Middle East
1:28 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

In Israel, A Rift On How To Deal With Iran

Originally published on Sun May 6, 2012 6:05 am

As Israel wages an intense daily debate about Iran and its nuclear program, a rift between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's former intelligence chiefs has become public.

The recently retired head of internal security, Yuval Diskin, has bashed Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak, calling them unfit to lead the country.

Diskin, who headed Shin Bet, accused Netanyahu and Barak of purposefully misleading the public on the urgency of the threat posed by Iran and its nuclear program. Diskin was also quoted as saying that Netanyahu was not serious about a peace process with the Palestinians.

Diskin's comments were made in a closed forum of about 50 people in southern Israel, but were leaked to the press.

This comes after the former head of the Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, said that Iran poses less of an immediate danger to Israel than Netanyahu asserts.

Netanyahu has said repeatedly that Iran's nuclear program poses a grave danger to Israel, and that time is rapidly running out for Israel and other countries to act.

Netanyahu's Position Under Criticism

The ex-security chiefs, meanwhile, say Iran does pose a serious risk. But they also say that Israel is not in a position where it has to decide immediately on whether to carry out military action.

For its part, Iran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes and that it does not intend to build nuclear bombs.

In New York on Sunday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joined those critical of Netanyahu's approach. He told a conference organized by the Jerusalem Post newspaper that there was enough time to try different approaches to Iran without the need for a direct military confrontation.

At the same conference, Dagan reiterated his allegation that Netanyahu has exaggerated the Iranian threat. And he also expressed support for Diskin.

"I know firsthand that [Diskin's] points of view were presented by him to the prime minister and defense minister many times," Dagan said.

During Dagan's speech, an argument broke out between him and an Israeli Cabinet minister, Gilad Erdan, who is a strong supporter of Netanyahu.

Erdan accused Dagan and Diskin of voicing their discontent with Netanyahu out of spite because they weren't awarded additional terms in office.

Dagan, through clenched teeth, minced few words when he replied to Erdan.

"You are lying, sir," Dagan said. "And maybe [it's] not polite, but I prefer that ministers of the state of Israel speak the truth."

An official from Netanyahu's office declined to comment on the exchange. The official also said that Netanyahu would not be responding because he was mourning the death of his father, Benzion Netanyahu, a well-known Israeli historian who died Monday at the age of 102.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Israel, politicians are raising the possibility of early national elections, perhaps as soon as August. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today that he would meet with various political factions to discuss a date. The move comes as a host of former political and security officials are airing their doubts about Netanyahu's performance as prime minister. Sheera Frenkel has that story.

SHEERA FRENKEL, BYLINE: Over the weekend, the rift between Israel's former intelligence heads and the prime minister's office became very public. The recently retired head of internal security, Yuval Diskin, publically bashed Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak, calling them unfit to lead the country. The comments were made in a closed forum of about 50 people in southern Israel, but were quickly leaked to the press when Diskin's office confirmed that he blames Netanyahu and Barak for purposefully misleading the public on Iran and its suspected nuclear program.

Diskin was also quoted as saying that Netanyahu was not serious about a peace process with the Palestinians. Former Mossad intelligence chief Meir Dagan has been slammed by Netanyahu's office for making similar comments when he left his post as Israel's spy chief. In several interviews with the press, Dagan has said that Iran poses less of an immediate danger to Israel than Netanyahu asserts.

In New York yesterday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joined the fray, telling a conference organized by the Jerusalem Post newspaper that there was enough time to try different avenues of pressure to deal with Iran's nuclear program without the need for a direct military confrontation. At the same conference, Dagan reiterated his criticism of Netanyahu for exaggerating the Iranian threat. And he also expressed support for Diskin.

MEIR DAGAN MOSSAD INTELLIGENCE: Diskin, I believe that he is a very serious one. He presents his points of view, and I know from firsthand that those points of view were presented by him to the prime minister and defense minister on many occasions.

FRENKEL: During Dagan's speech, an argument broke out between him and Israeli cabinet minister, Gilad Erdan, who is a strong supporter of Netanyahu. Erdan accused Dagan and Diskin of voicing their discontent with Netanyahu out of spite because they weren't allowed additional terms in office. Dagan, through clenched teeth, minced few words when he replied to Erdan.

INTELLIGENCE: You are lying, sir. It's not true. And maybe it's not polite, but I prefer that ministers of the state of Israel would speak the truth.

FRENKEL: An official from Netanyahu's office declined to comment on the exchange and said that Netanyahu would not be responding to the assertions because he was mourning the death of his father, Benzion Netanyahu, a well-known Israeli historian who passed away Monday at the age of 102. For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.