Ex-Mossad Chief Says He Questioned Legality of Netanyahu's Order to Prepare Iran Strike

Tamir Pardo divulged info during TV interview, saying he consulted with previous Mossad chiefs, legal advisers about 'who is authorized to give the order to go to war'

Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Mossad and the military to prepare for an attack on Iran in 2011, a former spy chief has revealed. Tamir Pardo, the Mossad’s chief at the time, also disclosed on the Israeli investigative television show Uvda that after receiving the order he checked with top officials to see whether it was legal. 

According to the show, Netanyahu told Pardo and then chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz to prepare the military to be able to launch an attack on Iran within 15 days of being given the order to do so.

The interview with journalist Ilana Dayan is to be broadcast on Thursday.

Dayan wanted to know whether Pardo, who had assumed the post that year, really believed the attack would take place. “It’s not the sort of thing that you do just for practice,” the former Mossad chief replied, adding that there could be two reasons to order preparation for an attack — either to actually attack, or to send a signal to someone. “It’s possible the United States would find out about the order one way or another and would be impelled to take action.

“So, if the prime minister tells you to start the countdown, you understand he’s not playing games,” Pardo said.

Following Netanyahu’s order, the former Mossad chief began to look into whether the prime minister actually had the power to give such an order, which would likely lead to a war with Iran. Israeli law required the cabinet — or at least the security cabinet — to approve a decision to go to war.

“As far as you’re concerned, an attack in Iran is tantamount to deciding to go to war?” Dayan asked him, to which Pardo answered: “Absolutely.” The Mossad chief says he then consulted with former heads of Mossad, legal advisers and everyone else he could think of “to understand who is authorized to give the order to go to war.”

Netanyahu became aware of his inquiries at some stage, Pardo said.

He elaborated on why he felt it necessary to take these steps: If he gets an order from the prime minister, he’s supposed to carry it out; he has to be sure – especially if things go south – that it was legal.

Ultimately, facing resistance from both the head of Mossad and the army chief of staff, Netanyahu pulled back, but Pardo revealed that before that, he’d even considered the possibility of handing in his resignation. “When the political echelon gives an order, you have two options. You can carry it out or quit,” he told Dayan. “I’m glad I didn’t have to reach the point of making that decision, not that I didn’t think about it,” said Pardo who served as head of the Israeli intelligence agency from 2011 to 2016.

The attack never took place, in large part due to the resistance of Pardo and Gantz. Their predecessors, Meir Dagan and Gabi Ashkenazi, had also opposed a similar order to prepare for an attack on Iran, given in 2010 by Netanyahu and the defense minister at the time, Ehud Barak.

In 2012 Uvda revealed that in 2010 Netanyahu had ordered the defense establishment to move to “P-plus” alert status, which means, bracing for possible attack – but Dagan and Ashkenazi suspected that Netanyahu was trying to circumvent the decision-making system and opposed that too. According to Uvda, Dagan told Netanyahu and Barak: “You could be making an illegal decision to go to war. Only the cabinet has that power.”