Yuval Diskin, the former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), has an impressive record in the non-stop battle Israel fights against terrorism. As with intelligence chiefs and secret services worldwide, most of his achievements will remain confidential even in generations to come.
It appears, and not for the first time, that rich operational and security experience do not guarantee success in the public arena.
Diskin’s outburst in the media contained two basic errors that usually characterize young politicians. The first was unrefined personal bickering with political opponents. The second was a preference for generalized statements instead of in-depth reasoning.
Despite his amateur opening, there is no reason to doubt the purity of Diskin’s intentions. As chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, I followed Diskin’s activities for five consecutive years.
Diskin has integrity and has never backtracked from presenting all his views, even when these conflicted with his commanders’ views. The government spokesmen who try to attribute to him a hidden agenda, personal or political, should be condemned.
Ministers who rushed to defend the dignity of the prime minister and defense minister fell into the exact same pothole that Diskin did. Instead of making a serious attempt to counter the criticism of Diskin, they chose instead to slander his motives and stain his past.
One minister stated that “Diskin continues a tradition of stupid Shabak [Shin Bet] leaders.” A second minister argued that “because of Diskin, [Gilad] Schalit rotted for years in captivity.”
One would expect that responsible leaders would respond to criticism in a substantive way and not be dragged into a violent “talkback” dialogue.
Diskin, like former Mossad director Meir Dagan, has warned against the dangerous consequences of Israeli action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
His criticism focused on three issues. First, the estimate that a military strike cannot prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear capability. Second, the possibility that an attack would in reality dramatically accelerate the Iranian nuclear program. And most importantly, Diskin’s decisive assertion that he has no confidence in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
There is no point in arguing against Diskin’s subjective feelings regarding the level of trust he has for Israel’s current leadership. He has every right as a citizen who wants to influence the future of his country to disapprove of personalities seeking the public’s trust and to state this publicly. But Diskin’s statements on the Iranian issue raise fundamental doubts.
Regarding the question of Iran, Diskin has no advantage over any other skilled commentator. His specialties are fighting terrorism, countering ideological radical elements and exposing spies against Israel.
The Iranian threat poses the country’s leaders with dilemmas different from those which Diskin successfully faced for many years. It is directly connected to the political world, Israel’s foreign relations, our alliance with the United States, complex technology and military tactics, as well as intelligence and operational matters that are not the Shin Bet’s responsibility.
Diskin, of course, should not be prevented from expressing an opinion on this crucial subject, but the complexity of the issue requires that any reference to it be much deeper than a mere mention of two potential problems.
Whoever sees it as his duty to warn against a certain policy is not exempt from the necessity to present a full view on the issue in question. It is also his duty to offer a real alternative to a policy he opposes.
In Diskin’s statement, many dimensions were missing: Does he agree with the assumption that Iran intends to arm itself with nuclear weapons? Does he recommend waiting for US military action? Does he believe there is a chance that such action will take place? Does he hope the sanctions imposed on Iran will change the situation? Is there any benefit from the resumption of negotiations between the superpowers and Iran?
Would a global acceptance of a nuclear Iran lead to a change in Diskin’s approach to the subject? Is an Israeli acceptance of a nuclear Iran preferable to attacking Iran? What is his solution to the danger that the failure of the global effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran could lead Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan to join a nuclear race?
Is he concerned about the possibility of tactical nuclear weapons falling into the hands of a terrorist organization in Middle East states armed with weapons of mass destruction? These are just some of the questions Diskin, like many of the opponents of using force against the Iranian nuclear program, has not yet made a true and courageous attempt to answer. Let’s hope that Diskin’s next public appearance will focus on this.
Published in the Jerusalem Post on May 3, 2012