Netanyahu said to tell ministers to keep quiet about Iran

Move comes two days after his dramatic televised presentation revealing Mossad’s capture of Tehran nuclear weapons program archives

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second right, leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, April 29, 2018. (Amit Shabi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second right, leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, April 29, 2018. (Amit Shabi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly ordered ministers in his cabinet to turn down the dial on their public comments about Iran and the nuclear archive revealed by the premier this week in an elaborate presentation.

While Hadashot TV news said Wednesday that Netanyahu had told cabinet members to lower the number and volume of their comments, Haaretz reported that he requested that they not make public remarks on the subject at all.

On Tuesday, a day after the prime minister made a televised presentation — live, in English and broadcast around the world — unveiling a massive intelligence trove on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, cabinet ministers reportedly complained that the prime minister had used them “like props” in what they described as a planned PR campaign aimed at whipping up public fear.

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

The 11-member 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 report said.

“The discussion was predetermined with a very short timescale and there was no opportunity to discuss alternatives or to express any disagreement,” it quoted ministers as saying.

“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.

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)

“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.

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

Hadashot said that the decision to publicize the contents of the intelligence heist was made at a meeting held by Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Mossad head Yossi Cohen, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, and the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, Tamir Hayman.

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

Sue Surkes and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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