Dagan and Erdan's caustic exchange at the ‘Post’ Conference

A transcript of the acrimonious argument in the first afternoon panel discussion on Israel’s security situation.

Panelists from Jerusalem Post Conference (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Panelists from Jerusalem Post Conference
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
NEW YORK – Most media reports on The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York on Sunday focused on an acrimonious argument in the first afternoon panel discussion on Israel’s security situation.
The outburst was triggered by a question from moderator Herb Keinon, the Post’s diplomatic reporter, to former Mossad chief Meir Dagan about former Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin’s criticism last week of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Diskin, it will be recalled, said Netanyahu and Barak had “messianic” impulses, and were misleading the public about the possible effectiveness of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.
Speaking in Kfar Saba on Friday, he cited experts as saying an Israeli military strike on Iran would only help expedite the Iranian nuclear program.
When pressed by the moderator, Dagan voiced support for Diskin, and his harsh language provoked Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) to immediately intervene in support of Netanyahu.
But the panelists’ tempers flared, and the debate became a free-for-all, with mutual name-calling and shouting. It may have been typical of a panel discussion on Israeli TV, but the American audience was somewhat shocked, to say the least.
What follows, for the record, is a transcript of what transpired.
Keinon: What do you think about Yuval Diskin’s comments and his characterization of the prime minister and defense minister as being messianic?
Dagan: Yuval Diskin is a very serious man. He is a very capable man. He had a great deal of experience in confronting terror. I believe he spoke on the issue [about what] he really believes, and if you want to ask him this question, I suggest you talk to him instead. (laughter from audience)
Keinon: But do you think it’s appropriate for him to make those kind of comments? He could have made them when he was the head of the Shin Bet (the Israel Security Agency)?
Dagan: First of all, I think he presented his position loudly and clearly about his refusal to the prime minister and defense minister. He didn’t announce it. It was in a closed room. To speak openly? (Turning to Gilad Erdan) I heard that a member of your party is now formulating a law... on behalf of my name, Dagan, preventing ex-people of the military and security establishment from speaking. Let me remind you of something, sir, what was started in Germany in the beginning.
You know how you are starting it; you don’t know how it is ending.
About Diskin, I believe that he is a very serious man and he is presenting a very serious point of view. And I know that serious point of view was presented to the prime minister and defense minister on many occasions.
Erdan: Can I comment?
Keinon: If you’d like to comment, please...
Erdan: I must say that I’m quite surprised to hear what Meir Dagan said because, you know, I admire everything that Gabi [Ashkenazi] or Diskin did for the security of Israel.... But I must tell you that I hope I didn’t understand what you mentioned about Germany.
We are a democracy and every member of Knesset can suggest whatever he wants, and if it will get the majority in the Knesset, so it will be a law in Israel. It doesn’t mean that the government agrees with every law that comes from the Knesset.
But I must say it is quite surprising to hear people like Yuval Diskin, who served under Prime Minister Netanyahu or under Defense Minister Barak...
Olmert: Gilad, he didn’t serve under Barak. The only person in charge of the head of the security services is the prime minister and not the minister of defense.
Erdan: Thank you very much, but I know that the Shin Bet is under the Prime Minister’s Office. (laughter) I also used to work there 15 or 16 years ago.
But the minister of defense still works together [with the prime minister], and if Yuval Diskin thought the prime minister was doing things so dangerous for the future of Israel, so in order to save Israel, he should resign, and not wait five years as head of the Shin Bet and then even agree to serve one more year.
And then, when resigning and when the prime minister does not accept his guy to be appointed as head of the Shin Bet...
Dagan: It’s not true. (boos) You are lying, sir. I am maybe not polite, but I prefer ministers of the State of Israel who speak the truth.
Erdan: I prefer that former heads of Mossad and Shin Bet won’t make damage to Israel.... That’s what I expect from you. Mr. Netanyahu goes around the world, and he never says that we are going to attack Iran, or when or where, but he is doing a lot of efforts in order to raise the awareness, and it is working.
You see the economic sanctions. And you go out, and Yuval Diskin is going out, and saying, “You shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that. Israel can attack, Israel cannot attack.”
What you did for the security of Israel, we admire. If you want to join a political party, maybe we should consider what you offer, that you can run for the Knesset after one year or even less.
Don’t [hide] behind theories or things that Yuval Diskin said.... You said he’s a serious guy. How can a serious guy say they [think] they’re the messiah? Who said they’re the messiah? (applause).