Netanyahu Denies He Ordered Phone Tap on Former Mossad and Army Chiefs

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently denied reports Friday thart he asked the head of Israel’s security service to listen to the telephone conversations of the head of the army and Mossad spy agency a number of years ago.

"I never asked [Yoram Cohen] to listen to the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff or the head of the Mossad," Netanyahu tweeted early Friday, following the report on Israel’s prominent investigative news television show Uvda on Thursday. "There’s no limit to the lies," the prime minister tweeted.

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According to the report, Netanyahu asked Cohen, who headed the Shin Bet from 2011 to 2015, to listen to the conversations of then-IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and then-Mossad chief Tamir Pardo sometime during the early months of Cohen’s tenure. The Prime Minister’s Office also denied the report, saying: “Netanyahu never asked to listen to the chief of staff and the head of the Mossad. This is an utter lie.”

Head of the opposition, MK Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union, said that if the allegations are confirmed "they are of the utmost severity and should concern us all. I call for an urgent and immediate examination by the state comptroller to get to the bottom of this."  

File photo: Then-IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (R) and Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen at a memorial service for slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, November 2011.Tomer Appelbaum

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Avi Gabbay, the head of the opposition party the Zionist Union, said Friday that a "prime minister that sends his Shin Bet chief to spy after his colleagues is underserving of serving in such a high-ranking official position." He called on Netanyahu to step down, saying his actions were tantamount to "decimating the sanctity of defense."

Tzipi Livni, who heads the Hatnua faction within the party, ripped into the prime minister for allegedly trying to "use means intended for our enemies against the IDF chief of staff and head of Mossad." She said that it shows that "the combination between too many years in office, too much power and the labeling of everyone who things differently as a traitor is devastating."

According to the report, Netanyahu assked Cohen to make use of the Shin Bet’s capabilities in order to monitor a series of senior officials, including Gantz and Pardo, including through listening to their telephone calls. The program quoted sources in the Defense Ministry who said Cohen was “rattled” by the request and rejected it, explaining that the Shin Bet is not supposed to take such radical steps toward those at the top of the other security organizations. 

“I do not want to believe that in Israel, which is a democratic state, the prime minister is asking the Shin Bet to tap the chief of staff or me,” Pardo said in an interview. He added: "Wiretapping is the greatest possible [sign of] lack of trust. I never asked to wiretap any of my employees in the Mossad. Never. It never even crossed my mind. In my view, that’s outside the rules of the game.” According to Pardo, “this illustrates a lack of trust. It’s the worst possible thing. If I had known something like that, the right thing for me to have done would have been to stand up and say, this isn’t my game.”

In an interview with Uvda, Pardo said that he and Netanyahu met three times before his appointment for talks on the “continuum between loyalty and trustworthiness.”

“I told him: ‘I was the subordinate of your brother. Yoni chose me to be next to him more than once, but also the last time. He trusted me faithfully,” Pardo said. When asked what Netanyahu said in response, Pardo said: “He didn’t answer, but he appointed me.” According to Pardo, the two discussed everything. “I had no problem having an in-depth conversation with him," he said. “He never cut me off.”

The Prime Minister’s Office told Uvda: “The claim that the prime minister asked the head of the Shin Bet to listen in on the chief of staff and the head of the Mossad is completely unfounded. This is a total distortion of systemic efforts that are made from time to time to maintain information security regarding sensitive matters of paramound importance to Israel’s security. The decision of what means to use and against who is in the hands of the authorized officials.”

The same program reported that Netanyahu ordered the Mossad and the military to prepare for an attack on Iran in 2011. According to the show, Netanyahu told Pardo and Gantz to prepare the military to be able to launch an attack on Iran within 15 days of being given the order to do so.

“It’s not the sort of thing that you do just for practice,” Pardo told the program, adding that there could be two reasons to order preparation for an attack — either to actually attack, or to send a signal to someone. “It’s possible the United States would find out about the order one way or another and would be impelled to take action.”