Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office denied allegations that the PM used classified information in order to censure Defense Minister Amir Peretz for a telephone conversation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Former and current members of the defense establishment who spoke to Ynet Wednesday harshly criticized the use of classified information for personal political ends.
Wednesday morning, Yedioth Aharonoth reported that the prime minister used top secret intelligence information in order to censure Peretz for and, by doing so, exposed a number of Israeli intelligence capabilities, including the capability to listen to Abbas' conversations.
Brig. Gen. (res) Yossi Ben Ari, formerly a senior intelligence officer, said: "Israel invests money in intelligence gathering in order to help make political decisions, not to help satisfy political motivations."
"If the prime minister did indeed use the classified information in order to prove that the defense minister called the Palestinian president, this is clearly a sensitive intelligence source and shouldn't be used for personal politicals."
"It's bad for intelligence when it's used for such purposes," Ben Ari added, "It's a manipulative use of information that is totally out of line. We're chopping off the branch we're sitting on."
"The most use I would have expected the prime minister to make of the information is to call the defense minister into his office and say 'we both know who initiated the conversation'," he said.
According to Ben Ari, there should be a clear distinction between use of intelligence to make political decisions and use for other reasons. "When you listen to your rival, you often hear things about your people, your forces."
"This type of information, usually related to senior government officials, is classified as 'black information'. There's absolutely no distribution of such material, save a dialogue between the head of intelligence who is responsible for the information and the official in question."
A first-rate outrage
Members of the political echelon are also disturbed by the affair. Member of Knesset Yuval Steinitz (Likud), formerely chairman of the Knesset's Defense and Foreign Affairs committee, was furious.
"I never thought to expose information I received pursuant to my position, out of concern that nothing sensitive be exposed, although I received a lot of information that could have been put to good use," he said.
"I was seven times more careful of creating a possible political scandal whenever there was any chance of a leak regarding intelligence capabilities," stated Steinitz.
"There's a prime minister, a defense minister and a government whose top priority clearly isn't national defense. Intelligence capabilities must not be exposed, even for political survival," he fumed.
MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) claimed "if this is true, we've returned to the darkest times, to the 50s, when the prime minister cynically used intelligence information meant to fight the enemy in order to settle political scores within Israel."
"This should move the earth and sky. It is unacceptable that the prime minister would use IDF intelligence for a purpose other than fighting the enemy. When it's used against the defense minister, this is even worse," he added.
Cohen announced that he would appeal to the state comptroller to investigate the affair.
Former MK Ehud Yatom, who served as a senior Shin Bet official, agreed with these sentiments. "If Olmert learned of Peretz's actions via 'black information', he should have bitten his lip and said nothing."
"Use of intelligence information for non-operational purposes is a first-rate outrage, especially when it's done by the prime minister, who receives the most secret of information. It could create a future situation, for example, where the head of the Shin Bet thinks twice before passing on classified intelligence information."
According to Yatom, such use of secret material could also lead to a revelation of the intelligence source. "It could threaten our intelligence…When there's intelligence – we win. When there's not – we lose."
Ronny Sofer contributed to this article