Netanyahu Slams Leaks to Press While Fanning Debate on Iran
By: Ofer Shelah Translated from Maariv (Israel).
Adjourning the Israeli security cabinet meeting yesterday [Sept. 5] was a legitimate response on the part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to leaks of its classified discussions on the Iranian nuclear program immediately following the first session of the debate, held the day before [Sept. 4].
About This Article
Israel's Netanyahu canceled Cabinet meetings earlier this month after details of discussions about Iran's nuclear program were leaked to the press. But no one has fanned the flames of public debate on the issue more than the prime minister himself or Defense Minister Barak, writes Ofer Shelah.Publisher: Maariv (Israel)
Contempt of Debate
Author: Ofer Shelah
First Published: September 6, 2012
Posted on: September 13 2012
Translated by: Hanni Manor
Categories : Israel
The cabinet is the leading governmental forum as far as security decisions are concerned; it is thus inconceivable that details regarding its discussions or even the opinions of cabinet members on the data presented to them would be leaked, all the more so in such close proximity and direct reference to the discussion itself. However, as usual with the Prime Minister, the problem is one of context, which (in this case) is, in every respect, the context of contempt. There are a number of culprits to blame but above all, it's Netanyahu himself who should be held in contempt — contempt of the debate on the attack on Iran and contempt of the standing and jurisdiction of the decision-making bodies in Israel.
The contempt has to do first and foremost with the hysterical hyperbole, which is essentially media oriented. Contrary to the banner headlines in the press, it was not to debate the Iranian issue that the cabinet convened the day before yesterday [Sept. 4], but rather to hear the annual Intelligence situation assessment, recently submitted to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff and general staff. However, it's Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak who should be held responsible, more than anyone else, for this misrepresentation of the facts. It's the two of them who, in the past weeks, were fanning the flames of the debate on the imminent Israeli attack on Iran. It's the two of them who were taking every possible opportunity to talk and brief about the issue. It's first the one who was interviewed under disguise — a virtually sheer disguise (the anonymous "decision maker" advocating war with Iran in an interview to the Aug. 10 weekend magazine of the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz being none other than Ehud Barak); and then the other (Netanyahu) who (in his speech to the AIPAC lobby in Washington on March 5, 2012) let his listeners understand that an attack (on Iran) prior to the U.S. presidential election would be a rescue operation on the scale of the (unrealized) bombing of (the crematorium in) Auschwitz (called for by the World Jewish Congress in an appeal to then-U. S. President Franklin Roosevelt, but rejected by the U.S. War Office). Well, the two certainly cannot complain now that a routine annual debate has gotten out of control and assumed such dramatic dimensions.
The contempt of debate is all the more magnified against the backdrop of the gradually vanishing practice of regularly scheduled (cabinet) discussions. Although the government protocol stipulates that the cabinet has to convene for bi-weekly meetings, as also noted by the State Comptroller in his report on the National Security Council (stating that "it is appropriate that given his overall responsibility, the prime minister should work to ensure that the decision-making process in the field of national security be done in an orderly process"), the cabinet has not discussed the Iranian issue for quite some time now; the forum of eight or nine ministers (recently expanded to nine, with the appointment of Minister for Home Front Defense Avi Dichter), which is not authorized to pass (security) decisions, has not dealt with the issue for long months either. And whoever moved the debate on Iran from the ministerial forums in charge of the issue to the press front pages has no moral mandate to complain about ministers, some of whom, exposed for the first time in a year to Intelligence assessments such as those presented at the recent cabinet meeting [on Sept. 4], were so overwhelmed by what they heard that they simply had to share their feelings with the public and thus talked with the media.
It is important to note in this context that as long as the law has not been modified, the cabinet or the government alone is authorized to decide to declare war. And the unequivocal opinion of the heads of all branches of the defense establishment, those currently serving in office as well as their predecessors, is that an attack on Iran would be tantamount to a declaration of war and cannot be regarded as a mere military operation. It seems that, being aware of the evaluations that his high-flown rhetoric concerning the historical significance of an impending Israeli attack would most likely boil down to a verbal gesture on the part of the United States and nothing else, Netanyahu had an urge to display leadership and affirm his authority, and what's easier than to humiliate his cabinet ministers and threaten to divest them of their power? After all, that's the way it's done in Israel if you want to show your might.
Sources close to the Prime Minister intimated yesterday night [Sept. 5] that there would be a serious investigation into the matter. It isn't at all clear what apart from a polygraph test may be meant by serious investigation. We will have to wait and see whether cabinet members and the defense establishment heads are going to be paraded into the polygraph room at the Shin Bet investigation center. Meanwhile, until that happens, another (far from illustrious) chapter was yesterday [Sept. 5] recorded in the chronicles of the deliberation and decision-making bodies in Israel, whose inflationary size is inversely proportional to their dwindling importance; there are 14 members and four observers in the current cabinet, the largest ever in Israeli history — six ministers more than in the first government of Israel's first premier, David Ben Gurion. And this is of far greater significance than the question of who evaluated, talking with the media, that the information relayed on Iran was disturbing but not daunting.
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