'Bottom line -- Bibi's strategy was an abject failure'

Ex-Shin Bet chief: Netanyahu unfit for office, leading Israel to its doom

Saying the PM is directly responsible through his policies for ‘the greatest disaster’ in Israel’s history, Nadav Argaman says he must go or things could get ‘very, very bad’

Former Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman in an interview to Channel 12 broadcast April 11, 2024. (Screen capture: Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Former Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman in an interview to Channel 12 broadcast April 11, 2024. (Screen capture: Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Former head of the Shin Bet internal security service Nadav Argaman launched a full-scale assault against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an interview with Channel 12 that was broadcast Thursday, saying Netanyahu was directly to blame for October 7, “the worst disaster since the state’s establishment,” and was leading Israel to its “doom.”

“Netanyahu is not fit to be prime minister of Israel,” Argaman told the network’s Uvda investigative program.

Calling for swift elections, Argaman, who led the Shin Bet between 2016 and 2021, mostly under Netanyahu, argued: “Morally he cannot [run for office again]. He is responsible for a monumental failure. He is responsible. There’s no one else… Someone who does not take responsibility for a failure of this magnitude is not fit to be a leader of the Jewish people.”

Israel, he said, was “already in the abyss, and if Bibi Netanyahu does not leave office — it will be our doom… I think if the State of Israel doesn’t get its act together and fast, we’ll reach some very, very, very bad places.”

Argaman said Netanyahu was directly responsible for a policy that strengthened Hamas over the years, supplying it with millions of dollars in Qatari cash to buy calm while allowing it to build itself up for the massive attack. Argaman said that when he was leading the service, the prime minister repeatedly demurred on his proposals for aggressive policies toward Hamas, including taking out its top leadership.

“We pushed for it strongly, including presenting operational plans. I won’t say more,” he said. “Bibi preferred to weaken the Palestinian Authority.”

The former security chief also accused Netanyahu of ignoring the Shin Bet’s long-running assessment that Hamas had not been deterred from attacking Israel.

“Looking at the bottom line, Bibi’s strategy for Israel’s national security over the past decade was an abject failure,” he said.

Argaman also pinned a significant share of the blame on the government’s hugely contentious judicial overhaul effort.

“This government is ultimately what caused October 7, because the judicial overhaul is what led to the weakening, in the eyes of our enemies, of Israel,” said Argaman.

“Bibi deliberately ripped apart Israeli society in order to govern,” concluded Argaman. “In order for us to get out of the abyss there is a single condition, and the condition is that we replace this disastrous government.”

Asked if he thought it was tenable to hold elections during a war, Argaman replied: “I think the war is over. We are fighting, [but] not at war.” He noted that only “small forces” were still stationed in the Gaza Strip. “Israel should have headed to elections yesterday.”

“Ultimately, the ones who will topple the government are the people,” said Argaman, clarifying that he had no intention to run for office himself. “Otherwise this war — what he calls a war — will continue” until the next election.

Then-Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, April 11, 2021 (Courtesy)

The premier, Argaman said, is “a very smart man, a very capable man, a sharp-minded man, but [one who] acts for himself, for his own political survival.

Argaman said Netanyahu “is responsible from the start” for the failures leading up to October 7.

“From the moment he let [Justice Minister] Yariv Levin lead the crazy judicial overhaul, through the delusional ministers he appointed: He took [Itamar] Ben Gvir, took [Bezalel] Smotrich, let one ruin the economy, let the other ruin internal security, and this is what we look like today.” Argaman was referring to the two far-right religious firebrands whom Netanyahu appointed as ministers for national security and finance, respectively, in his current government.

“I remember times when Bibi spoke of Ben Gvir and Smotrich with great contempt,” said Argaman. “I see now how he uses Smotrich [as finance minister] even though he knows Smotrich and the economy have nothing to do with each other.”

“What does Ben Gvir have to do with security?” exclaimed Argaman. “National security minister? Perhaps the better term is national disaster minister.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (right) of the Religious Zionism party talks to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit in the Knesset plenum on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Argaman, who served in the Shin Bet for over 40 years, told Channel 12 he didn’t think Hamas would have been able to pull off a shock assault in October 2021, when he stepped down as the agency’s chief after five years.

“The system I knew was different,” he said. “Why it happened, how it happened, what enabled all of this to converge on a single moment where they surprise us, they conquer us — and for an extended period…?” he trailed off, signaling he was at a loss.

Asked about the failure of the heads of the security establishment, who discussed worrying signals of unusual Hamas activity in Gaza hours before the assault began, but did not take decisive action, Argaman said: “I don’t want to look here like someone who’s wise in retrospect, saying ‘I would do A, B and C.’ I don’t know to answer these questions. I can say these are very good people, very serious people, with vast experience — and the fact is they acted in this way. Why? I can’t answer that.”

Argaman repeated several more times throughout the conversation: “I can’t understand it. I can’t understand it.”

He also signaled that in his view the greater failure was not the lack of clear intelligence on the Hamas plot, but a failure to act on the signs that were there.

“My assessment is that the problem was not one of intelligence but of threat assessment and risk management. As for intelligence — getting a ‘golden’ report is a lottery. But very often you hold security assessments when there are indicative signs and nothing more…”

He also expressed bewilderment at the military’s failure to respond in a timely manner even after it was caught by surprise.

“Citizens [were] screaming ‘help’ for an entire day and nobody came to them,” said Argaman. “I don’t know where they were. I just know they weren’t there.”

Illustrative: soldiers walking next to the destruction by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, 2023, in southern Israel, November 21, 2023 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Argaman said Israel’s top security officials would also need to take responsibility for their failure and resign. However, the ex-Shin Bet chief was adamant that they not do so before Netanyahu.

“Bibi can’t appoint the next Shin Bet chief. He can’t appoint the next military chief of staff, said Argaman. “From my point of view, this government does not have a mandate to appoint the heads of the [defense] bodies.”

Argaman declined to comment when asked whether he had discussed the prospect of resigning with his successor, current Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar.

“My fear is that if Netanyahu appoints Ronen’s successor, he will appoint a person who could harm Israeli democracy, because I suspect Bibi of harming Israeli democracy,” said Argaman.

“He could appoint a Shin Bet head who would [make it] comfortable for Bibi to continue the judicial overhaul,” said Argaman, noting that Bar had advised Netanyahu on the dangers posed to security by the controversial legislation, and particularly the cracks it caused in Israeli society, which were clearly visible to Israel’s enemies.

Then-prime minister Naftali Bennett (R), outgoing director Nadav Argaman (L), and the latter’s successor, Ronen Bar (C), at the prime minister’s office on October 13, 2021 (Haim Zach/GPO)

Argaman expressed his fear that Netanyahu appointees could undermine the independence of their agencies, weakening Israeli democracy.

“The Prison Service has fallen, the Israel Police is in the process, and I’m very wary there will be an attempt to use October 7 to undermine the Shin Bet and the Israeli Defense Forces,” said Argaman, adding that “if the Shin Bet and the justice system fall, then Israeli democracy will fall.”

Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, center, speaks to IDF chief of staff Herzi Halevi, right, during the hostage rescue in southern Gaza’s Rafah, February 12, 2024 (Shin Bet)

Argaman pushed back when asked whether, after October 7, he regretted supporting those Israelis who threatened during protests against the judicial overhaul not to show up for reserve duty.

“You can’t take an entire population and put all the blame on it,” said Argaman.

“The person who led to the judicial overhaul is Netanyahu, and the person who caused people to take to the streets and oppose Israel becoming a dictatorship is Netanyahu,” he continued, adding that he’d never overtly called on anyone to refuse service.

Illustrative: Protesters against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system, in Jerusalem, September 11, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Nonetheless, Argaman said he “absolve[s]” those who had threatened to refuse reserve duty, commenting that he thought it “better to live with refusal than with dictatorship.”

In response to the interview, the Prime Minister’s Office accused Argaman of having encouraged refusal to serve. “He’s a political activist, one of the leaders of the protest movement aimed at bringing down the right-wing government.”

It asserted that Netanyahu had in fact approved moving forward with plans to eliminate the heads of Hamas during 2021’s Gaza conflict, but that it became evident that this was not operationally possible at the time.

“Contrary to the impression given by Argaman’s comments, he never supported invading the Gaza Strip and eliminating Hamas, while Prime Minister Netanyahu led three significant military operations [prior to the current war]…in which thousands of terrorists were killed, including senior ones.”

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