a Criminal Conviction Doesn't Mean an End to Political Favors

The cosy relationship between a minister awaiting sentence for perjury, the defense minister and the chief of the Mossad.

The following scene is completely imaginary: Mossad chief Meir Dagan appears before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to report on the Dubai assassination, which was attributed to Israel. He offers his explanation, the meeting ends, and Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi turns to him. "Meir, can you stay for a moment? I have to ask you something."

"What can I do for you, Tzachi?" Dagan asks.

Dagan, Hanegbi - Michal Fattal - Sept. 17, 2010
Michal Fattal

"Can you write a letter to the judges asking them not to add moral turpitude to the list of offenses?"

"No problem, Tzachi, whatever you want."

"Thanks, Meir. I'll see you next week at the meeting on the Mossad budget."

Sounds unlikely? Perhaps. But even if such an exchange did not literally take place, the outcome is the same. Dagan and the Mossad are under the authority of the committee headed by Hanegbi. The subcommittee for intelligence and secret services, which is subservient to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, approves the Mossad's budget and plans.

So while it is true that Hanegbi cannot of his own accord stop Mossad operations, cut funding to Dagan's office or cut his car allowance, he can pester the Mossad for explanations or initiate investigations that would embarrass the organization. He could even propose legislation to limit its freedom of movement. And when the Mossad gets into trouble, it's good to have politicians like Hanegbi around to protect it on the radio or during background briefings.

In this case, though, it was Hanegbi who got into trouble and Dagan wanted to save him from the moral turpitude charge that would end his political career.

Earlier this week, Dagan was in no hurry to supply the Turkel committee investigating the raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in late May - and only did so after the committee reprimanded him and released the reprimand to the press. Hanegbi, by contrast, needed no such pressure to obtain Dagan's recommendation letter. Now he owes the Mossad chief a favor.

Last year, Hanegbi published a booklet detailing the functions of the committee he heads. Among its powers, it states, is "to supervise and monitor the activities of the executive authority in a variety of areas of security, intelligence and foreign relations. The committee, both through its plenary and its subcommittees, thoroughly examines the conduct of all the security branches under the direction of the government: the army, the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad, the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Security Council. At the same time, the committee closely follows the actions of the Foreign Ministry, Israel's embassies throughout the world, and the Center for Political Research."

Hanegbi's booklet goes on to explain the regulations and orders the committee authorizes - from the drafting of the reserves to determining work procedures in the Shin Bet to setting the format for inscriptions on tombstones in military cemeteries. It also approves the budgets of the defense establishment (together with the Knesset Finance Committee ).

Three of the people under Hanegbi's supervision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Dagan, wrote to the judges in support of Hanegbi, stressing his positive qualities.

It is interesting to note those people under Hanegbi's supervision who did not write such letters: IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, Israel Atomic Energy Commission Director General Shaul Horev, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Yossi Gal, the director general of Hanegbi's ministry.

The letters from the senior officials demonstrate that Hanegbi is the same Tzachi from the Likud Central Committee, who knows how to do favors for friends and get favors in return. After all, this is precisely what got him into trouble in the political appointments affair. The letters also reveal the double standards at the top: Brig. Gen. Moshe Tamir and Brig. Gen. Imad Fares were dismissed from the army for giving false reports about car accidents, much less serious than the perjury and false swearing of which Hanegbi was convicted.

But for Barak and Netanyahu, perjury is no reason to stop advancement when it comes to a political colleague and a potential future coalition partner. In fact, they explained to the judges that Hanegbi has a great future in senior public posts.