Leaders misleading public on Iran, former Israeli security chief says

The former chief of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency has described Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak as men driven by “messianic feelings” and said he had “no faith” in them to lead a potential strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The scathing comments by Yuval Diskin, who had kept a low profile since retiring last year, added to the sense of a divide between Israel’s security establishment and its political leadership over the Iran issue. Earlier this week, the current military chief voiced confidence that sanctions and the threat of military action would deter Iran from building nuclear bombs, an analysis that contrasted with Netanyahu’s and Barak’s grimmer assessments.

Diskin, who headed the Shin Bet security agency for six years, was far more harsh. Speaking at a community meeting Friday, he said a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites would probably accelerate, not end, Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“They are misleading the public on the Iran issue,” Diskin said of the prime minister and the defense minister, according to an account in the daily newspaper Haaretz.

He added: “Believe me, I have observed them from up close. . . . They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off. These are not people who I would want to have holding the wheel in such an event.”

Diskin’s comments echoed those previously made by Meir Dagan, the chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency until January 2011, who said last year that a strike on Iran would lead to “regional war” and encourage Iran to continue its nuclear program. At the time, Dagan also told Israeli journalists that he feared his retirement, as well as that of Diskin and the former military chief, Gabi Ashkenazi, had removed voices that could “block any dangerous adventure” led by Netanyahu and Barak.

But Diskin, who was described upon his retirement as a highly successful Shin Bet chief, had not publicly spoken of his reservations before Friday.

The offices of Netanyahu and Barak issued no responses Saturday. But other government officials and politicians denounced Diskin’s words as politically motivated and inappropriate.

“If these are his opinions, he should have stated them in the appropriate forums while he was in office,” Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Another Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Diskin’s leadership of the internal security agency meant he was a “peripheral player” on the topic of Iran. The official termed Diskin’s criticism of Israeli leaders “surprising and strange,” in part because Diskin had elected to serve an additional year at the Shin Bet.

In recent days, Israeli officials have played down the notion of a civil-security divide on the topic of Iran. Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the military chief who told Haaretz earlier this week that he believed Iranian leaders were “very rational people” who would ultimately decide against building nuclear weapons, said Thursday that there was no disagreement among Israeli leadership.

On Thursday night, Barak emphasized that the decision about a pre-emptive strike would be made by political leaders and carried out by the military, and he deemed the chance of sanctions permanently stopping Iran’s nuclear programs as “low.”

“The fact that we are talking about clever and calculated people, who seek to stay in power, and are striving to reach their goals underhandedly and with an idea of the moves and intentions of their rivals, does not make them rational in the Western sense of the word, in other words, a status quo and peaceful solution to the issue,” he said in an address on Israel’s Independence Day.

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