Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are deserving of criticism, both together and individually. However, former Israel Security Agency head Yuval Diskin's remarks calling them "messianic" were shallow and unfounded and suggest poor character judgment regarding the people he reported to for so long. As far as Israeli politicians go, there are none less starry-eyed and messianic than Netanyahu and Barak. Sometimes they are even excessively level-headed.
Yet this isn't Diskin's only shortcoming. The Israeli daily Ma'ariv on Sunday published a piece by Ben Caspit detailing a conversation between Netanyahu and Diskin about the decision to fire former National Security Adviser Uzi Arad. Every newspaper is entitled and obligated to expose such information. But who leaked it? If Diskin did, either directly or indirectly, it could be perceived as a breach of trust – not in the criminal sense, but morally and ethically. The publication of such stories only strengthens politicians' claims that, when looking to appoint high-ranking officials, they have to consider not only their professional qualifications but their personal loyalty as well. Trust plays a role in decision-making about such appointments. If Diskin did leak the details of his conversation with Netanyahu, he has given professionalism a bad name. (Neither of the two commented on the Ma'ariv report).
It is now clear that Diskin, like former Mossad chief Meir Dagan before him, has weakened Israel's efforts to mobilize the international community to impose increasingly tough sanctions on Iran. Sanctions will only be effective if the world believes that an Israeli attack on the ayatollahs' nuclear program is a possibility. Dagan and Diskin have allowed themselves to weaken Israel – or to paraphrase Moshe Dayan, they have lost us a pawn on the international chessboard of politics. Like kicking our own goal.
Diskin's pointed remarks did not occur in a vacuum. They were made amid preparations for early elections and in tandem with speeches by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Dagan at a conference in New York. Diskin isn't the locomotive engine of elections, but he is an important car in the train. It is fine to oppose military action against Iran, but this is a right reserved for Knesset members, journalists or any citizen outside the decision-making security apparatus. Dagan was right when he said on Sunday that the law should not be allowed to muzzle him and his colleagues. Still, for people like Diskin and Dagan, who were privy to all of Israel's secrets, exercising their right to free speech amounts to uncouth, and damaging, political acting out.
This issue has another aspect to it, one that many good people avoid mentioning openly. Many have claimed that the government must be flawed if three senior defense officials have spoken out against it. But we can also ask the opposite question: Why are they trying to undermine a lawfully elected government? Ashkenazi led a campaign against his superior, the defense minister, using a forged document. Diskin and Dagan are sabotaging Netanyahu's political initiatives, in which they long played a part. All this raises a red flag. Woe to Israel if a Hebrew-speaking Douglas MacArthur or J. Edgar Hoover were to sprout in its highest ranks, whether in the army or intelligence. Denouncing this phenomenon is the only safeguard for Israeli democracy.