Netanyahu Can’t Stick Around: Former Mossad Chief

Efraim Halevy says Israeli PM’s long term tenure would be “very dangerous”

3 mins read
The British-born and educated Halevy has often been liked to George Smiley, John LeCarré’s spymaster

Legendary former Mossad boss Efraim Halevy says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is living in a world which is not real” and cannot stay in office much longer.

“I do believe there are many people in his own party who have reached a conclusion that it’s very dangerous to allow him to continue for any long period of time. He is living in a world which is not real. It’s not reality,” Halevy said in an overlooked interview Thursday with PBS Newshour.

“Let’s imagine we win the war and Mr. Netanyahu will get up and say, ‘I won the war,’” Halevy told  Newshour special correspondent Leila Molana-Allen. “Maybe it’s true he won the war, but what will people say the day after?”

A longtime critic of Netanyahu and policies encouraging rightwing nationalist Israeli settlers to encroach on Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank, Halevy also said the failure of Israeli intelligence to detect and deter the Oct. 7 Hamas assaults on Israel would have long lasting effects.

“It’s not the first time we have had an intelligence failure. I mean, 50 years ago, we had an intelligence failure on the Yom Kippur War. That was a different story. This is a much more compelling story. The consequences are much more serious than was in the Yom Kippur War.”

The Israeli policy of periodically killing leaders of the fundamentalist terror group has failed, Halevy added.

“You’re also changing the character of the movement. And you are reaching a point where, each time you succeed in damaging the leadership, you find a new leadership, which is probably more extreme than the leadership that you cast aside,” he said.

As for Netanyahu’s vow to “decapitate” the current Hamas leadership, Halevy said he didn’t “want to be a prophet and to say it’s impossible, but I think it’s extremely difficult to do.”

He also rejected the notion of a hostages swap  between Israel and Hamas, saying a previous exchange freed Palestinians now running the  terrorist group.  

 “[I]f the price would be to go through the same kind of exercise again and know that, by doing so, you are preparing the next round, for all intents and purposes, that is not a good deal.”

As for the conflict ballooning into a wider regional war, Halevy said that despite the increased tempo of conflict in southern Lebanon, Iran is not “interested in having a major confrontation at all, because Iran wants to take what it gained with the relationship with Saudi Arabia, and it wants to capitalize on it, and it wants to solidify this. And, probably, they know that Saudi Arabia, for reasons of its own, would not be interested in a big flare-up in the north.”

Ironically, Halevy, now 89, was picked to run Mossad by Netanyahu in 1998 after an assassination mission against a Hamas leader in Jordan turned into a humiliating disaster.

He has long argued  that Israel would never know peace unless it treated Palestinians with dignity and respect, a policy consistently rejected by Netanyahu and his rightwing base. 

Similar comments were made a decade ago by six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli counterintelligence and counterterrorism service, in a documentary film, The Gatekeepers,  “All six argue— to varying degrees—that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is bad for the state of Israel,” CNN said, describing the “stunning revelations.”

The current Israeli leadership, he said, is not particularly interested in preventing civilian Palestinian casualties in Gaza.

“We’re now intent on winning the war. So, we are going to try and win the war. And for us to win the war is to decapitate Hamas as much as we can. What will happen in the future, what will happen in 40, 50 years from now, well, we won’t be around to have to deal with it. People don’t think so much into the future, as I have been trying to say and talk about.

But that’s exactly what Israel’s wartime government should be doing, he said.

They should “get into a room, close the door and shut out the noise from outside for several hours in order to determine which way we are going and, in the end, where — what kind of account will we be able to give to the Israeli public at the end of the day?”

“Is it simply going to be a military victory, period?” he continued. “And what happens next? What I am very, very concerned about is that, in the end, we don’t have a viable solution for Gaza.”

The British-born and educated Halevy, often likened to John LeCarré’s famous spymaster George Smiley as played by Alec Guinness, said a peaceful, post-Gaza war future will depend on Israelis overhauling the way they think about their country. 

“In the end,” he said, “we will have to change the disk in your brain and think differently on different terms in different ways.”

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the editor-in-chief of SpyTalk, a newsletter covering U.S. intelligence, defense and foreign policy, on the Substack platform. Previously, he was the SpyTalk columnist (and national security correspondent) at Newsweek, and before that, the SpyTalk blogger at The Washington Post.

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