(June 3, 2018 / Israel Hayom) Former Shin Bet security agency Director Yoram Cohen denied over the weekend a report suggesting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked him to wiretap two senior security officials in 2011.
A report that aired on Thursday on Channel 12’s investigative journalism show “Uvda” (“Fact”) claimed that Netanyahu approached Cohen in 2011 and asked him to use the agency’s “special resources” to wiretap the phones of a number of senior defense officials, including then-Mossad Director Tamir Pardo and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
“Wiretapping was the worst possible display of distrust,” Pardo told Uvda. “I don’t want to believe that a prime minister of a democratic country such as Israel would ask the Shin Bet chief to wiretap the heads of the Mossad or the IDF. If he didn’t trust us, he could have forced us to resign in 10 minutes.”
“This is the worst thing that can happen. Had I known about something like that, the right thing to do would have been to resign immediately,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement denying the report and calling it “utterly baseless.” Netanyahu himself took to Facebook, calling the report “a total lie.”
“I never asked to wiretap the chief of staff or the head of the Mossad,” he explicitly stated.
Amid the controversy, Cohen issued a statement over the weekend saying, “I don’t usually comment on media reports concerning the professional discourse between the prime minister and the head of the Shin Bet, but the reports about alleged instructions the prime minister had given me while I was heading the Shin Bet, especially concerning wiretapping specifically the phones of Chief of Staff Gantz and Mossad Director Pardo, are untrue.”
Senior intelligence officials also doubted Pardo’s claim, but said that given the tense relationship between Netanyahu and the heads of the intelligence services, they could not completely rule out such a scenario.
“The possibility that a government official would have us bugged came up in internal conversations,” a former senior Mossad official told Israel Hayom. “There were sensitive issues that we avoided discussing over the phone, but mostly due to fear others [the enemy] were listening, not government officials.”
Former Shin Bet chief and current chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee MK Avi Dichter dismissed Pardo’s allegations. “I know it’s a lie, and moreover, Tamir knows it’s a lie,” he said.
“And, above all, there is no possible scenario where a prime minister asks the director of the Shin Bet to eavesdrop on a certain individual,” continued Dichter. “Any wiretapping order is directly subject to the approval of the attorney general and the State Attorney’s Office, and indirectly subject to oversight by the Ministerial Committee on Shin Bet Affairs and the Subcommittee for Intelligence and Secret Services.”
“If, heaven forbid, the Shin Bet were to decide to wiretap the Mossad chief, the rationale would have to be detailed in the periodic action report the Shin Bet submits to the attorney general and to the state attorney,” he explained.
Members of the opposition, however, argued that Cohen’s statement actually confirmed Pardo’s assertions in the Channel 12 report, particularly the fact that he said the prime minister did not ask to eavesdrop on the Mossad and IDF chiefs “specifically.” A number of opposition members, therefore, have demanded that the Knesset investigate Pardo’s allegations.
Zionist Union Knesset member Tzipi Livni, who served in the Mossad in the 1980s, called on Dichter to convene an urgent meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, whose members “should be given information on whether such a request was made in the past, which agencies use such measures today and who supervises the authorization process.”
Livni further said “it seems the Shin Bet chief was the only one stopping the prime minister from using methods meant for the enemy against the chief of staff and the director of the Mossad.”
Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said that “if this indeed happened, we should have learned about it in real time.”