Israeli government aides attempt to draw sting of former spy chief's attack
A stinging attack on Israel's political leadership by a former head of Shin Bet, the security agency, continued to reverberate on Sunday despite high-level efforts to discredit the former spy chief's motives.
Yuval Diskin said the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and defence minister, Ehud Barak – the principal advocates of military action against Iran's nuclear programme – were unfit to lead the country and could not be trusted to conduct a war. The "messianic" pair were misleading the public on the merits of an attack.
"I've seen them from up close. They are not messiahs, either of them, and they are not people whom I, on a personal level, trust to lead the state of Israel into an event of that scale. They are not the people whom I would truly want to be at the helm when we set out on an endeavour of that sort," Diskin told a community meeting on Friday.
Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz seized on the attack, which was considered by most commentators to be calculated rather than spontaneous, telling Army Radio: "To me, Diskin's words are a warning sign to be taken seriously."
Neither Netanyahu nor Barak responded personally, but aides dismissed the salvo as the act of a man frustrated not to have been offered the job of director of Israel's external intelligence agency, the Mossad.
"It's surprising and strange," a government official told the Guardian. "Why did he seek to become head of the Mossad under the present government if he thought so little of it?"
However, some commentators praised Diskin for speaking out. Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, the columnist Nahum Barnea said: "Yuval Diskin is a thug. He is brusque, lashes out and is lacking in any political correctness … His style is inappropriate, his words are unacceptable. Only one thing can be said to his credit: he is telling the truth. A troubling truth, an annoying truth, but the truth nevertheless. Diskin is the man who took upon himself the role of the boy who cries out: 'The emperor has no clothes'."
Diskin's comments echoed criticism by Meir Dagan, former head of the Mossad, who has said attacking Iran was "the stupidest idea I have ever heard". Last week, Israel's chief of staff, Benny Gantz, said the Iranian regime was rational and Israel must make its decision about whether to attack "without hysteria".
The comments have fuelled the belief among some observers that there is a clear gap over the issue of Iran between Israel's political leaders and its security establishment.
The former Shin Bet chief did not confine his comments to Iran. On peace negotiations with the Palestinians, he said: "Forget all about the stories they're selling you in the media about how we want to talk but [Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas] doesn't, and so forth. I'm telling you, we're not talking with the Palestinians because this government has no interest in talking with the Palestinians … I know from up close what is going on in that area."
Netanyahu, he said, feared that even "the smallest step forward on this issue" would cause his coalition to collapse.
He warned against growing Israeli extremism, saying there were people "willing to use guns against their fellow Jews" in the event of the evacuation of settlements in the West Bank.
The country was becoming more aggressive and racist, he said. "The youth in Israel has become over the past 10 to 15 years more and more racist. Racism against Arabs and against foreigners, against those who are different."