Netanyahu and Barak: Two ‘messiahs’ playing with bombs

Ex-Shin Bet chief launches the latest attack on Netanyahu and Barak’s character, warning that they can’t be trusted to deal with Iran. What is it about these two?

This is just about unprecedented in Israeli history, these public attacks on the reliability of the prime minister and defense minister by the security chiefs who served under them. On Friday, Yuval Diskin, who headed the Shin Bet from 2005 until last May, joined the club by describing Netanyahu and Barak as two super-rich “messianics” who are not to be trusted with such a fateful challenge as that of Iran.

Last year, Diskin and ex-IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi were named by ex-Mossad director Meir Dagan as having been his partners in “stop[ping] Bibi and Barak” from setting out on “any dangerous adventure.”  Later, Uzi Arad, who was Netanyahu’s closest ally for 15 years before being forced out of his post as National Security Council head in one of the endless intrigues in the Prime Minister’s Office, said that because Bibi was “easy to scare,” aides constantly whispered in his ear to turn him against their rivals. The origin of his break with Netanyahu, said Arad, was when he began raising doubts about an attack on Iran. Such doubts were also what brought on Ashkenazi’s ferocious power struggle with Barak, and his at-best correct relations with Netanyahu.

So here we have the leadership duo of Israel described as being basically unfit for office by the former Mossad, Shin Bet and National Security Council heads who worked for them for years, with the former IDF chief’s similar views remaining off-the-record yet known to everyone.

Did Ehud Olmert’s military/intelligence heads slag him off while he was prime minister? No. Did Sharon’s? No. Did Barak’s when he was prime minister? No. Did Peres’, did Rabin’s, did Shamir’s, did Begin’s – did any previous prime minister’s security chiefs go public about his fundamental untrustworthiness and unsuitability for the job?

Actually there is one precedent – Netanyahu, during his first term as PM, from 1996-99. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, after retiring as IDF chief, annouced his run for the premiership by saying, “Netanyahu is dangerous for Israel.” Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, who quit the cabinet and also ran for premier, was completely open about Netanyahu’s lack of honesty, challenging him in their election debate to “look me in the eye, Bibi.” Dan Meridor, another senior minister who quit Netanyahu (though he’s come back to him now), announced his run for prime minister by saying Bibi had brought a “culture of lies” to government.

No Israeli prime minister but Netanyahu has ever faced such attacks on his character by witnesses like these. No Israeli defense minister but Barak has faced them, either. Bibi and Barak, in a league of their own. What is it about them that draws out such contempt from such unlikely sources?

I think it’s their own contemptuousness, above all toward those who disagree with them. Each one, as Diskin said, thinks he’s the “messiah,” a superior man of superior intelligence, strength and vision come to save the rabble, not to listen to them, not to respect them, either. Netanyahu shows this in his self-adoration, together with his transparent lying, manipulation of people’s fears and flattery, the last of which he reserves mainly for Americans. He thinks he’s God and other people are far, far lesser beings – useful, maybe, but nothing more.

Barak, for his part, wasn’t always like this. While he was already known in his first term as “Napoleon,” as an extremely headstrong fellow, he wasn’t despised like he is today. It was after his brief stint as prime minister blew up with the second intifada that he seemed to become deeply resentful; he divorced his wife, went off to America to get rich and returned as this imperious, intimidating junta type. If he couldn’t be prime minister again, he’d be defense minister for life. He turned into a cold and scary guy, once storming a Labor Party stage and ripping the microphone out of a party elder’s hand, turning every media interview into a lecture by raising his voice menacingly whenever the interviewer tried to get a word in. Olmert said Barak used to humiliate IDF generals, cutting them off and putting them down, at cabinet meetings. If Bibi tries to cover his contemptuousness with an earnest facade, Barak doesn’t bother; he’s not interested in people’s votes anymore, just their obedience.

When you’ve got two people with serious superiority complexes not only running the country, but planning to start a war that every other head of state and security chief in the world – along with most of those in Israel – thinks is a global threat, then we’re in Dr. Strangelove territory. Strange-thinking people –  “messianics” – are playing with bombs, so somebody has to do something. And so you get the extraordinary alarm of a recently retired Shin Bet director and Mossad head, along with the “deafening silence” of a recently retired IDF chief. The extremity of their reactions tells you how extreme the situation is. (Arad, though, spoke out to clear his name after being accused of compromising national security, not to protect Israel from its leaders.)

It’s natural to wonder how two men who think they’re God can work together, and seemingly so well. My guess is that it’s simple mutual convenience – Bibi wants the best military technocrat he can find who wants to bomb Iran, and that’s Barak, while Barak wants to be defense minister for whoever’s prime minister, and that’s Bibi. But the power lies with Netanyahu – he doesn’t need Barak while Barak needs him desperately, which means, I think, that even if Barak has or will have doubts about the need to hit Iran, he won’t press them with Bibi because his political career will be over.

“I’ve seen them up close,” Diskin told some 50 people in Kfar Saba at a weekly public affairs meeting. “They’re neither of them messiahs and they’re not people that I, at least on a personal level, trust to have the ability to lead the State of Israel into an event of that scale [war with Iran] and also out of it. These are not the people I would like to see holding the wheel when starting something like that.”

It really is like watching a movie, only this isn’t a movie.