Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – John Hudson and Louisa Loveluck at the Washington Post report that a leak of Pentagon documents reveals that the U.S. is intensively spying on Israel and concludes that Israel’s intelligence service, Mossad, has encouraged both its own employees and the Israeli public to join protests against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s attempt to gut the Israeli courts. Mossad is denying the report.
They quote the document as saying that the intelligence agency leaders
- “advocated for Mossad officials and Israeli citizens to protest the new Israeli Government’s proposed judicial reforms, including several explicit calls to action that decried the Israeli Government, according to signals intelligence.”
Hudson and Loveluck surmise that this document draws the curtain on the kind of pressures Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant was getting from the officer corps and intelligence chiefs, such that he publicly announced his opposition to Netanyahu’s plans to weaken the courts. Netanyahu orally fired Gallant, but has not submitted the paperwork necessary actually to remove him, leaving Israel in limbo regarding the head of its ministry of defense.
Mossad is headed by David “Dadi” Barnea, 58. He did his BA and MBA in the United States and worked in an Israeli investment bank before joining Mossad in 1996.
Barnea had already been reported by the Times of Israel to be allowing “low-level” Mossad employees to participate in the anti-Netanyahu rallies. It is an old intelligence trick to release a little damaging information to cover up a big piece of damaging information. Apparently the TOI report was actually a cover-up of a widespread Mossad commitment to the protests that may have involved encouraging civilians to join them as well. Like any foreign intelligence-gathering outfit, Mossad is not supposed to operate domestically, particularly in opposition to the policies of the sitting prime minister.
Former Mossad head Danny Yatom has been vocal against Netanyahu’s project, calling it a “judicial coup,” and warning that if it is enacted there could be a revolt among top military and intelligence officials, as France 24 English reported a month ago::
Mossad, established in 1949, means “Institute,” and is short for Mossad Merkazi le-Modiin ule-Tafkidim Meyuhadim, (“Central Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations”). It specializes in espionage abroad and covert operations, including dirty tricks and assassinations. The internal espionage agency is Shin Bet.
Benzinga.com reports that investors are fleeing Israel because of the uncertainties introduced by Netanyahu’s attempt to weaken the judiciary. Investors need to know that laws and legal rulings are stable so as to make decisions about where to put their money for the best future returns. If you are going to have parliament overrule the Supreme Court with a simple majority and have the ruling party put its cronies on the court, everything is now up for grabs. There is no settled case law. If you had a few million dollars to invest, would you put them into an unsettled legal environment like that? Even Israeli firms are instead investing in the US. One acquired $100 million of American real estate recently. Israeli high tech firms are also leaving.
Given Barnea’s strong ties to the investment community, he may be concerned that Netanyahu is fatal to the Israeli economy, which is known for its dynamism and start-ups.
The WaPo report suggests that Mossad’s behavior here is unprecedented. That may be, but Israel’s security establishment has long viewed Netanyahu as loony as the day is long, and as a security threat to their country.
In the period 2010-2012, Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, seriously contemplated launching an attack on Iran no less than three times, as I discussed at Informed Comment in 2015.
As I pointed out then, this step was vetoed by other cabinet members and the then Israeli chiefs of staff, first Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi until 2011 and then Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. Gantz is now a major opposition leader who has joined in the rallies against Netanyahu. It was also vetoed by then Mossad chief Meir Dagan (d. 2016). Netanyahu then forced out of office not only Dagan but also Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi as well as some other key security personnel.
Dagan then took the unprecedented step of coming out against Netanyahu and his war plans in public and calling them “the stupidest idea” in an interview with Leslie Stahl on “60 Minutes” in 2012.
As I discussed in 2011:
- “The back story that has emerged in the Israeli press is that Barak, who is a notorious war-monger and adventurist, had gotten Netanyahu’s ear and pressed for a military strike on Iran. Dagan and all the other major security officials stood against this foolhardy plan, and managed to derail it. But Dagan is said to be concerned that virtually all the level heads have gone out of office together, and that Netanyahu and Barak may now be in a position to revive their crazy plan of attacking Iran. Moreover, they may want to attack in September, as a way of creating a crisis that will overshadow Palestinian plans to seek membership in the United Nations. Dagan and other high Israeli security officials appear to believe that Iran has no present nuclear weapons program. That is what Military Intelligence Director, Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi, has told the Israeli parliament.”
So Dagan opposed Netanyahu’s wild ideas while in office and then once out of office went around expressing concern for the fate of Israel as long as Netanyahu was in power, clearly implying that the PM was unbalanced and erratic, and could easily drag the small Levantine state into a conflagration it could not win.
All I am saying is that it just isn’t new that Israel’s intelligence and military establishment thinks Netanyahu is off his rocker and that they are opposed to his wilder ideas. They also appear to think that he has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace with the Palestinians.
Mobilizing the entirety of Mossad and also covertly encouraging civilians to join massive rallies against him is no doubt a novel way of expressing that opposition. The opposition itself, however, is hardly new.