This isn’t the first time the public has heard about the suspicions and distrust that reigned between Benjamin Netanyahu and the defense chiefs in the dispute over whether to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. But it has now become clear, as reported by the investigative news program “Uvda,” that the prime minister’s distrust exceeded the reasonable in a democratic state, and that he asked the then-director of the Shin Bet security service, Yoram Cohen, to wiretap the phones of Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Mossad Director Tamir Pardo.
Though the program quoted sources in the Defense Ministry as saying that Cohen had disgustedly refused Netanyahu’s request, Cohen himself issued a denial. Yet from this statement’s wording, it emerges that there was something to the “Uvda” report.
“The media reports about the instructions the prime minister ostensibly gave me while I was still serving as Shin Bet chief – to wiretap the telephones of Chief of Staff Gantz and Mossad chief Pardo specifically – are incorrect,” Cohen wrote. He did not deny the entire story, merely the claim that Netanyahu ordered him to wiretap Gantz and Pardo specifically.
Netanyahu initially said the report was “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,” adding, “The decision on which means to use and against which people is in the hands of the authorized officials.” Later, on his Twitter account, he said he never ordered the wiretapping of Gantz and Pardo, and “this is an utter lie.”
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Netanyahu’s initial response implied that he wanted to prevent leaks on a sensitive issue. But wiretaps are an exceptionally invasive method that by law the prime minister is allowed to authorize only at the request of the head of a security agency, and only if he is convinced, after weighing the invasion of privacy, that this is necessary for reasons of national security.
But according to “Uvda,” Netanyahu is the one who requested the wiretaps, even though Gantz and Pardo weren’t suspected of anything. The Shin Bet isn’t supposed to employ such an extreme measure against the heads of other security agencies.
The impression one gets is that anyone who thinks differently from Netanyahu, and not just on security issues, is immediately suspected of sabotaging him, and in the prime minister’s view, all means of acting against such people are legitimate. After all, Netanyahu also frequently and irresponsibly throws out hints of “coups” and accusations that he’s being undermined by the police, the police commissioner and the judicial system.
Even worse, by his suspiciousness, Netanyahu creates friction and distrust among governmental and defense agencies, which in itself undermines national security. His paranoia and failure to distinguish between himself and the state are further evidence that his long tenure as prime minister has worn him down and he must vacate the office in favor of fresh faces.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.