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In Israel, A Rift On How To Deal With Iran

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In Israel, A Rift On How To Deal With Iran

Middle East

In Israel, A Rift On How To Deal With Iran

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Israel, politicians are raising the possibility of early national elections, perhaps as soon as August. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today that he would meet with various political factions to discuss a date. The move comes as a host of former political and security officials are airing their doubts about Netanyahu's performance as prime minister. Sheera Frenkel has that story.

SHEERA FRENKEL, BYLINE: Over the weekend, the rift between Israel's former intelligence heads and the prime minister's office became very public. The recently retired head of internal security, Yuval Diskin, publically bashed Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak, calling them unfit to lead the country. The comments were made in a closed forum of about 50 people in southern Israel, but were quickly leaked to the press when Diskin's office confirmed that he blames Netanyahu and Barak for purposefully misleading the public on Iran and its suspected nuclear program.

Diskin was also quoted as saying that Netanyahu was not serious about a peace process with the Palestinians. Former Mossad intelligence chief Meir Dagan has been slammed by Netanyahu's office for making similar comments when he left his post as Israel's spy chief. In several interviews with the press, Dagan has said that Iran poses less of an immediate danger to Israel than Netanyahu asserts.

In New York yesterday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joined the fray, telling a conference organized by the Jerusalem Post newspaper that there was enough time to try different avenues of pressure to deal with Iran's nuclear program without the need for a direct military confrontation. At the same conference, Dagan reiterated his criticism of Netanyahu for exaggerating the Iranian threat. And he also expressed support for Diskin.

MEIR DAGAN: Diskin, I believe that he is a very serious one. He presents his points of view, and I know from firsthand that those points of view were presented by him to the prime minister and defense minister on many occasions.

FRENKEL: During Dagan's speech, an argument broke out between him and Israeli cabinet minister, Gilad Erdan, who is a strong supporter of Netanyahu. Erdan accused Dagan and Diskin of voicing their discontent with Netanyahu out of spite because they weren't allowed additional terms in office. Dagan, through clenched teeth, minced few words when he replied to Erdan.

DAGAN: You are lying, sir. It's not true. And maybe it's not polite, but I prefer that ministers of the state of Israel would speak the truth.

FRENKEL: An official from Netanyahu's office declined to comment on the exchange and said that Netanyahu would not be responding to the assertions because he was mourning the death of his father, Benzion Netanyahu, a well-known Israeli historian who passed away Monday at the age of 102. For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel.

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