JERUSALEM — In a harsh interview published Friday, less than three weeks before Israel’s national elections, a former head of the internal security service accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of placing his ‘‘personal, opportunistic, and current interests’’ over those of the state when making crucial policy decisions regarding the Iranian nuclear program, the Palestinian conflict, and other matters.
Yuval Diskin, who resigned 18 months ago as head of the security service, known as the Shin Bet, said other prime ministers he had worked closely with, both conservative and liberal, ‘‘came from this place in which the interests of the state stand above all else,’’ in contrast to Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak.
Diskin made headlines last spring with comments accusing the two men of ‘‘messianic’’ leadership and of ‘‘misleading the public’’ regarding the likely effectiveness of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, and in the interview published Friday conducted by Dror Moreh, director of a new documentary featuring Diskin and five other former Shin Bet directors, he expanded the critique.
‘‘When I look at Netanyahu, I don’t see a shred of personal example as a leader in him,’’ Diskin said in the interview, which ran more than 5,000 words in the weekend edition of Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s leading newspaper. ‘‘There is a leadership crisis. It’s a crisis of value, it is total disregard for the public. People may think that I see this in an overly extreme manner. I am telling you that from up close, things look even worse.’’
The prime minister’s office issued a statement calling Diskin’s accusations groundless, ‘‘motivated by his personal frustration’’ that Netanyahu did not choose him to head the Mossad, Israel’s international intelligence agency.
The statement also said the critique was being ‘‘recycled for political reasons.’’ Barak’s office called the claims ‘‘astonishing, both in content and in their timing,’’ given elections scheduled for Jan. 22.
In the interview, Diskin recounts a particular high-level meeting on Iran in which Netanyahu, Barak, and Avigdor Lieberman, then the foreign minister, smoked cigars during the discussion. Diskin describes the scene as ‘‘a kind of total disregard for all the people.’’
Regarding the Palestinians, Diskin said Netanyahu’s 2009 speech calling for ‘‘two states for two peoples’’ amounted to empty words that were ‘‘meant to sound good to the international community.’’
He said impasse was the prime minister’s main goal because ‘‘Netanyahu fears ideologically taking a step toward the two-state solution and furthermore, he is not built for this by nature, he cannot make decisions of the magnitude made by’’ his predecessors.
He further accused Netanyahu of weakening President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate whose Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank, and strengthening the militant Hamas faction, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Speaking of his own children, Diskin said, ‘‘When I see the current leadership, I am worried about what we’ll leave for them.’’