Ex-Mossad boss: Fear-mongering Netanyahu is antithesis of Churchill

PM is nothing like his role model, says Efraim Halevy. He’s leading Israel to a third intifada, and his calling Iran’s nuclear drive an existential threat is a ‘terrible mistake’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy (CC BY-SA Eli Itkin/Wikimedia Commons)
Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy (CC BY-SA Eli Itkin/Wikimedia Commons)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might admire Winston Churchill, but the two leaders are exact opposites, said Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad intelligence agency.

If Netanyahu were to win the upcoming elections and continue with his current policies toward the Palestinians, a third intifada is unavoidable, Halevy indicated. In a scathing interview, he also criticized the prime minister for propagating fear instead of hope, deploring Netanyahu’s constant mentions of the Holocaust and decrying his reported comparison of today’s Jews of France with pre-Inquisition Spanish Jewry.

Halevy was head of the Mossad from 1998 to 2002, appointed to the post by Netanyahu. A year before he started in that position, he played a central role, as a special envoy for Netanyahu, in salvaging Israel’s relations with Jordan after a failed Mossad attempt to assassinate senior Hamas figure Khaled Mashaal in broad daylight on the streets of Amman.

“The prime minister views the British wartime prime minister [Churchill] as his role model — he prominently displays a photograph of the British leader in his office,” Halevy told Fathom journal in a recent interview, which was published in full Tuesday evening. “But, in truth, he is the absolute antithesis of Churchill; whereas Churchill projected power, confidence, strategy and absolute belief in Britain’s ultimate victory, Netanyahu repeatedly mentions the Holocaust, the Spanish Inquisition, terror, anti-Semitism, isolation and despair as embodied in his frequent allusion to the ‘existential threat.’”

US wartime President Franklin Roosevelt famously said there is nothing to fear but fear itself, added Halevy. “I fear the ‘fear’ that the prime minister of Israel is propagating.”

Halevy was born in London before the outbreak of World War II. “I have a very vivid memory of those days,” he said, adding that he remembered hearing Churchill on the radio. “At no time, even at the height of the Blitz, did Churchill say that there was a mortal danger to Britain’s very existence.”

Winston Churchill in Downing Street giving his famous 'V' sign, 1943 (photo credit: Imperial War Museums/public domain)
Winston Churchill giving his famous ‘V’ sign, 1943 (photo credit: Imperial War Museums/public domain)

On the contrary, Churchill said that even if the Germans landed in Britain, the country would continue to fight and eventually triumph, Halevy continued.

“And that kept up the morale of the British population. Look, you don’t tell your own people that there is an existential threat,” he said, referring to Netanyahu’s dire warnings about the Iranian nuclear program. “You tell them there is a threat, perhaps a most serious threat, but we are in a position to meet it. We have a lot of means at our disposal, some of which are well known, some of which are less known. We are not sitting ducks waiting to be destroyed one fine morning.”

Netanyahu commits a “terrible mistake” by defining the Iran’s nuclear ambitions as a matter of life or death, Halevy said, “because I do not believe there is an existential threat to Israel. I think the Iranians can cause us a lot of damage, if they succeed in one way or another to launch a nuclear device which will actually hit the ground here in Israel. But this in itself would not bring the state of Israel to an end.”

‘Netanyahu preaches despair as a motive for making aliyah to Israel and this is abhorrent’

Speaking of Iran’s nuclear drive in those existential terms tells the Iranians that Israelis believe Tehran actually has the power to destroy the Jewish state, said Halevy, who spent most of his career in the Mossad, served also as Israel’s ambassador to the EU, and was national security adviser to prime minister Ariel Sharon.

“It’s almost inviting them to do so, because they will say, ‘If the Israelis themselves believe that they are vulnerable and can be destroyed then that is sufficient basis to go and do it.’”

Netanyahu’s approach to life is influenced by his late father Benzion Netanyahu, a historian of the Spanish Inquisition who wrote about Don Yitzhak Abrabanel, a Jewish scholar who served as minister in the court of King Fernando of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castillia, Halevy said.

Benzion, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Benzion, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

“It was said that [Abrabanel] failed to warn the Jews of their impending fate and he proved unable to thwart the ultimate inquisition and expulsion of the Jews from Spain in the year 1492. The prime minister told the Jews in Paris [during his visit there last month] that they are today in a situation parallel to the situation of the Spanish Jews on the eve of the Inquisition, and that they better be clear as to what it is that they are facing. I think this is really to preach despair as a motive for making aliyah to Israel and this is abhorrent.”

Speaking to Fathom’s editor Alan Johnson, the former spymaster also criticized the current government’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians, referring in particular to Netanyahu’s Likud party and the nationalist Jewish Home list of Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.

A vote for either party in the upcoming elections will mean that there will be no peace negotiations, “and we will continue to control the territories indefinitely,” Halevy said. On the other hand, a coalition led by the center-left Zionist Camp promises an attempt at negotiations aimed at the establishment of a Palestinian state. “I think the choice has never been so clear as it is now.”

If Netanyahu remains prime minister, he will not be able keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a “holding pattern,” Halevy, who sits on The Times of Israel’s Editorial Board, predicted. “The prime minister will not be able to hold out, because he has no alternative. The alternative of simply being in a holding pattern has exhausted itself, I think. It is no longer sustainable… for the Palestinians, the wider Arab world or the international community.”

Therefore, there will be a “clear confrontation between us and the Palestinians, which could lead ultimately to the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority,” he predicted, “and the situation will degenerate into a Third Intifada.”

The prime minister’s statements after last summer’s Gaza war — in which he gushed that Hamas was hit hard and deprived of any achievements — reveal a deeply flawed strategy, Halevy charged.

“You have to have a military and security capability to achieve the maximum result. After that there has to follow a policy, the political side of the equation. But if you describe your policy aim as preventing the other side from getting any political advantage there is no positive policy in this. Just maintaining the present situation for a year or two years — this is not policy,” he said.

“What do you intend to achieve? What are your political aims for the Gaza Strip? Just that they will not shoot at you? But there are two million people there and they must have the means to live. You can’t simply say ‘my aim is that they get no advantage.’ That is not a policy.”

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