Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday was considering asking the Shin Bet security service to investigate members of the security cabinet and discover the identity of a minister who leaked to the press sensitive information about Israel’s Iran strategy from a session on Tuesday. When he learned of the leak, the prime minister called off Wednesday’s security cabinet meeting.
The prime minister was also looking into the possibility of having polygraph tests conducted on all security cabinet ministers. According to Channel 2 News, Shin Bet Chief Yoram Cohen met with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to discuss the legality of submitting ministers to the procedure.
Netanyahu’s fury over the leak stemmed from the acute sensitivity of the material that was discussed in the Tuesday meeting. Some of it appeared in the press on Wednesday, but other material — even more sensitive, and reportedly with the potential to adversely impact Israeli national security — was blocked by the military censor before it could be publicized.
Tuesday’s seven-hour security cabinet session dealt mainly with the Iranian threat, and featured briefings by the Mossad, Shin Bet security service and IDF Military Intelligence, according to Yedioth Ahronoth. Cabinet members were reportedly amazed to hear conflicting assessments from the various intelligence chiefs on Iran’s nuclear program. “There is an absence of agreement in Israel concerning the point at which an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would no longer be effective,” the paper reported.
No operational decisions were made, it added.
The meeting was supposed to have continued on Wednesday, but was abandoned because of the leaks.
The security cabinet is a forum in which senior government ministers discuss vital security questions. It has 14 member ministers plus four observers with no voting rights. The list of ministers present at Tuesday’s meeting was not released to the press.
A government official, who asked to remain anonymous, stressed that Netanyahu canceled only the single security cabinet meeting planned for Wednesday, and denied earlier reports that he had decided to dissolve the entire forum. “The security cabinet will continue to meet, hopefully without leaks,” he said.
“The security of this country and its citizens depends on the capacity to conduct secret in-depth discussion within the national security cabinet,” Netanyahu said in a statement released by his. “It’s there that all the facts, opinions and ramifications are being presented. It’s the basic instrument to manage our national security.”
“Yesterday someone seriously violated the trust the Israeli citizens give to this forum. He broke the most basic rules for holding discussions in the security cabinet,” Netanyahu said, adding that whoever leaked the information also hurt the reputation of all others present at the cabinet meeting.
The Yedioth report quoted an unnamed participant at Tuesday’s meeting saying, “We heard detailed information that was extremely worrying about the progress of the [Iranian] nuclear program.” The Iranians are “speeding toward a bomb and it doesn’t look like anything is stopping them.”
The ministers were reportedly informed about a range of heavier sanctions that could yet be imposed on Iran, including a full trade embargo, and wide-ranging flight bans, that Israel believes could “cause a change” in Iran’s stance. Ministers were told that European nations were resisting some of these sanctions, for fear of the impact on their own economies.
Because of the sensitivity of the information being presented, ministers came to the meeting without aides, and were explicitly warned by Netanyahu not to release its content.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.