Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday took a jab at former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo over a critical interview the latter gave in which he accused the premier of attempting to wiretap his phone in 2011.
During the interview with the “Uvda” investigative TV show aired Thursday, Pardo called the spy agency he once headed a “crime syndicate with a license.”
Netanyahu, speaking to ministers at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, said, “Mossad is not a crime syndicate.”
“It is a glorious organization carrying out blessed work battling terrorism and we all salute it,” he added.
In its report, “Uvda” said that Netanyahu had asked then-Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen to monitor the communications of senior defense officials, including Pardo and then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz.
There was no evidence or specific concerns that Gantz and Pardo were leaking state secrets, and the eavesdropping was meant as a “preventative measure,” according to the news program’s sources.
Cohen reportedly denied the prime minister’s request, telling Netanyahu that the “Shin Bet is not supposed to use such drastic measures against the people leading the military and the Mossad.”
At the weekend, Cohen released a rare and curiously worded official statement denying the specific allegations. “I usually don’t address in the media the professional discourse that takes place between the prime minister and the head of the Shin Bet,” Cohen said in the statement. “However, the reports in the media about instructions the prime minister supposedly gave to me when I was serving as Shin Bet head — to specifically listen to the phones of Chief of Staff [Benny] Gantz and Mossad head [Tamir] Pardo — are not correct,” he said. Earlier, a Channel 10 news report quoted Cohen as telling confidants that he was “surprised” by the report and called it “nonsense.”
Pardo, who was selected by Netanyahu to lead the Mossad and took over the agency’s helm in early 2011, said he was shocked by the revelation.
“I don’t want to believe that in the State of Israel, which is a democratic country, the prime minister would ask the head of the Shin Bet to listen in on the [IDF] chief of staff or myself. If [Netanyahu] didn’t believe in us, he could make us end our tenures within 10 minutes,” Pardo told the host of “Uvda,” Ilana Dayan.
Netanyahu’s office quickly responded to the report, calling it “totally unfounded,” but also appeared to acknowledge that at least some aspects of it were true.
“The claim that the prime minister asked the head of the Shin Bet to listen in on the chief of staff and head of the Mossad is totally unfounded,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. “It is a total distortion of the systemic efforts that are done occasionally in order to protect sensitive information of the utmost importance to the security of Israel.
“The decision about which measures to use and against which individuals is left to the authorized officials,” Netanyahu’s office said.
The prime minister later posted a video to his social media accounts saying he preferred to listen to music.
“This is a complete lie. Not only am I saying this, former Shin Bet head [Yoram Cohen] also says that this is nonsense, a lie.”
Netanyahu went on to reveal what he “really listens to.”
“The High Windows, The Yarkon Bridge Trio, Arik Einstein,” he said, listing Israeli bands and musicians. “The Beatles — the first albums — Abba and also people from today.”
The revelation about the prime minister’s alleged eavesdropping request was part of a larger report aired by “Uvda” about the security cabinet’s discussions and decisions in 2011 as Israel considered carrying out a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities in order to prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring a nuclear bomb.
Pardo told the program that Netanyahu had instructed then-IDF chief Gantz to ready the military to carry out an attack on Iran within 15 days of being ordered into action. That order, Pardo said, led him to contemplate resigning rather than participate in an attack.
“It’s not something that you’re permitted to do just for practice,” he said of the request to put the military on a war footing. “If someone does that then it has two [possible] purposes: One purpose is that he really means [to attack] and the other option is that he is sending a signal, that someone out there should know.”
Pardo’s term as chief of Mossad ended in 2016, and the spy agency is now headed by Yossi Cohen.
Judah Ari Gross, Stuart Winer and Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.