Israeli Defense Officials Warn Leaks on Iran Operations 'Will Blow Up in Our Faces'

Some officials fear that inter-agency battles for prestige and political motives are leading to the series of reports and could push Iran to a severe reaction

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran's Natanz nuclear facility last week.
This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran's Natanz nuclear facility last week.Credit: Planet Labs Inc. via AP
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

A recent series of reports attributing a number of attacks on Iranian targets to Israel has security officials concerned, as well as suspicious that there are political officials who want to exploit tensions with Iran for personal needs and competition for prestige among different security agencies.

The most recent reports, which quoted anonymous Israeli and U.S. officials as saying that Israel was behind an incident at Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, have made some officials worried that the problem could lead to an unwanted increase in security tensions.

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Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday that he asked the attorney general to look into security leaks after a high-risk operation made its way to foreign media a day before it was to be carried out. During a visit to an air base with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Gantz criticized “chatter” and “fairy tales about ‘officials in the West.’”

In private conversations, security officials recently said that the concern wasn’t over a specific report, but rather mainly over the volume of reports appearing during a period of high tensions with Iran. The Iranians could interpret these as provocations that must be given a response – something it would be in no hurry to do were it not for the reports.

“It doesn’t look good,” said a former senior defense official. “We’re in an era in which some senior defense officials are very weak vis-à-vis decision makers, while some heads of security agencies are treated differently and enjoy proximity to the prime minister,” the official told Haaretz.

“If you add to this the lack of government stability, the political deadlock and the tense relationship with the United States, it makes this period of time very difficult and worrisome.” Other sources in the security establishment said the situation looked like it had gotten out of control.

Many security officials have said in closed conversations that some of these reports are part of a struggle for prestige between security agencies and political officials who are trying to leverage security actions to their benefit. “This is a war over who gets credit that will blow up in our faces,” one security official said. “There are many issues that are more important than Iran, but there are those who think that it’s important to bring up the Iranian issue for reasons that are not necessarily operational.”

Benny Gantz during a visit to military headquarters with Lloyd Austin, yesterday.Credit: Moti Milrod

There have been times, the official added, when security agencies decided to leak a certain report as part of an influence campaign to send a message, but that this was different. “There has been no security cabinet discussion, no significant debate in a relevant security forum or a change in the policy of ambiguity around those events attributed to Israel, and so in every incident everyone does what’s good for themselves,” he said.

The official added that one concerning possibility was that some U.S. intelligence officials might be involved in some of the reports. “If these leaks are coming from U.S. intelligence officials, that is no less serious,” he said. “We work in close cooperation with the Americans on the most sensitive matters. If the Americans have changed their approach, we’ll need to get into a room with them today and hear why it’s happening and what it means. If they’re not coming from the Americans, then it’s a matter for investigation by the security agencies.”

During Gantz’s air base visit, senior Israeli security officials were asked whether the series of assaults recently attributed to Israel are in the context of talks between the U.S. and Iran about returning to the nuclear agreement, and whether the reports quoting U.S. intelligence officials are part of an attempt to moderate Israeli actions with regard to Iran.

“I’m less upset by the reports, a former senior intelligence official told Haaretz. “The more serious problem is a combination of a few things that could lead to serious harm to Israel’s security.” The former official said it was possible that U.S. officials could be behind the reports in order “to make clear to Israel that there’s a new landlord in the White House who wants to moderate Israeli military activity at this time.”

The former official added: “The reports were intended to send a clear message to Israel and are very convenient for various officials in security agencies and the political echelon and they’re in no hurry to give that up.”

During his air base visit on Monday, Gantz said “the issue of chatter” was damaging Israel’s security interests. “I don’t know about a specific person who is leaking information, but this must stop,” he said, adding that Israel’s policy of ambiguity when it comes to its clandestine actions abroad was being compromised. “There was no discussion of the policy of ambiguity. I think this is reckless behavior. If it stems from personal or political interests, that is extremely serious.”

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