Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz on Thursday supported Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's call for the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to investigate the security leaks following a recent closed-door cabinet meeting, but said that "the PM should be the first one to be subjected to a polygraph, as he who presides over the forum should be tested first."
Mofaz added that the leaking of information relating to meetings of the cabinet, which he described as a holy sanctuary in which Israel's innermost secrets are discussed, is tantamount to "anarchy."
Netanyahu is considering polygraph tests for all participants at Tuesday’s security cabinet meeting to find the source of a leak he said was making holding sensitive discussions impossible.
Channel 2 reported that Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen met with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein on Wednesday to discuss the matter.
In an unprecedented and dramatic move, Netanyahu adjourned – shortly after it began – the second part of a security cabinet meeting that began on Tuesday and dealt with Iran and the Israel intelligence community’s annual assessment.
“Something grave happened shortly after the conclusion of the meeting yesterday: leaks from the security cabinet meeting,” the prime minister said at the outset of the meeting, according to a statement issued by his office.
Netanyahu convened the security cabinet on Tuesday for an annual meeting on the country’s intelligence assessments, a meeting that dealt in depth with the Iranian issue.
Netanyahu said the security of the country rested on the ability of the security cabinet to hold classified and in-depth discussions where all the “facts, opinions and implications” were presented.
“This is a basic tool in managing the country’s security. Yesterday, someone severely undermined the confidence that Israeli citizens give to this forum,” he said. “He violated the most basic rules regarding the conduct of security cabinet discussions. He also hurt the good name of those present at the meeting who did not leak its contents,” Netanyahu added.
While the prime minister did not say what report aroused his ire – and the offending information may indeed have been banned from publication by the military censor – the lead headline in Wednesday’s Yediot Aharonot
read: “Disagreement about Iran among the intelligence agencies.”
According to the story, the members of the security cabinet were shocked to hear that the country’s intelligence agencies – the Mossad, Shin Bet and Military Intelligence – do not agree about the Iranian issue.
According to the report, the disagreement is over the so-called “zone of immunity,” that period where the Iranians will have progressed on their nuclear program beyond the point where an Israeli attack would be effective.
Netanyahu, adjourning the second part of the meeting, told the ministers that he did not have anything against the media, which was just doing its job. “I have a grievance against the person who broke the most basic trust needed to hold security cabinet meetings, and harmed the ability to hold classified meetings. I have a responsibility to the citizens of Israel and to the country’s security, and therefore I am disbanding this meeting.”
Tuesday’s meeting was the first in-depth session on Iran held by the security cabinet in months. When Netanyahu came under criticism in the past for not holding an in-depth meeting in the security cabinet on such a fateful issue, one counter argument put forward by government officials was concern that the deliberations would be leaked out of the forum because it includes 14 voting members and four observers. By comparison, Menachem Begin’s entire cabinet in 1977 only had 13 ministers.
One government source said it seemed as if Netanyahu wanted to send a message to the security cabinet, and to draw a line in the sand that it would be impossible to hold serious discussions if it was inevitable that the information would leak out.
Wednesday’s developments led immediately to calls for a smaller body to be set up to deal with highly sensitive security matters. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman has proposed such a forum as part of his wider plan to change the governmental system, and Government Services Minister Michael Eitan said the cabinet should empower a smaller body to deal with the Iranian question.
“It cannot be that the plague of leaks will nullify the obligation for consultation,” he said. “The failure of the security cabinet to keep secrets proves that a government of 29 ministers cannot hold deliberations without leaks.
The suitable compromise is a smaller forum that can hold discussions and decide without the unnecessary and dangerous leakage of information.”
While Netanyahu’s inner cabinet, which is made up of himself and eight other ministers, can give an advisory opinion on whether to attack Iran, the law stipulates that the decision needs to be made by the security cabinet. The security cabinet could also choose to bring such a decision to the full 29-member cabinet, which historically has been the case when dealing with decisions to go to war or to embark on major military operations.
Such, for instance, was the case when the decision was made to launch the Sinai Campaign in 1956, the Six Day War in 1967, and the First Lebanon War in 1982, as well to embark on the Entebbe raid in 1976 and to attack the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.
In addition to Netanyahu, the security cabinet includes Liberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Construction and Housing Minister Arial Attias, Minister Bennie Begin, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau, Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom.
The cabinet members with observer status in this forum are Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon and Minister-without- Portfolio Yossi Peled.
Others at Tuesday’s meeting included Attorney-General Weinstein, National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror, Chief of General Staff Lt-Gen.
Benny Gantz and the heads of the Mossad, Shin Bet and Military Intelligence.
The meeting, which lasted some 10 hours, took place at the Mossad headquarters in Tel Aviv, with Wednesday’s continuation of the meeting in Jerusalem.
This is not the first time Netanyahu has had to deal with leaks to the media.
In July 2010 he ordered polygraph tests for senior officials in his office after sensitive information was leaked to a journalist.
Uzi Arad, his national security adviser at the time, lost his job as a result, though earlier this year the then-deputy attorney-general said in a Knesset committee meeting that Arad was not the source of the leak.