Netanyahu denies asking Shin Bet to spy on Israeli army and Mossad chiefs

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Israeli prime minister's office says TV investigation is an 'utter lie' and a distortion of 'systemic efforts to maintain information security'

Netanyahu's office said the claim against him was an 'utter lie' (AFP)
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Friday 1 June 2018 11:25 UTC
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Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently denied reports on Friday that he asked the head of Israel's security service to eavesdrop on the telephone conversations of the head of the army and Mossad spy agency.

The Israeli prime minister said there was "no limit to the lies" in reports that he asked Yoram Cohen, the head of Shin Bet between 2011 and 2016, to bug the phones of then-army chief of staff Benny Gantz and then-Mossad chief Tamir Pardo in the early years of this decade.

"I never asked [Yoram Cohen] to listen to the Israel (army) chief of staff or the head of the Mossad," said Netanyahu on Twitter on Friday, following a broadcast by Uvda investigative news programme on Thursday. "There is no limit to the lies."

Translation: I never asked to listen to the chief of staff and the Mossad. It's a total lie. There is no limit to the lies!

The prime minister's office said the report was "an utter lie", but also said it was a "distortion" of "systemic efforts that are made from time to time to maintain information security regarding sensitive matters of paramount importance to Israel's security". 

"The decision of what means to use and against who is in the hands of the authorised officials."

According to Uvda, sources in the defence ministry said Cohen was "rattled" by the request and rejected it.

Pardo said the account, if true, showed "a lack of trust... the worst possible thing". 

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Netanyahu prepared strike on Iran in 2011, says ex-Mossad chief

"I do not want to believe that in Israel, a democratic state, the prime minister is asking the Shin Bet to tap the chief of staff or me," Pardo said in an interview.

"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. This illustrates a lack of trust. It's the worst possible thing."

The claims come days after the same programme reported that Netanyahu ordered the Mossad and the military to prepare for an attack on Iran in 2011.

According to the Uvda, 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.

Israeli opposition leaders said the latest allegations were of the "utmost severity".

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."

Tzipi Livni, who heads the Hatnua faction within the Zionist Union, said the allegations showed "the combination between too many years in office, too much power and the labelling of everyone who things differently as a traitor is devastating".