How Netanyahu Silenced Israel’s Spies and Soldiers From Dissenting on Annexation

July 1 has come and gone – the earliest date that the Netanyahu government could announce the annexation of the West Bank, or at least parts of it. It didn't happen, but in the shadow of the Israeli prime minister's still-extant promise to annex, and the forceful resurgence of the coronavirus, this is a dramatic time in Israeli history, and perhaps in all the annals of Zionism.

Annexation may bring an end to Israel as a democratic and Jewish state, replacing it with either a binational entity or, even worse, an Israeli apartheid, accompanied by a spiraling COVID-19 illness rate.

And yet despite the urgency of the moment, and the ramifications of annexation – with the potential of triggering a new war with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas (finding rare cooperation in necessity) which could set the Middle East on fire, Israel’s security and intelligence chiefs are being completely kept in the dark. Netanyahu is excluding them from the decision-making process, in a power-play inversion of the intelligence world’s compartmentalization rule.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar (4th L) takes part in a rally against annexation in Gaza City on July 1, 2020.AFP

In such critical times, Israel needs stable, continuous and experienced leaders for its famed national security infrastructure. But the exact opposite is occurring. In the coming months no less than five senior members of the security establishment face replacement. 

They are: Yossi Cohen, head of Mossad (Israel’s foreign espionage agency); Nadav Argaman, head of the Shin Bet, (domestic security service); Major-General Tamir Hayman, chief of Military Intelligence, and its Research Directorate director, Brigadier-General Dror Shalom; and finally, Meir Ben Shabat, head of the National Security Council. 

Those personnel changes are a matter of routine bureaucracy and legal requirement, as their terms end soon. But it means that the only constant in the top tier of Israel’s intelligence and defense realms will be IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi – staying on for at least another two and half years – and Netanyahu himself, to whom the Mossad and Shin Bet are directly answerable.

In the past, before making decisions on strategic, political or security matters, Israel's prime ministers would consult defense and intelligence leaders, and might well accept their opinions.