In a rare move, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled the second part of a security cabinet meeting on Wednesday, that began the day before, which was convened to discuss Iran and the annual assessment of Israel’s intelligence community.
‘Something grave happened shortly after the conclusion of the meeting yesterday: leaks from the security cabinet meeting,’ the prime minister said at the outset of the meeting, according to a statement issued by his office. Netanyahu had convened the security cabinet on Tuesday for an annual meeting on the country’s intelligence assessments, a meeting that dealt – in depth – with the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme.
Netanyahu said the security of the country rested on its ability of the cabinet to hold classified and in depth discussions where all the ‘facts, opinions and implications’ were presented. ‘This is a basic tool in managing the country’s security. Yesterday, someone severely undermined the confidence that Israeli citizens give to this forum,’ he said. ‘He violated the most basic rules regarding the conduct of security cabinet discussions. He also hurt the good name of those present at the meeting who did not leak its contents,’ Netanyahu added.
While the PM did not indicate what piece of information aroused his ire, the lead headline in Wednesday’s Yediot Aharonot read: ‘Disagreement about Iran among the intelligence agencies.’ According to the report, the disagreement between Israel’s intelligence community is over the so-called ‘zone of immunity’ – the period where the Iranians will have progressed on their nuclear programme beyond the point where an Israeli attack would be effective.
Netanyahu, deferring the second part of the meeting yesterday shortly after it begun, told cabinet ministers that he did not have anything against the media, which was just doing its job, but did have ‘a grievance against the person who broke the most basic trust needed to hold security cabinet meetings, and harmed the ability to hold classified meetings. I have a responsibility to the citizens of Israel and to the country’s security, and therefore I am disbanding this meeting.’
The two-day meeting, which begun on Tuesday, was the first in-depth session on Iran held by the security cabinet in months. Earlier this year Netanyahu came under criticism for not convening the forum on such a fateful issue. One counter-argument put forward by government officials was the concern over leaks from the forum, as it includes 14 voting members and four observers
While Netanyahu’s inner cabinet, which is made up of himself and eight other ministers, can give an advisory opinion on whether to strike Iran, Israel’s law stipulates that the decision needs to be made by the security cabinet. The security cabinet could also choose to bring such a decision to the full 29-member cabinet – which historically has been the case in Israel when dealing with decisions of going to war or to embark on major military operations.