Charges of High-Echelon Wiretapping Continue to Roil Israeli Security Establishment

israel wiretapping
Former Shin Bet Director MK Avi Dichter (Likud), currently chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Former Mossad chief Tamar Pardo’s allegations about wiretapping at the highest echelons of Israeli government continued to roil the security establishment on Sunday as Pardo himself was accused of irresponsible disclosures, while some former generals said that surveillance of senior officials to protect state secrets is not uncommon and quite justified.

Former Shin Bet Director MK Avi Dichter (Likud), currently chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that Pardo was guilty of leaking classified information with his revelations about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s directive to him to prepare a plan attacking Iran in 2011 and a Mossad operation to assassinate Iranian atomic scientists.

“The heads of the different branches in the Shin Bet and the Mossad are very angry over this interview, even if it passed the censor,” Dichter told 1013FM on Sunday.

“After this interview, my cell phone was flooded with messages from people who I haven’t heard from for 20 years, including heads of different departments… Not so long ago, the deputy head of the Mossad was removed from his position after leaking to the media. Tamir knows this incident well,” he added.

In an interview with Uvda, Pardo alleged that Mr. Netanyahu approached the then-head of the Shin Bet, Yoram Cohen, and asked him to tap the phones of a number of people, including the Chief of Staff and the head of the Mossad. Pardo said that Cohen refused the request.

However, Cohen denied the report, saying that “the publications in the media about supposed instructions that the prime minister gave me when I was serving as head of the Shin Bet, to listen in specifically to the phones of Chief of Staff Gantz and Mossad head Pardo, are untrue.”

Yet on Sunday, while the rest of the country was presumably still scandalized by the allegations, true or not, several former IDF generals came forward and said that the practice of wiretapping senior officials was nothing to get worked up over.

Former Shin Bet chief, Major-General (res.) Ami Ayalon, told Ynet that generals have been wiretapped to safeguard highly sensitive information, and there was nothing intrinsically wrong with it.

General (res.) Yaakov Amidror, a former national security advisor under Mr. Netanyahu, concurred, but noted that there are limits on the prime minister’s powers in these matters:

“The job of the prime minister is to make sure that important state secrets are not leaked in order to prevent damage to the state’s security,” he said.

“Therefore, mechanisms exist to which he can turn according to the need and they decide who to wiretap,” he added. “In other words, the prime minister cannot decide who to tap.”

Former general Gershon HaCohen said “There’s no need to get excited. I was also wiretapped. It happened. I’m aware that this is part of the obligations of a person who is in the security apparatus,” he said.

“During the disengagement [from Gaza in 2005], I was the commander of forces who were expected to evacuate the residents of Gush Katif,” he recounted.

“But I prayed every day that it wouldn’t happen. It is fair to assume that there was a question about where I stood. Between me and the then-IDF chief of Staff Dan Halutz there was trust. That’s why I told him as a word of honor that I was ready to carry out what was imposed on me. Whether they believed me, I don’t know. But it is fair to assume that in a case like that I was tapped,” he said.

On the other hand, former general Danny Rothschild, who in the past served as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), stated that he was never aware of such a practice, and that if it was going on, it was wrong.

“I am not aware of wiretapping that took place among senior officers, and if there was, I think it’s unnecessary and wrong,” Rothschild said. “If you’re not confident about a specific officer, fire him.”

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