Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen have denied that Netanyahu asked cohen to listen to the telephone conversations of the heads of the army and Mossad when he headed the security service earlier this decade.
"I never asked [Cohen] to listen in on the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff or the head of the Mossad,” Netanyahu tweeted in Hebrew early Friday, following the report by investigative news program “Uvda” the evening before. “There’s no limit to the lies,” the prime minister added.
According to “Uvda,” Netanyahu asked Cohen, who headed the Shin Bet from 2011 to 2015, to listen to the conversations of senior officials including then-IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and then-Mossad chief Tamir Pardo early in Cohen’s tenure. The Prime Minister’s Office also denied the report, saying that “Netanyahu never asked to listen in on the chief of staff and the head of the Mossad. This is an utter lie.”
Cohen said he did not usually comment on the relationship between the Shin Bet chief and the prime minister, but said the media reports that Netanyahu instructed him to listen to Gantz’s and Pardo’s phone conversations specifically were incorrect.
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The head of the opposition in the Knesset, Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union), said that if the allegations are confirmed “they are of the utmost severity and should concern us all. I call for an urgent and immediate examination by the state comptroller to get to the bottom of this.”
Zionist Union chief Avi Gabbay said that a “prime minister who sends his Shin Bet chief to spy on his colleagues does not deserve to serve in such a high-ranking official position.” He called on Netanyahu to step down, saying his actions were tantamount to “decimating the sanctity of defense.”
MK Tzipi Livni, who heads Hatnuah, the junior partner to the Labor Party in the Zionist Union, said Netanyahu tried to “use means intended for our enemies against the IDF chief of staff and the head of Mossad.” According to Livni, this showed that “the combination of too many years in office, too much power and the labeling of everyone who thinks differently as a traitor is devastating.”
MK Avi Dichter (Likud), a former Shin Bet chief who now heads the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said: “I know this is a lie and Pardo knows it’s a lie. There’s no such thing as a prime minister asking the head of the Shin Bet to listen in on someone, because every tap is directly overseen by the attorney general and state prosecutor, and indirectly by the ministerial committee for the Shin Bet.”
As he put it, “More than that, someone has to actually do it – it's not the head of the Shin Bet putting on headphones. Any way you look at it doesn’t make sense. This is just a false report, there’s no two ways about it.”
The program quoted sources in the Defense Ministry who said Cohen was “rattled” by the request and rejected the highly unusual request.
Pardo told “Uvda” that “I do not want to believe that in Israel, which is a democratic state, the prime minister is asking the Shin Bet to tap the chief of staff or me.”
He added: “Wiretapping is the greatest possible [sign of] a lack of trust. I never asked to wiretap any of my employees in the Mossad. Never. It never even crossed my mind. In my view, that’s outside the rules of the game.”
According to Pardo, “this illustrates a lack of trust. It’s the worst possible thing. If I had known something like that, the right thing for me to do would be to stand up and say ‘this isn’t my game.’”
Pardo said he and Netanyahu met three times before his appointment for talks on the “continuum between loyalty and trustworthiness.”
“I told him: ‘I was the subordinate of your brother. Yoni chose me to be next to him more than once, but also the last time. He trusted me faithfully,” Pardo said, referring to Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed in the 1976 hostage rescue in Entebbe, Uganda.
When asked what Netanyahu said in response, Pardo said: “He didn’t answer, but he appointed me.” According to Pardo, the two discussed everything: “I had no problem having an in-depth conversation with him. He never cut me off.”
The Prime Minister’s Office told “Uvda”: “The claim that the prime minister asked the head of the Shin Bet to listen in on the chief of staff and the head of the Mossad is completely unfounded. This is a total distortion of systemic efforts made from time to time to maintain information security on sensitive issues of paramount importance to Israel’s security. The decision on which means to use and against which people is in the hands of the authorized officials.”
“Uvda” also reported that Netanyahu ordered the Mossad and the military to prepare for an attack on Iran in 2011. According to the program, Netanyahu told Pardo and Gantz to prepare the IDF to be able to launch an attack on Iran within 15 days of being given the order to do so.
“It’s not the sort of thing that you do just for practice,” Pardo told the program, adding that two reasons were possible to order a preparation for an attack — either to actually attack or to send a signal. “It’s possible the United States would find out about the order one way or another and would be forced to take action.”