Former Mossad Chief: Leaking Hack of Gantz's Phone 'An Attack on Democracy'

Even if Iran really turns out to be responsible, it does not amount to more than an embarrassment, Tamir Pardo says

Yaniv Kubovich
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Benny Gantz attends a convention in Haifa, Israel, March 17, 2019.
Benny Gantz attends a convention in Haifa, Israel, March 17, 2019.Credit: AFP
Yaniv Kubovich

The that the cellphone of former army chief Benny Gantz, co-chairman of the Kahol Lavan political alliance, was hacked should be thoroughly investigated, former Mossad head Tamir Pardo said on Monday. 

"Use of classified intelligence for political purposes is a very serious matter," Pardo said at the Meir Dagan conference on security and strategy at the Netanya Academic College. "Leaking an incident of this sort at the height of an election campaign breaks all the rules of the democratic game. In my opinion it's a terror attack on the democratic game."

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Even if , it does not amount to more than an embarrassment, Pardo said. "Anybody who understands anything about cyber security knows that if somebody wants to do harm – illegitimately and unethically – they can disseminate fake, fabricated information – and go prove that it's wrong."

Israel's Channel 12 reported Thursday evening that Gantz was approached by two officials from Israel's Shin Ben security service five weeks ago, during the election campaign, and was informed that his private device was breached. The two told Gantz that the hack into one of his devices occurred around that time and that the Iranians are in possession of his phone's content.

Pardo criticized the efforts to cast aspersions on the involvement of the Shin Bet in the matter. "From my acquaintance with the head of the Shin Bet and the people engaged in cyber security, this is a team straight as an arrow," he said. "If the head of the Shin Bet had seen the incident to be a risk, even at the lowest level, he would have taken action to neutralize the risk."

He also said that if the reports on the matter had been accurate, "my friend Benny Gantz keeping the secret is totally understandable, as its exposure has necessarily caused intelligence damage of great significance."

Gantz held a special press conference on the matter on Friday, during which he stated that no compromising data was found on the phone breached by Iran. According to Gantz, the whole matter was "a political spin" meant to obscure Israel's real issues.

In a statement, Kahol Lavan said that Gantz's phone had no security information in it, no embarrassing videos and that he has never been blackmailed. 

Channel 12 that information from former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's computer and cell phone was purchased by Iran after hackers accessed the devices. Tehran did not hack the devices itself, according to sources who spoke with Channel 12. 

Nadav Argaman, the head of the Shin Bet security service, informed Barak of the breach several months ago, the report said. According to the sources, the breach was not a result of carelessness on the part of Barak and the stolen content did not contain embarrassing information. Barak and the Shin Bet declined to respond to the report. 

'Deep rift'

Also speaking at the conference Monday, former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin said that the current election season shows that factionalism has put Israel's national strength in peril. "There's the right, ostensibly strong, and the traitorous left undermining the State of Israel – this is no joking matter," Diskin said. "Once there were just a few statements of the sort but today it's become a deep rift… It is a very serious threat to the state, in my opinion."

According to Diskin, Israeli politics has split into messianic and anti-messianic camps, without "real politics of ideology, of principles, of values." The Kahol Lavan party run by Gantz and Yair Lapid brings nothing new, he said adding: "We're against Bibi, okay, what else do you suggest?"

Diskin did not rule out a future entry to politics but not, he said, in a "party of generals," referring to Kahol Lavan. "There should be people from a variegated range of sectors with ideology and values, who can put their egos aside," Diskin said.

Diskin described the arguments that arose when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and before him, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, told Israel's security chiefs (Shin Bet, Mossad and the army) to prepare for an attack on Iran. "Was the order legal or not? Could the system be primed for war this way?" After much shouting, the order was suspended, he said. "Bibi and Barak are people who wake up in the morning on one side, and you never know what they want and mean. I'm not sure they know what they want and mean."

Touching upon heightened tensions in the West Bank, Diskin projected that the situation there will reach an explosion because the Palestinians have lost hope. "One of the great accelerators of terrorism is when the other side loses hope," he said. "That is what brings people onto the streets and sends young men and women to go commit terror attacks."

Diskin also addressed TV presenter Rotem Sela's rebuttal to Cultural Minister Miri Regev, who said Gantz would form a coalition with Arab-majority parties. Sela wrote in response on social media that Israel is a country of all its citizens. "The desire among Israeli Arabs to integrate into the State of Israel is much greater than before," Diskin said. "I have no expectations that they will love us. I will settle for mutual respectful coexistence.

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