Is Yuval Diskin warming up for politics?

Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin has yet to officially declare any intentions to join Israel’s political scene, but seems to have never been closer to get there.

Last Wednesday, in a conference marking ten years to the “Geneva Initiative” – an independent organization supporting the two states solution – Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin has harshly criticized Israel’s policies regarding the peace process with the Palestinian Authority, describing this issue as far more pressing than the Iranian one. Diskin also called Prime Minister Netanyahu “weak” following the latter’s decision to release Palestinian Prisoners, allegedly instead of freezing settlements’ building in the West Bank.

This is not the first time that Diskin has publically slammed Netanyahu. In an interview to one of Israel’s top newspapers just several weeks before the January parliamentary elections, he described the premier as “afraid and unwilling to take responsibility”, among other harsh comments.

In both cases, the prime minister’s response was aggressive, personal, almost “below the belt”. It claimed that Diskin’s criticism was “fueled by his frustration” after Netanyahu turned down his request to become the next chief of Israel’s Mossad. Sources in the prime minister’s office further said that the former Shin Bet chief is “disconnected with reality and lacks a strategic outlook”.

This response from Netanyahu marks a notable shift from his tendency to usually ignore personal attacks by his political rivals. Since his re-election in 2009, Bibi has become “the King”. He ceased to trouble himself with opponents such as the former opposition leader (and current Justice Minister) Tzipi Livni, or her successor, former Labor chairman, Shelly Yehimovich.

The reason that Bibi has nonchalantly ignored his rivals in recent years was simple: none of them has provided a serious “match-up” for him in terms of national leadership. With his massive security background and halo of the Shin Bet service, Diskin provides exactly this type of threat, which likely accounts for Netanyahu’s uneasy response to his comments.

For Netanyahu, a deputy Shin Bet Chief with leftist or at least “moderate” stances brings up unpleasant memories. It all suddenly seems too familiar: Amnon Lipkin Shahak, Yitzhak Mordehay, Ehud Barak. All of whom were senior army generals who became leaders of center and leftist parties between 1997 and 1999, and finally joined forces to topple him. Since then, the Israeli Left had only one other deputy general as his leader – Amram Mitzna in the 2003 elections – but at the peak of the Second Intifada, Mitzna had no chance against then Likud leader, Ariel Sharon.

Now there is a chance, at least as the center-Left camp perceives it. It started with the fact that the last parliamentary elections almost ended with a tie between the right-wing/religious bloc (which won 61 seats) vs. the center-left/Arab one (59 seats). It continues with the possible removal of the Iranian nuclear issue from Israel’s immediate public agenda, which largely enabled Netanyahu to maintain his political supremacy. It ends with what seems as public tiredness from the prime minister’s perceived hedonist life-style. Last week, it was revealed that the expenses of the prime minister’s three homes reached ridicules amounts of money, which sparked a public outrage.

Diskin is not unaware of this atmosphere. In his response to Netanyahu’s remarks on his alleged “personal frustration”, Diskin sarcastically mentioned the reported budget of 10,000 NIS that Netanyahu spent on ice-cream in 2012. “This is apparently what is needed to focus on the Iranian threat” – he said on his Facebook Page.

This response shows the extent to which Diskin is already inside politics, at least mentally. This is not the type of comment that a “concerned citizen” would make. It’s more suitable for a politician during a campaign.

The question now remains through which political platform Diskin would join politics, in case he chooses to do so. Senior Israeli reporter Ayala Khason twitted a few weeks ago that President Shimon Peres, whose term is about to end in 2014, is already thinking about returning to politics and form a new center party, which will include Diskin himself as well as former Mossad chief Me’ir Dagan, another strong critic of Netanyahu. The other option, and perhaps the more convenient one, is to go for the Labor Party’s chairmanship. There, Diskin would find the right man (who will be willing to move aside) at the right time – Yitzhak Herzog.

But even if Diskin will take the plunge, it is not an easy battle that is waiting for him out there. If there is something that can unite Israel’s Right, mobilize it and excite it – that would be a strong, security-oriented Left candidate who has a real chance of winning the premiership. But if Diskin will have the right consultants on his side, and will act cautiously enough, Israel’s next elections would likely comprise the most serious threat to Netanyahu’s rule in years.

About the Author
Ron Gilran is the COO at Levantine Group, a Tel Aviv based risk-consultancy. You can follow him on Twitter @RonGilran.​
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