Analysis

Mystery Shrouds Dismissal of Israeli Missile Defense Chief

Yair Ramati’s humiliation doesn’t seem to be a result of American pressure. 'We felt that somebody was lying in wait to settle accounts,' a close friend says.

The Arrow 3 anti-ballistic missile being test-fired.
Defense Ministry

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was a heroic soldier. Today he is a cowardly civilian. From private to lieutenant general, Ya’alon risked his life in countless operations and battles and was injured. He was not deterred by the danger of death. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon fears Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Central Committee members and the members of the party.

In August last year, while the Israel Defense Forces, which had been sent by the government to Gaza, was fighting in Operation Protective Edge, Ya’alon was silent when a presentation for the security cabinet prepared by the IDF’s chief of operations, Maj. Gen. Yoav Har-Even – who was Ya’alon’s deputy when the latter was chief of staff – was broadcast on Channel 2. Only Har-Even, Ya’alon, then-IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Netanyahu had copies of the presentation. Ya’alon knew full well which of those men was the suspect in the scandalous leak of prime military information to every home and command post as far as Khan Yunis. Instead of demanding an investigation, he held back. Why should he get in trouble? In Likud, every such action is considered unforgiveable subversion.

That’s the way it is when it comes to those above Ya’alon. But when it comes to those below him, he is still the hero. “A serious field security breach was discovered recently,” the Defense Ministry mumbled on Sunday. This was not a presentation about conquering Gaza – that sort of leak doesn’t bother Ya’alon. The terrible offender was Yair Ramati, head of Israel’s missile defense program, whom Ya’alon determined “can no longer continue to fulfill his duties,” and that he is “ending his term.” As usual, the Defense Ministry wished success to the employee it had kicked out with the speed of an Arrow missile.

Ramati, one of the most brilliant and thorough members of the security establishment’s research and development team, is a world-class expert. Former deputy director general of Israel Aircraft Industries, Moshe Ortes, who was in charge of that firm’s missile and satellite program in the difficult period when Israel was exposed to Saddam Hussein’s Scuds, describes in his memoirs how the young engineer Ramati was selected to salvage essential development in a crisis. He did not hesitate to hold to his opinions in the face of more senior officials. He was usually right, which did not endear him to those who thought differently. Others enjoyed his eye-opening analyses without revealing secrets. Ramati is also a lieutenant colonel in the reserves and knows very well how to distinguish between deep intelligence and public data.

He may have been careless in securing information. Such a key figure should know that his name and role make him a leading objective of foreign intelligence services, whether to take material from his computer or in the hope of causing serious damage to government computers through it. Perhaps he should have been reprimanded, perhaps even called in for a respectful talk about retirement at a reasonable time, such as after four years in office. He is 61 years old, and he has many years of fruitful work ahead of him in technological and security bodies – if they don’t try to embarrass him and present him as the criminal of the century.

The story of Ramati’s dismissal is wrapped in mystery and even talk of conspiracy. Senior security officials spoke of Pentagon involvement. There have been U.S. administrations that have insisted on the dismissal of officers and officials who outsmarted laws and dictates, and after all, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency is the big sister of Homa, Israel’s missile program. A U.S. official said that, "This is an internal Israeli government matter. The U.S. had no role. The U.S. and Israeli Missile Defense agencies enjoy a close working relationship, which has helped assure the protection of Israeli citizens with highly effective missile defense systems such as Iron Dome."

Ramati’s humiliation is therefore not a result of external pressure. The missile program answers to the Defense Ministry’s weapons research and development administration. The head of that agency is Brig. Gen. Ophir Shoham, who is just as stubborn and knowledgeable as Ramati. Shoham changed and tightened the method of his agency’s oversight of Homa and other security administrations. Colleagues told him he should compartmentalize, but he dug in and clashed with Ramati.

Defense Ministry Director General Dan Harel, who hates appearances in the media, was angry over television interviews with Ramati — even when he discussed successful missile testing that enhanced the security establishment’s prestige. “We felt that somebody was lying in wait to settle accounts with Yair,” a close friend of Ramati said yesterday.

The Defense Ministry can report another success of an Israeli missile test. Yair Ramati has been launched homeward. Now Ya’alon will certainly have time to look for other perpetrators of security breaches around the cabinet table.