Ex-spymaster: PM bragging about Israeli deeds, abilities broke long-time policy

Efraim Halevy accuses PM of self-aggrandizement, notes wryly that Netanyahu practically compared himself to God in recent speech

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy speaks at a conference commemorating his successor, Meir Dagan, in Netanya on June 9, 2021. (Tamir Bargig/Netanya Academic College)
Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy speaks at a conference commemorating his successor, Meir Dagan, in Netanya on June 9, 2021. (Tamir Bargig/Netanya Academic College)

The former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service roundly denounced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, accusing the outgoing premier of endangering national security through self-aggrandizement.

Efraim Halevy, who served as the head of the spy agency under Netanyahu in the 1990s but has since become a staunch critic of him, said the prime minister’s penchant for openly discussing intelligence matters — a break from his predecessors’ policies of ambiguity — had made it more difficult for the Mossad to conduct covert targeted killings.

“I hope and believe that any prime minister — whoever it will be — will know to serve as a navigator for the country and its security, and that the quiet of the past will come back and serve its historic function,” Halevy said, speaking at a conference commemorating one of his successors in the Mossad, Meir Dagan.

Halevy has regularly criticized Netanyahu for speaking too openly about matters of national security, specifically those related to Israel’s operations against Iran. Halevy and other former heads of Israeli intelligence services over the years have said Netanyahu’s openness on the issue was for the premier’s own personal gains and came at the expense of the Mossad’s freedom of operation.

“During the years of Benjamin Netanyahu’s second tenure [as prime minister], a new relationship developed with the heads of the Mossad who served under him and the way of acting in terms of the publicity around sensitive issues has changed. Netanyahu, with his actions, has intentionally weakened the policy of ambiguity that governments adhered to for 50 years,” Halevy said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a ceremony renaming the nuclear reactor in Dimona to the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center after the late Israeli statesman, on August 29, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The former spy chief, who also served as national security adviser in the early 2000s and in a variety of other top defense and diplomatic positions, specifically pointed to an incident in 2018 in which Netanyahu spoke at Israel’s secretive Dimona nuclear reactor, issuing clear threats to Iran and hinting at Israel’s military capabilities.

“Netanyahu made blunt remarks about Iran in a live broadcast from the Dimona nuclear reactor. The message to Tehran was new and left no room for doubt,” Halevy said.

The former Mossad director added that Netanyahu had begun “partially exposing” aspects of the agency’s operations “for reasons that have not been aired in public.”

Halevy also noted that Netanyahu ended the intelligence service’s practice of holding a modest annual ceremony in honor of outstanding service by its members at the President’s Residence in favor of a grander affair in which he distributed medals of honor.

“In the last medal of honor event that was held a few weeks ago, there was also a speech focusing on the central role that the prime minister filled in special operations, which were approved by him. He spoke and expanded on the difficulty and challenge of approving bold operations and that this has become more difficult from year to year. The speech dealt with the growing courage of the prime minister… who alone leads the historic trek to save Israel,” Halevy said sarcastically.

“It led to me recall the passage from the Passover [seder]: ‘In every generation they rise up to destroy us, and the Holy One Blessed Be He delivers us from their hands,” he added wryly.

Halevy is one of a host of former defense officials who in recent years have criticized the outgoing prime minister, who is expected to leave office next week following a confidence vote for a new government led by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett scheduled for Sunday.

The Mossad’s new director, David Barnea, succeeded Yossi Cohen on June 1.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct an inaccurate headline and quote.

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