Israel’s former spy chief warns that country could turn into a ‘dictatorship’

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  March 17, 2023

Nadav Argaman, former head of the Shin Bet, hits out at the Netanyahu government, saying ‘the anarchist has become the ruler’.

​​Israel’s former spymaster has likened the government’s overhaul of the judicial system to “a car hurtling towards the abyss” in an interview with a local TV channel. 

Nadav Argaman, former director of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, hit out at the reforms on Thursday evening.

Argaman warned that the checks and balances holding the Israeli government accountable in parliament had broken down, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hijacking the process.

“This is a world turned upside down, a crazy world. The anarchist has become the ruler,” said Argaman. 

“Only one person can stop this madness. That’s the prime minister,” the former spy chief said. “He is the one who pushed for this whole move, which was meticulously planned in advance, and he’s the one who can stop it. Everything is entirely in his hands.”

Israel is currently experiencing a political crisis that has pitted Netanyahu’s far-right government against the country’s civil society, academic and business elite, as well as former government ministers and military figures.

The prime minister is currently on trial for corruption, and the reforms could enable him to evade conviction or see his case dismissed.

Since being indicted in 2019, Netanyahu has railed publicly against the justice system, saying it is biased against him.

Argaman warned that Israel could be on the brink of a constitutional crisis and insisted that Ronen Bar, the current head of the Shin Bet, “must listen only and exclusively to the law”.

“The head of the Shin Bet is subordinate to the prime minister, but above all, he is subordinate to the law,” he said.

‘Regime change’

Sounding the alarm in unusually strong words for someone who has been part of the political establishment for decades, Argaman warned that the reforms were part of “a regime change” aimed at “legally turning Israel into a dictatorship”.

Taking a swipe at Netanyahu’s senior coalition partners, Argaman said that he had little trust in their political acumen.

I hear members of the coalition saying, ‘trust us,’ and when somebody tells me to trust them, I know that we’re in big trouble.

“Who can I trust? Simcha Rothman, the most extreme of extremists? Ben-Gvir, the anarchist criminal? Smotrich, who wants an economy built on God’s help? Netanyahu, who can’t find the brakes and is hurtling toward the abyss?”

Simcha Rothman is widely considered one of the chief architects of the judicial reform programme. 

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister, has often engaged in incendiary political activity and rhetoric, including earlier this year entering al-Aqsa Mosque’s courtyards in a highly provocative move. 

Bezalel Smotrich, who in addition to being finance minister is responsible for Israel’s civil administration in the occupied West Bank, said last month that Israel should “wipe out” the Palestinian village of Huwwara in the wake of a violent rampage by Jewish settlers.

Argaman added that if the proposed laws were passed, Israel would find itself on the “threshold of dictatorship” and the country could witness a “collapse from within state bodies”.