Netanyahu Must Stop Silencing Intel Chiefs Who Find Iran Deal Acceptable

There are those in the Intelligence Corps whose views on the nuclear agreement are at odds with Netanyahu's position; their opinions are being kept from the public.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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PM Netanyahu. Views at variance with his about Iran have bubbled up in the IDF, but they have been silenced.
PM Netanyahu. Views at variance with his about Iran have bubbled up in the IDF, but they have been silenced.Credit: Mark Israel Salem
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

In the war between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama that is being waged at the whim of a single compulsive Israeli leader who is endangering the country’s population of eight million – the voices of those in charge of intelligence assessment have fallen silent.

The head of the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Corps, Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevy, and the chief of his research division, Brig. Gen. Eli Ben-Meir, are lying low like carp who don’t relish a future on a plate as gefilte fish. They are hushing up the voices of those in the Intelligence Corps, whose opinions the populace whom they have sworn to serve – and not the prime minister – must hear.

Halevy and Ben-Meir’s predecessors, Aviv Kochavi and Itai Brun, dared make their assessments public, but Halevy and Ben-Meir don’t want to get tripped up, don’t want to be proven wrong, making fools of themselves publicly or riling Benjamin Netanyahu.

The eternal catch phrase – about how Israel will never be caught unprepared as it was in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and how IDF personnel will no longer blindly follow their higher-ups – has suddenly fallen by the wayside.

These people are falling into line toward the right. Eating with their mouths closed, in unison. Hiding any disturbing thoughts.

They are emptying of any substance the pretensions of the Agranat Commission that investigated the failings of the Yom Kippur War, which put most of the responsibility on the shoulders of the intelligence services, to be redeemed by the top brass – as if they and not the people at the command and policy levels have been given the authority to decide and act — and then they disseminate the assessments and warnings so that in addition to the IDF, the Mossad espionage agency and the Foreign Ministry will also speak out.

Since Egypt was the initial instigator of the 1973 war, the inclination has been to measure local intelligence successes and failures using an Egyptian yardstick. However, the problems with intelligence assessment actually related not only, and perhaps not even primarily, to the Israel-Egyptian or Israeli-Arab sphere. It was and still is a subject involving Israel, the Arabs and the world powers, and above all it is a subject that falls within the Israeli-American realm.

When people at the political level conceal crucial information about the Jerusalem-Washington axis from those in the IDF Intelligence Corps who make the assessments, or perhaps themselves constitute an assessment problem – the process gets disrupted.

The old situation still prevails: Entities tasked with making strategic assessment that were set up decades ago (the IDF General Staff planning division, the National Security Council) are weak and mute. Netanyahu is currently not only the direct overlord of the Mossad, but also, in the absence of anyone else being formally appointed to the post, the foreign minister who has imposed a director general and a chief of staff on that ministry.

The professional echelons at the Mossad and the Foreign Ministry, as at the Shin Bet security service – whose experts are supposed to evaluate the impact of the Israeli-American conflict on the effort to impel the Palestinians to take diplomatic or violent courses of action – are emitting groans. All of them, including the head of the IDF Intelligence Corps, may be subordinates, but they must not be untrue to themselves. The price to the country is too high for that.

Three sets of factors are involved here: the balance in favor of or against the world powers' nuclear agreement with Iran; Israeli-American relations resulting from the ongoing Netanyahu-Obama confrontation; and the loss of intelligence assets — the daily bread of the Intelligence Corps — which Netanyahu is forgoing in his continuing effort to recruit Democrats in the Senate who may favor him over their president.

There are those in the Intelligence Corps, including those in the research division dealing with Iran, who have a very positive view of the nuclear agreement. Their views, at variance with the totally negative stance taken by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, have bubbled up to the level of Halevy, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and others, but there too they have been swallowed up as if they had never existed. Although this is not usually the case in the Intelligence Corps, as opposed to that regarding state secrets, these views are being concealed from the public. Where is the oversight department that is supposed to present contrarian views to the accepted wisdom?

The damage that has resulted to Israel and its ally, American Jewry, is there for all to see. But this is not the case when it comes to unprecedented openness with which raw intelligence materials gathered exclusively by the United States, whether from space or air or land or sea, is offered to Israel on the condition that it refrain from acting independently against the entire world.

Netanyahu is depriving Israel of this intelligence capacity. Even more serious, in the process, he and Ya’alon are transforming the Jewish state, as one senior U.S. military official told his Israeli intelligence colleague, from a friendly force into an enemy that requires intelligence monitoring of its own movements and decision making.

Netanyahu, who is afraid of the publication of intelligence assessments that contradict his own, wants to prevent the public and the U.S. Congress from seeing the cracks in the false facade of a unified Israeli front that opposes the agreement with Iran. Military officers who cooperate with this approach are in breach of their national duty.

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