Joining the Circle of Doubt

Uzi Arad's credibility suggests that his claims against Benjamin Netanyahu must be properly investigated. Especially when Israel is on the brink of a military adventure

The tale of Uzi Arad's relations with Benjamin Netanyahu is a classic drama featuring both love and a tragic ending, but also a twist: In this drama, Julius Caesar stabs Brutus, but then pleads for mercy for his victim. Arad, bleeding, took his revenge at the end of last week, lashing out against Netanyahu, whom he had long admired. The stabbing was carried out during an interview by Yedioth Ahronoth's Shimon Shiffer and Nahum Barnea; Arad also appeared on Channel 2's "Meet the Press" weekend program.

Yet, fascinating as the former national security adviser's attempt was to enlighten the public about the darker side of the lives of Netanyahu, his wife Sara and aides in the Prime Minister's Office - such musings are of little import compared to the two major issues raised by Arad's disclosures: with respect to the decision-making process related to crucial security issues, particularly a possible future military raid against Iran, and to investigation of leaks initiated by prime ministers and carried out by the Shin Bet security service.

Dr. Arad is an expert in international relations, though not necessarily an authority on interpersonal relations. There is no doubt that he fully grasped the meaning of launching a public attack on Netanyahu shortly before the prime minister's meeting with President Barack Obama. Aides in the White House read all reports emanating from Tel Aviv that relate to controversial topics such as Iran, not to mention Netanyahu. Before he had time to recover from fallout left by the removal of his bureau chief, Natan Eshel, Netanyahu was dealt this blow by Arad. It is something that reeks of weakness and a lack of trust, as described by Arad - formerly one of Netanyahu's closest confidantes. Before Friday, this lack of confidence had tainted Netanyahu's military secretary, cabinet secretary and spokesman. Now the former head of the National Security Council, and the most zealously enthusiastic official in the premier's inner circle, has joined this chorus of doubt.

For 15 years, Arad sacrificed himself for Netanyahu, serving as the latter's last line of defense. Suddenly, it is as though he opened his eyes and discovered bitter reality. In the past months, the former adviser sent a few negative signals to the media, but withheld in-depth disclosures from them. He was collecting his marbles for the right moment. Maybe he couldn't really control the timing of his public excoriation of Netanyahu; maybe he would have preferred waiting another two months, for the release of the state comptroller's report on the Naional Security Council. Whatever the case, Arad was not able to control when and how words that came out of his mouth reached the public. He did not deny comments attributed to him by Shiffer and Barnea. Among other things, Arad declared that "there's something rotten in the Prime Minister's Office," and accused Netanyahu of directing his aides to lie to the state comptroller, in the belief that Micha Lindenstrauss "wants to destroy him."

Arad is not always a congenial character. He can be ruthless in his single-minded commitment to assignments. In 1996, toward the end of his term as the head of the Mossad's research bureau, he recruited support for his appointment as head of Tel Aviv University's Center for Strategic Studies. His advocates put their prestige on the line, helping Arad and also damaging the chances of rivals, but the moment their efforts ostensibly succeeded, the supporters were informed that Arad would be taking a different job: as adviser to then newly elected Prime Minister Netanyahu. Today, even under torture, these people would likely not have even a single good word to say about Arad; they have never forgiven him.

Both Netanyahu and Arad were educated in prestigious American institutions in the 1970s, when Henry Kissinger was casting his powerful spell and influence over the United States as national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations. America's National Security Council was established at the end of World War II, along with the CIA and the Atomic Energy Commission; the establishment of such agencies came in response to intelligence debacles involving the Americans at the start of the war, such as that of Pearl Harbor.

A worthy dream

At the outset Netanyahu and Arad shared a worthy dream - a desire to carry out a similar intelligence-strategic reform in Israel, despite all the differences between the form of government in this country and the United States. When Netanyahu was first elected prime minister, it seemed natural that Arad would serve as his Kissinger. It turned out that their dream could not be quickly realized, owing to political and institutional friction. Among others, then Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai opposed the establishment of a national security council. But toward the end of Netanyahu's first term, after Mordechai was replaced by Moshe Arens - another devotee of American innovations in the strategic-defense realm - the council was formed, headed by Maj. Gen. (res. ) David Ivry, formerly commander of the Israel Air Force and director general of the Defense Ministry.

The security council never really got off the ground at that point, however: Ehud Barak, an inveterate opponent of such a body, beat Netanyahu in the 1999 elections, sent Ivry to serve as ambassador to Washington, and virtually rendered the nascent organization impotent.

Barak's successors harbored similarly dim views of the council. Ariel Sharon reportedly told Efraim Halevy - the former head of the Mossad who took the reins as head of the council - that while he didn't mind hearing Halevy's views from time to time on matters such as the funding of the Sakhnin soccer team's stadium by Qatar, Sharon said he in general "understands Arabs" and thus did not really require the council's services.

Because they understood Arabs so well, the Sharon government, and subsequently Ehud Olmert's government, became embroiled in a series of security controversies.

Over the years, various inquiry committees investigated the level of strategic know-how demonstrated in the Prime Minister's Office. In 2007, the head of the security branch in the State Comptroller's Office, retired Maj. Gen. Yaakov (Mendi ) Or, attested to "the insufferable gap between the decision to establish a national security council and what it has become. The implementation of this decision has been a failure." One of Or's associates pointed to the fact that the prime minister's military secretary, an active Israel Defense Forces major general, had in effect usurped a variety of functions which the first Netanyahu government had hoped to delegate to the National Security Council.

One Knesset member who was involved in the review undertaken by the comptroller's office also joined in the criticism, declaring that the military secretary's "shoulders aren't broad enough to carry the entire [strategic] burden." That MK, incidentally, was Netanyahu.

The council, he preached back then, is supposed to "review, organize and spearhead, on behalf of the prime minister, all staff work on national security issues." For example, Netanyahu explained, "this council should, on a daily basis, coordinate with the head of the Mossad, the IDF chief of staff and directors of other intelligence branches, and forge a master plan to remove the Iranian threat, because this is a classic example of why a national security council must exist: You must carry out a very complex effort on an international level, and this effort has diplomatic, public relations and legal dimensions. The goal could be, for example, bringing Ahmadinejad to trial for genocide, or to strengthen Israel's deterrence. Such goals have significant economic implications. Somebody has to coordinate such a project, and this isn't being done. There are innumerable items that need to be organized as part of such a project. I don't want to call it a 'Manhattan Project,' but it is something like it."

Eventually Netanyahu's dream was realized. The National Security Council's status became anchored in law in July 2008, and when Netanyahu was elected to a second term, he appointed Arad to head it. The problem was that Barak, a strong opponent of the council mechanism and also a figure that wields influence over Netanyahu, was appointed defense minister at this time. In tandem, Netanyahu allowed Yohanan Locker to do in 2010 what a military secretary is not supposed to do - at least according to the division of labor Netanyahu initially envisioned in 2007. Even though the military secretary lacks a strong staff, and depends upon the good will of intelligence and security branches, Locker became the secretary of Netanyahu's inner security cabinet: a group of ministers that lacks legal status, but which basically sets policy on key strategic matters, including Iran. The problem could have been resolved had Locker resigned from the IDF, become head of the security council, and coordinated the inner cabinet's work on the Iranian issue, while a lower-ranking IDF official served as military secretary. This never happened.

Meantime, Netanyahu became increasingly alienated from Arad, who had trouble adjusting to the political facts of life in his government organization.

Under the cloud of intrigue and fierce ambition that covered Netanyahu's office, years of loyalty to the boss seem to mean little. Stubborn compliance with the law, and cooperation with investigative bodies, is considered a breach of faith in that office. In the gossip mill there, Arad came to be viewed as a confederate of the enemy, and he had no way of fending off the innuendo.

Arad has yet to divulge everything he knows about Sara Netanyahu and her influence on Israeli life. Yet his disclosures suffice to make one tremble: Under Netanyahu, the former adviser suggests, Israel is not a police state, it is a family state. And the Shin Bet, which is subordinate to the prime minister, becomes a pawn in the hands of those who want to incriminate senior officials. Among other reasons, this has happened because in investigations of leaks, the prime minister himself is never questioned, even though he is an experienced expert in this area.

In addition, under Yoram Cohen, Netanyahu's appointment, the Shin Bet has declined to the level it maintained before the Rabin assassination; it has lost much of the luster given to it by Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin.

The detestable phenomenon of searching for the source of leaks to the media, which is akin to McCarthyism, requires the consent of the attorney general, and the attorney general does not always fully grasp the motives of those who ask for such an inquiry. Mostly low-level officials end up being investigated in reviews that are a waste of money. In the rare instances that warrant such an inquiry, it would be best if the police were to carry them out.

Arad's proximity to events and his credibility are such that a professional review of his claims needs to be undertaken. Their gist is that Israel, which is liable to find itself on the brink of a military adventure, is not in trustworthy hands. Such claims, evinced by a former confidante of Netanyahu's, cannot be left hanging in the air.