PM threatens ministers with polygraph over pre-Trump leaks

Top aide says ‘impossible to work’ when reports on security cabinet meetings hit the press, including Netanyahu’s comments on president’s personality

February 14, 2017, 9:00 am

Source: PM threatens ministers with polygraph over pre-Trump leaks | The Times of Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on January 29, 2017. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff condemned harshly a series of leaks to come out of top-level meetings ahead of Netanyahu’s summit with US President Donald Trump, threatening to submit ministers to lie detector tests.

The government will “consider using polygraphs” to ensure that internal debates are not leaked from the security cabinet, one of Israel’s most sensitive security decision-making bodies, Yoav Horowitz told reporters accompanying the prime minister to Washington early on Tuesday.

 On Sunday, Netanyahu convened the security cabinet, a forum of the most senior ministers, for a four-hour discussion in a bid to formulate policy on Iran, Syria and the Palestinians.

Several news outlets published leaked comments from the meeting minutes after it concluded, including reports that Netanyahu said he would seek to avoid a confrontation with the US president when they meet on Wednesday, especially given Trump’s personality.

“It’s impossible to work like this,” Horowitz said, arguing that any leaks — even if on the face of it some might look harmless — are detrimental to Israeli security interests.

From left to right: Acting Security Advisor Nagel, Military Attache to the Prime Minister Toledano, PM Netanyahu's chief of staff Horowitz, Israeli Ambassador to the US Dermer and PM Netanyahu, at the Blair House in Washington, February 13 (Avi Ohayun/GPO)

From left to right: Acting Security Advisor Nagel, Military Attache to the Prime Minister Toledano, PM Netanyahu’s chief of staff Horowitz, Israeli Ambassador to the US Dermer and PM Netanyahu, at the Blair House in Washington, February 13 (Avi Ohayun/GPO)

Leaks from ministers and others are a regular part of the Israeli media landscape, as politicians jockey to steer the narrative on various issues.

According to Channel 2, the prime minister told ministers that the Trump administration, while friendlier than the Obama administration, would not tolerate unlimited construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

He cautioned ministers that Israel must tread lightly and take Trump’s “personality into account,” the TV report said.

The meeting was one of three he had with ministers on Sunday ahead of the trip, as he attempted to tamp down right-wing pressure to use the visit with Trump to push for increased settlement building, annexation of West Bank settlement blocs and a retreat from support for the two-state solution.

According to a separate report on the security cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu also revealed details of his telephone conversation with Trump on January 22, in which the US president insisted the Palestinians could be pushed to make concessions for peace over Netanyahu’s protestations.

Citing an official familiar with events at the meeting, the Haaretz daily said Trump asked Netanyahu to explain how the Israeli leader intends to act to achieve a final peace agreement.

Netanyahu told him that although he backs a two-state solution, he doesn’t believe that the Palestinians will make the required concessions. Trump responded by reassuring Netanyahu that the Palestinians will be flexible.

“They will want, they will make concessions,” Trump told Netanyahu, according to the official, who requested anonymity.

The prime minister shared details of the phone call with the security cabinet after Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked urged him to convince Trump to withdraw US backing for the two-state solution, according to the report.

“Trump believes in a deal and in running peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” the prime minister was quoted as saying in response. “We should be careful and not do things that will cause everything to break down. We mustn’t get into a confrontation with him.”

Contrary to Channel 2’s description of the meeting as “stormy,” the Prime Ministers Office took care to note in a laconic message to the press afterward that it was “relaxed and professional.”

In 2012, Netanyahu threatened to submit Israeli ministers and others to lie detector tests after details of a security cabinet meeting on Iran leaked.

While widely seen by experts as unreliable, polygraphs are still used by law enforcement and others in Israel as part of investigations, including in the workplace.

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