"The Mossad is not an organized crime group," Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. "It's a glorious organization that is doing tremendously important work fighting terror and we all salute it."
Pardo's comments, in an interview to investigative television program "Uvda," sparked a row in the political system following a report that Netanyahu had allegedly ordered then-head of the Shin Bet Yoram Cohen to wiretap a number of "secret partners," including Pardo and former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
According to a Yedioth Ahronoth report on Sunday morning, the defense establishment prepared for a major secret operation in 2012 and 2013, which required a major investment in manpower and funds. Many people were in parts of the project, but only several dozen were in on the entire secret.
Netanyahu, who was afraid the project would be leaked, excluded almost all cabinet ministers and Knesset members, including most members of the Subcommittee for Intelligence and Secret Services, who are supposed to be exposed to every classified material in the country.
To pass the budget, he appointed two committee members as secret partners and a representative on his behalf in the Finance Ministry. According to a knowledgeable source, he was unable to pass the entire budget that way. So the first thing Netanyahu did after firing then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid and assuming the position of finance minister was to sign the said budget.
In 2013, Netanyahu was also concerned by the possibility of foreign espionage in Israel and ordered increasingly radical measures to prevent it. According to a source involved in the prime minister's security, Netanyahu asked to disconnect the entire Prime Minister's Residence during sensitive meetings for fear of a foreign electronic infiltration.
He also ordered the physical shielding of areas where his convoy had parked to prevent satellites from monitoring his location. "Netanyahu was convinced that he was being spied on with every possible measure and in every corner," says a former Shin Bet official.
Fearing that the special project would be leaked, the prime minister convened a meeting in 2013 with the attorney general, the Shin Bet head and other officials and asked to look into and order particularly strict steps to ensure that none of the information about the project would be leaked, following a serious crisis of faith between Netanyahu and certain defense establishment officials.
In this meeting, Netanyahu asked the Shin Bet chief to supervise and monitor the project's secret partners. He didn't say that he wanted the Shin Bet to specifically follow Chief of Staff Gantz and Mossad Director Pardo, but they were definitely topped the list of the secret partners.
Former Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen denied the "Uvda" report over the weekend, saying in a statement: "I don't normally comment in the media about the professional discourse between the prime minister and the Shin Bet head. However, the reports in the media about instructions allegedly given to me by the prime minister while I served as the Shin Bet director—to specifically wiretap Gantz and Pardo—are untrue."