In recent days, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin has been remarkably and aggressively outspoken. Comparing them to the biblical prophet Zachariah, he declared Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to be guided by “messianic” impulses. He said the two were lying about the projected effectiveness of an Israeli strike on Iran, arguing instead that such an attack would only speed up Iran’s push for nuclear weapons. Noting “I know what’s going on in this field up close,” Diskin accused the present government of being insincere when claiming to be interested in reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Controversy continued on Sunday at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York City when former Mossad chief Meir Dagan sparred with Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan over Diskin’s comments.

Understandably, Diskin’s criticism – essentially a reiteration of a line taken publicly by Dagan after he stepped down as head of the Mossad last summer – has shaken up the political establishment.

Two seasoned military commanders and counterterrorism experts with impeccable credentials, privy to Israel’s most guarded secrets, have taken upon themselves to fight the predominant narrative put forward by the government vis-à-vis Iran and the Palestinians.

Both Dagan and Diskin, like any other serious leader interested in having an impact, are political animals. They understand the impact of their words. But it would be disingenuous to blame these two of acting solely in the name of narrow interests considering that during the long years in which they held their respective official positions, Diskin and Dagan remained out of the limelight and devoted themselves exclusively to defending their country.

With their long years of service behind them, the two apparently feel morally impelled to speak out against what they perceive to be existential dangers.

Unfortunately, instead of addressing the substance of Diskin’s and Dagan’s legitimate criticisms, the prime minister and the defense minister have attempted to rebuff them with personal jabs. Diskin is said to be motivated by bitterness for being passed over for the position he wanted, the head of the Mossad. Diskin and Dagan have been attacked by sources close to the prime minister for behaving “irresponsibly.”

BUT PERHAPS the most distasteful and undemocratic response to Diskin’s and Dagan’s outspokenness has been a legislative initiative that, if passed, would severely restrict the open debate and criticism that characterizes Israeli political discourse.

Dubbed the “Dagan Law,” the legislative initiative would prevent former security officials from making public comments on matters related to their field of expertise without authorization from the Defense Ministry. First drafted last year, the bill has garnered new interest in the aftermath of Diskin’s comments. MKs such as Miri Regev (Kadima), who drafted the original bill, and Danny Danon (Likud), among others, are pushing to get the Dagan Law passed. They claim to be out to defend Israel from the potential danger caused by irresponsible comments made by the likes of Dagan and Diskin.

But in actuality, stifling the free exchange of ideas and criticism among those most qualified to express these ideas and criticism is the real danger to Israel’s security.

After all, it was precisely the lack of independent thinking in the military establishment that created a collective misconception and led to Israel’s unpreparedness for the Yom Kippur War. Indeed, what makes robustly democratic, open societies so much stronger than their autocratic counterparts is their ability to exercise self-criticism, learn from mistakes and choose leaders in light of conclusions reached through open debate. If Dagan and Diskin, based on their deep familiarity with our military capabilities and high-level decision-making process, believe that it would be unwise for Israel to single-handedly attack Iran or that not enough is being done to advance peace with the Palestinians, not only should they have the right to say so; they have a moral obligation.

If critics of Dagan and Diskin think the two have given away national secrets, then they should call for them to be tried for espionage in accordance with the law. And if they think Dagan’s and Diskin’s analyses are wrong, then they should explain why. But the attempt to use legislation to silence men with many merits and priceless experience is unfair, undemocratic and dangerous.

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