Ex-Shin Bet chief fears overhaul could cause agency to ‘disintegrate from within’

Nadav Argaman, who was appointed by Netanyahu, expresses fear that Israel will move toward dictatorship; ex-Israel nuclear chief: Government leading country toward self-destruction

Then-Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend an awards ceremony at the Shin Bet's headquarters in Tel Aviv honoring agents who excelled in intelligence operations in 2017 and 2018, on December 4, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Then-Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend an awards ceremony at the Shin Bet's headquarters in Tel Aviv honoring agents who excelled in intelligence operations in 2017 and 2018, on December 4, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Former Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman said Thursday that the government’s plan to overhaul the justice system could lead to the security agency he once ran “collapsing from within.”

“The big fear is that if these laws are passed, the State of Israel will stand on the brink of dictatorship. And when the State of Israel stands on the brink of dictatorship, we may see the collapse of the [security] agencies from within,” Argaman said in an interview with Channel 12’s investigative Uvda program.

Argaman was appointed to head the Shin Bet by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2016 and led the agency for five years.

Until Wednesday, he had avoided speaking out publicly against the Netanyahu government’s effort to radically curb the High Court of Justice’s power, though he did sign onto a letter at the beginning of the month that urged President Isaac Herzog to refrain from aiding the coalition’s effort.

Argaman explained that Shin Bet employees, along with career officers in the Mossad and the IDF, are not conscripted to serve.

“Like they decided that they serve, they can just as easily decide that they no longer want to,” he said.

He expressed his fear that if Israel turns into a dictatorship, “there will be a departure of staff from the [security] organizations.”

The legislation currently being blitzed through the Knesset would give the government and coalition complete control over the selection of all judges in Israel; bar the High Court of Justice from reviewing Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws; severely restrict the High Court’s capacity to strike down laws deemed incompatible with those Basic Laws; and allow the Knesset to pass laws which are preemptively immune from judicial review by the High Court from the outset.

Critics say it marks a revolutionary change in Israel’s governance, essentially removing the ability of the High Court to act as a check on the Knesset and the governing coalition. This could move Israel from a liberal democracy to another system of governance, experts warn.

Supporters retort that the judiciary has gained far too much power over the past several decades and the government’s proposals will restore the balance of power between the branches of government.

Former Israel Atomic Energy Commission director Ze’ev Snir. (Wikipedia CC BY/IAEA image bank)

Also on Thursday, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily published an interview with former Israel Atomic Energy Commission head Ze’ev Snir, who spoke out for the first time against the government’s effort to execute a “regime change” via the judicial overhaul legislation.

Snir, who was appointed by Netanyahu in 2015 and served as the de facto head of Israel’s nuclear program until several months ago, blasted the slew of bills that the coalition has passed aimed at solidifying Netanyahu’s rule and securing additional funds for the premier’s family.

“This is what they’re dealing with and this is why I’m so furious. What about Iran? We’re dealing with these things and in the meantime, Iran is continuing to develop its nuclear program.”

Snir argued that the judicial overhaul could even impact Israel’s own closeted nuclear program.

He pointed to a 2015 resolution that several Arab countries sought to pass in the International Atomic Energy Agency, which would have required the UN nuclear watchdog to publish a report on Israel’s military nuclear program. Israel has never publicly confirmed the existence of such a program.

The resolution was blocked by the US. “If [the US] wasn’t with us, it would’ve passed,” he said before expressing his skepticism regarding whether Washington would be willing to again come to Israel’s defense.

“In the United States today, you hear criticism regarding the erosion of democratic values in Israel as a result of the overhaul,” Snir said. He also highlighted Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s recent call for Israel to “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara and how it led US President Joe Biden’s administration to boycott him when he visited this week.

Snir dismissed Smotrich’s apology for the remark, noting that all the minister did was try and argue that his critics didn’t understand what he meant to say. “He has the mentality of a real terrorist.”

Snir claimed that rather than acting as a leader, Netanyahu has become an “analyst.” He urged his former boss and the other members of the government to wake up and get out of the “vertigo” that they’re in.

He argued that Israel’s ability to survive is dependent on the cohesiveness of its people along with support from the United States and other allies abroad.

“We need strong management and good leadership, but we don’t [currently] have that, so I’m not sure we’ll survive. I’m really not sure. I’m very pessimistic.”

He said Iran and Israel’s other enemies in the region “don’t need nuclear weapons to destroy us. All they have to do is wait and see how we hurt ourselves.”

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