The head of the research division in the IDF's Intelligence Directorate personally warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the political and societal crisis surrounding the judicial reform was encouraging Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas to risk attacks against Israel, including joint attacks, Haaretz reported on Monday evening.
"We see a debate over whether to sit on the fence and let Israel continue to weaken itself or to take initiatives and further exacerbate the situation," wrote Brig.-Gen. Amit Sa'ar in letters sent to Netanyahu in March and July. The two letters are at the heart of the controversy concerning warnings by the IDF about the defense consequences of the judicial reform.
In the past year, former and current defense officials issued a number of public and private warnings concerning the ramifications of the judicial reform on the defense establishment. Shortly before the vote on the reasonableness standard in July, Netanyahu refused to meet with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Col. Herzi Halevi, despite a request by the IDF to hold the meeting before the vote.
Sa'ar's first letter to Netanyahu was sent on March 19, a week before the first attempt to approve the first part of the judicial reform and the attempted removal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. The second letter was sent on July 16, a week before the vote on the reasonableness standard. The two letters included an appendix of raw intelligence information, including a short analysis warning of the imminent danger of military escalation.
Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth reported about the letters earlier this year, with Haaretz's new report revealing the contents of the letters.
The first letter was titled "Things you see from there—how is Israel perceived in the system?" Sa'ar noted in the letter that "all the players in the system point to the fact that Israel is in an acute, unprecedented crisis that threatens its cohesion and weakens it [this sentence was bolded in the letter]. For our main enemies - Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas—this weakness is an expression of a linear process that will end in the collapse of Israel, and the current situation is an opportunity to accelerate and deepen its hardships."
Sa'ar warned of harm to Israel's deterrence, the potential of multiple fronts joining together, an opportunity to damage cohesion in Israel, and harm to Israelis on the legal and international fronts.
"This analysis is not an interpretive view of reality, but the basis for the assessment of the situation by the leadership, intelligence personnel, and communication systems. It is already leading to changes in decision-making and risk-taking by the various players, who analyze and draw consequences from Israel's internal situation," the letter said.
"The internal crisis creates significant constraints for Israel that cause it to try to avoid a security escalation, and that make it possible to increase the risks it faces," wrote Sa'ar. "Added to this is the assessment that American and European support for Israel is eroding in a way that reduces its ability to deal with a broad security crisis."
The intelligence official additionally warned that "an opportunity was identified to create a perfect storm, an internal crisis, a broad escalation in the Palestinian arena and a challenge from other arenas, which created multidimensional and continuous pressure. In our understanding, this insight underlies the high motivation of Hamas to carry out attacks from the North at the present time, and it also encourages Iran to push its agents to promote terrorist attacks against Israel."
Parts of Iran Axis thought Israel might strike to distract from judicial reform
Sa'ar warned as well that Israel's enemies saw an opportunity to use psychological warfare to deepen the division in Israel. He also noted that "other elements in Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the [Palestinian] Islamic Jihad think that Israel, in its weakness, could try and divert public attention to the security situation, and therefore initiate an escalation."
The intelligence official stressed as well that the Palestinian Authority was attempting to use the opportunity to increase the pressure on Israel in legal and political forums.
Gallant's call to stop the judicial reform came just a few days after the first letter by Sa'ar was sent, with Netanyahu announcing a day later that he had fired the defense minister, sparking widespread protests and the cancellation of the decision to fire him.
In his second letter, Sa'ar warned that "the worsening of the crisis deepens the erosion of Israel's image, exacerbates the vulnerability of Israeli deterrence, and increases the likelihood of escalation. While at the beginning the regional players debated whether this was another round of the ongoing political crisis, as time passes and the events worsen—they estimate that this is a deep crisis that has put Israel in one of its weakest points since its establishment," according to Haaretz.
The situation "creates damage to the three pillars that make up deterrence: the alliance between Israel and the US, the cohesion of Israeli society, and the strength of the IDF," added Sa'ar. "The connection between the crises establishes an insight among some players that Israel's internal situation, at the very least, will prevent it from taking significant military initiatives, with an emphasis on an attack in Iran, operations in Lebanon, and even a significant move against Hamas in the Gaza Strip."
Sa'ar noted, however, that there had been no change concerning military operations in the West Bank and Syria.
The intelligence researcher pointed to a string of attacks and provocations by Hezbollah along the northern border in the past year, saying that this behavior could not be disconnected from the weak points in Israel. "It is impossible to separate the anti-tank fire from Lebanon and the increased efforts to smuggle powerful explosive charges into the West Bank from the feeling that this is the time to challenge Israel."
Sa'ar described Hezbollah as the main threat in the immediate future, considering the terrorist movement's escalation in the past year.