Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan on Sunday gave his support to former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin, who said Friday that he has no confidence in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak abilities to conduct a war.
Speaking on the sidelines of The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York, Dagan said Diskin was speaking his “internal truth” and called him a good friend and a serious person.
On Friday, Diskin said Barak and Netanyahu are guided by “messianic” impulses and are lying about the projected effectiveness of an Israeli strike on Iran. He also suggested a strike would result in a sped-up Iranian nuclear program, with Tehran using an attack to legitimize its efforts.
But one of Israel’s top experts on Iranian nuclear weapons development, Ephraim Kam, told the Post on Sunday that any strike was more likely to slow down an Iranian nuclear program than speed it up.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘speed up,’” Kam, deputy director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said.
While there was little question Tehran would renew its nuclear efforts after a strike, any operation that causes damage to strategic sites in Iran would inevitably slow down Iran’s efforts, Kam added.
“The question is how much damage is caused. It’s too simple to say a strike will speed things up,” he said, noting that a slowing down of the program would be all the more likely if the Americans launch a strike.
“They can cause much more damage. Israel can cause damage too, but less so.”
US forces can repeatedly strike targets in Iran, which might convince the Iranians to take a different direction, Kam argued.
“According to American estimates...a strike would delay Iran by one to two years. According to estimates attributed to Israel, Iran could be delayed by between three and five years,” Kam said.
He added that Washington was underestimating the damage the US Air Force could cause to Iran’s nuclear sites.
“There’s a false image being presented to the public and that’s what bothers me,” Diskin said, speaking to the small Majdi Forum in Kfar Saba.
“[Netanyahu and Barak] are giving the sense that if Israel doesn’t act, Iran will have nuclear weapons. This part of the sentence apparently has an element of truth. But in the second part of the sentence, they turn to the – sorry for the expression – the ‘stupid public’ or the layman public... and tell them if Israel acts, there won’t be [an Iranian] nuclear program.
And that’s the incorrect part of the sentence,” Diskin said.
The former Shin Bet chief came under heavy criticism once the media picked up the remarks, with sources close to Barak and Netanyahu accusing him of being bitter after he was not chosen to head the Mossad.
Dagan too has come under fire for criticizing the current leadership’s approach to the Iranian threat, reportedly saying last year that an attack on Iran’s nuclear reactors “would be foolish.”
Diskin’s comments sparked further controversy as he cited “many experts” as saying that a military strike on Iran would likely speed up the Iranian nuclear program.
Former Mossad senior official Rami Igra told the Post on Sunday that Diskin was wrong to “spit in the well he drank from.”
“Especially if you fought to drink more from that well,” Igra added, referring to the government’s decision to extend Diskin’s term by a year. Igra said he objected to the tone and style employed by Diskin in his attacks on Netanyahu and Barak.
The former Mossad man said the comments were likely part of Diskin’s attempt to enter the political scene.
Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz said Sunday he took Diskin’s criticisms very seriously and rejected claims that the comments were made out of personal, political considerations. Speaking to a forum in Kfar Saba on Friday, Diskin said, “There’s a false image being presented to the public and that’s what bothers me.”
Mofaz told Army Radio that Diskin had spoken out of “deep concern” over the direction that Netanyahu and Barak were leading the country. He added that the counterattack against Diskin by Netanyahu and Barak associates “suggested a fear of facing” up to the substance of Diskin’s criticism.
Former IDF chief of staff Lt.- Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi also defended Diskin.
“I know Diskin and he spoke what was on his heart out of genuine concern,” Ashkenazi said on the sidelines of the conference.
MK Avi Dichter (Kadima) told Army Radio that while Diskin had a right and duty to participate in the public discourse on Israel’s security situation, his personal attacks against Netanyahu and Barak could “damage the institution of Shin Bet chief.”
Dichter, a former Shin Bet director himself, said that Diskin erred in referring to Barak and Netanyahu as two people who see themselves as “messiahs.” Such personal impressions of the country’s top leaders could only come from someone who was an “intimate partner” to the defense minister and prime minister, he said.
As someone in a position that is “directly responsible for the personal security of the prime minister,” the Shin Bet chief must know how to keep certain things “in the room.” Diskin’s indiscretions could alter the relationship between future Shin Bet chiefs and prime ministers – a relationship that demands trust, Dichter said.
Kadima MK and former deputy Shin Bet director Yoel Hasson said that Netanyahu should be concerned about the wave of criticism he has faced from former heads of the security establishment, such as Diskin, Dagan and Ashkenazi.
According to Hasson, the accumulated criticism should remind the prime minister that one cannot have a breakdown in relations between the security establishment and the prime minister.
Neither Barak nor Netanyahu has commented on Diskin’s remarks, though sources close to each hit back hard.
Sources close to the prime minister on Saturday called Diskin’s attacks “irresponsible” and “motivated by personal frustration that he wasn’t chosen to head the Mossad.”
Sources close to the defense minister said sarcastically on Saturday, “We welcome his entrance into politics.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.