Former Mossad and IDF officials weighed in on Wednesday about concerns in some quarters about Religious Zionist Party leaders Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir receiving top defense-related ministries and receiving classified intelligence.
In late 2016 after Donald Trump was on his way to becoming the next US president, CIA officials expressed concern to former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo about giving him full access to intelligence after allegations about his having connections to Russia and mishandling sensitive information.
These same concerns seem to be playing out now among some with the possibility of a future defense minister Smotrich and a future public security minister Ben-Gvir, or at least with one or more of them sitting in on classified security cabinet discussions.
Both officials have loudly criticized the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the IDF in the past for cracking down on Jewish settler violence against the Palestinians, while Ben-Gvir was viewed as so extreme in his youth that the IDF refused to recruit him.
Until recent years, Ben-Gvir had a picture of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein on his wall, was almost criminally probed for threatening an Israeli-Arab parking attendant with a gun and has had numerous run-ins with the police at disorderly protests.
A few right-wing IDF officers in recent years secretly assisted settlers at illegal outposts against IDF enforcement actions.
“I am not especially worried, this is democracy. I assume that they will show responsibility regarding classified intelligence.”
Former Mossad chief Danny Yatom
Despite these concerns, former Mossad chief Danny Yatom said, “I am not especially worried,; this is democracy. I assume that they will show responsibility regarding classified intelligence.”
They said that democratic rules mean that such questions are irrelevant. The public selects the leaders, and it is not the place of the intelligence echelon to question the public’s choice.
At most, professional intelligence officials can give the best advice they have to the elected echelon and hope for the best.
In that sense, it is true that both in the US and Israel, there is sometimes a price to pay for democracy – namely that the public may sometimes pick politicians who are not sufficiently competent to handle national security decisions.
It will be challenging if Smotrich, Ben-Gvir have top Israeli defense posts
A former senior officer told The Jerusalem Post that while it’s a completely political issue, it will be challenging if Smotrich or Ben-Gvir get top defense posts.
“It leaves a very bitter taste for many that people who do not have military experience are giving orders,” he said.
Another former senior officer told the Post that while who will fill what portfolio is all “a wild guess” until the government is formed, there have been defense ministers in the past who had no previous military experience.
And, at the end of the day, it’s for incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hand out portfolios.
All ministers, he said, have limits in what they can do, “and the PM has the formal right to hire or fire all ministers.”
Netanyahu, he continued, will have a problematic government with no center or left-wing ministers as part of his coalition. “It will be hard for him, as, unlike Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, he understands the importance of what the ICC [International Criminal Court] or sanctions can do [if Israel’s policies depart too far from global standards].
Regarding terror attacks by Palestinians against Israelis and IDF troops, the source said that should Ben-Gvir and Smotrich get the defense and internal security portfolios, “I don’t think they can handle it.”
According to the source, if it continues, West Bank violence will spill over the Green Line. “It never just stays in the West Bank, and I expect that many Israeli-Arabs who use their weapons against their own brethren in criminal ways, may one day resort to attacks against Israelis.”
While it’s not yet a full-blown intifada, “if they act like how they speak, we will be heading toward a full-blown eruption of violence.”
“Hamas won’t be able to stay quiet,” should the violence continue. “And don’t even ask about Hezbollah.”
A third source, who has spent decades in the military, told the Post that while it’s still hypothetical that Smotrich could become defense minister, should it happen, “it’s a bridge too far. There’s a limit; it’s not a realistic option.”
The source explained that should he be given the portfolio, he would have a lot of influence on the situation in the West Bank.
“It’s a very sensitive and violent issue, and he might try to influence and lead us toward an escalation,” he warned. “It’s a real threat.”