Ministers said to complain PM used them as ‘props’ in his Iran nuke PR campaign

Unnamed lawmakers tell Hadashot TV they were hurriedly called to a briefing designed not for debate but to ‘neutralize any criticism’ and to ‘stir up public tension’

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the PM's office in Jerusalem, on April 29, 2018. (Amit Shabi/POOL)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the PM's office in Jerusalem, on April 29, 2018. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

A day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dramatic presentation unveiling a massive intelligence haul on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, cabinet ministers reportedly complained that he had used them “like props” in what they described as a pre-meditated PR campaign aimed at whipping up fear among the Israeli public.

Ministers were told at 12:25 on Monday to rush to an urgent cabinet meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Hadashot news reported.

The 11-strong security cabinet expected a briefing on the Iranian threat, following a missile attack — attributed by overseas sources to Israel — on weapons storage bases in Syria on Sunday night and Monday morning in which at least 16 people were reportedly killed, the majority of them Iranians.

What they got was a short briefing about the intelligence haul.

The Defense Ministry buildling in Tel Aviv, August 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The ministers reported feeling embarrassed and used, the TV report said.

“The discussion was predetermined with a very short timescale and there was no opportunity to discuss alternatives or to express any disagreement,” the TV report said the ministers complained.

“The cabinet is united on everything connected to the Iranian threat, but the feeling was that they gathered us together in haste just to neutralize any criticism and to stir up public tension,” one was said to have added.

In the four hours between the Prime Minister’s Office announcing that Netanyahu would address the nation and the speech itself, the Tel Aviv stock market tanked, opposition parties canceled no-confidence votes due to “the security situation” and some political and military commentators posited that Israel may be on its way to a military conflict with Iran.

Hadashot quoted another “political source” rejecting the accusation made by the ministers.

“If the two ministers did not understand the depth and importance of the critical debate that took place yesterday, then apparently they really do only serve as props,” the source said, claiming that the complaints came from only two out of the 11-minister cabinet.

Several hours after that meeting, Netanyahu appeared on TV to present what he said was a vast archive of Iran’s own documentation demonstrating that Tehran worked to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal and brazenly lied to the international community about it — facts which, the prime minister claimed, totally undermined the legitimacy of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposes files that prove Iran’s nuclear program in a press conference in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

US President Donald Trump has until May 12 to decide whether to pull the US out of that deal.

Channel 2 also reported that the Mossad intelligence service began its operation to seize Iranian documentation of its nuclear program in February 2016 and ended it on January 31, 2018.

Acting on precise information, agents were able to find and remove the safe containing thousands of files and CDs after breaking into a container, located within a warehouse.

They were able to spirit the safe, containing hundreds of kilograms of materials, over the border even after the Iranian authorities discovered that the facility had been breached.

The haul included internal, handwritten documents between figures involved in the nuclear project and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Channel 2 said that the decision to publicize the contents of the intelligence heist was taken at a meeting involving Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Mossad head Yossi Cohen, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, and head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, Tamir Hayman.

All reportedly agreed that the data should be publicized with “as much noise as possible.”

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