Israeli officials have denied reports that the head of the country’s internal security service was asked by the prime minister to spy on the director of the Mossad intelligence agency and the head of the military.
The denials were prompted by allegations that will be made in full on Thursday, when the latest installment of the investigative news program Uvda (Fact) will be aired on Israel’s Channel 12 television channel. According to the program, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested that the personal phones of senior Israeli security officials, including those of the heads of the Mossad and the military, be wiretapped for security reasons.
The investigative news program reported on May 31 that the “unprecedented” request has its roots in a “major secret program” that was launched by the Israeli government in 2012. The program required a major transformation of the country’s intelligence budget, staffing and resources. Although numerous individuals from nearly every facet of the Israeli intelligence community had been briefed on the project, the Israeli prime minister was concerned about leaks to the media. He therefore kept his cabinet in the dark about the program, and did not consult with the Knesset, or even the members of the Knesset’s Subcommittee on Intelligence and Secret Services, which is required by law to be kept fully informed about Israeli intelligence operations.
Uvda further alleges that in 2013 Netanyahu convened an extraordinary meeting of senior officials, which included the participation of the attorney general, the head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic security service) and others. It was during that meeting, according to Uvda, when Netanyahu allegedly approached Yora Cohen, the then-director of the Shin Bet, and asked him to “monitor the partners of the secret project”. When asked what he meant, Netanyahu allegedly said that the directors of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Mossad should have their telephones monitored for possible unauthorized leaks to the media. Two names mentioned during that meeting, according to Uvda: Tamir Pardo, head of the Mossad, and Benny Gantz, the IDF’s chief of staff. Both men were new at their posts. Eventually, however, when Cohen took Netanyahu’s request to senior officials at the Ministry of Defense, “they were shocked and rejected it”, Uvda reports.
On Sunday, Cohen took the unusual step of issuing a denial of Uvda’s allegations, calling “reports in the media” about the prime minister having instructed him to “specifically wiretap Gantz and Pardo […] untrue”. The Office of the Prime Minister also denied the Uvda report, describing it in a statement as “utterly baseless”. The statement went on to say that Uvda’s allegations represented “a total distortion of systemic efforts that are made from time to time to safeguard sensitive information related to Israel’s security”. Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu directly criticized comments made by Pardo on the same program, which the Israeli leader saw as damaging to the reputation of the Mossad. Pardo told Uvda that “the fun part” about working for the Mossad was that the agency is “basically a crime syndicate with a license”. Netanyahu took exception to those comments on Sunday, saying that “the Mossad is not a criminal organization. It is a superb organization that does sacred work in the fight against terrorism and other threats to the state of Israel. We all salute it”.