Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting. Photograph: Getty Images
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Iran Watch: Netanyahu looks increasingly isolated, writes Mehdi Hasan

Even a former Shin Bet head describes the Prime Minister as "not fit to hold the steering wheel of power".

Some of you may have seen Yuval Diskin's comments reported in newspapers across the world. The former head of Shin Bet - Israel's equivalent of the FBI - launched an unprecedented and astonishing attack on the integrity, honesty and judgement on Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his mini-me, the defence minister Ehud Barak, accusing them of "misleading the public on the Iran issue" and making decisions "based on messianic feelings".

I never thought I'd find myself in such agreement with a former Israeli spymaster. In fact, Diskin's scathing comments form the basis of my column in today's Guardian:

At a public meeting on Friday Diskin, former head of Shin Bet (Israel's MI5), described Netanyahu and Barak as "not fit to hold the steering wheel of power". He went on: "I have observed them from up close … They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off … They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won't have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race."

Diskin joins a long list of eminent members of the Israeli security establishment who have publicly voiced criticism of, and opposition to, their government's ultra-hawkish line on Iran. In fact, his astonishing attack on his former bosses came just 48 hours after the head of Israel's military, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, declared that the Iranian leadership had not yet made a decision to build nuclear weapons, that it was unlikely to go this "extra mile", and was composed of "very rational people". "Decisions must be made carefully out of historic responsibility but without hysteria," added Gantz in a not-too-subtle dig at his political masters.

I go on to point out that opinion polls suggest the Israeli public isn't too keen on a pre-emptive military attack on Iran by the Jewish state and argue that "Netanyahu isn't Israel":

Those of us opposed to another catastrophic conflict in the Middle East should not allow his alarmist and messianic rhetoric to drown out the voices of Israel's doves: those critics of military action, who, ironically, are far more numerous and outspoken than the doves on Capitol Hill or in Westminster, and have far better credentials.

Thankfully, Bibi does seem to be more and more isolated on the Iranian "threat". But will that actually stop him from launching air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities at some stage in the coming months, as some commentators predict (and hope!)? Who knows? But on a related note, his predecessor and former Likud Party colleague Ehud Olmert told a conference of US Jews in New York on Sunday that the Israeli government shouldn't rush into unilateral military action against the Islamic Republic - and, according to the New York Times, was met with angry boos and heckles from his ultra-hawkish audience.

I guess even ex-Israeli prime ministers who have launched bloody wars against Arab nations aren't immune from the wrath of US Likudniks.  But Olmert gave as good as he got:

“As a concerned Israeli citizen who lives in the state of Israel with his family and all of his children and grandchildren,” he said, “I love very much the courage of those who live 10,000 miles away from the state of Israel and are ready that we will make every possible mistake that will cost lives of Israelis.”

Nice.

 

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Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Scotland's huge deficit is an obstacle to independence

The country's borrowing level (9.5 per cent) is now double that of the UK. 

Ever since Brexit, and indeed before it, the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum has loomed. But today's public spending figures are one reason why the SNP will proceed with caution. They show that Scotland's deficit has risen to £14.8bn (9.5 per cent of GDP) even when a geographic share of North Sea revenue is included. That is more than double the UK's borrowing level, which last year fell from 5 per cent of GDP to 4 per cent. 

The "oil bonus" that nationalists once boasted of has become almost non-existent. North Sea revenue last year fell from £1.8bn to a mere £60m. Total public sector revenue was £400 per person lower than for the UK, while expenditure was £1,200 higher.  

Nicola Sturgeon pre-empted the figures by warning of the cost to the Scottish economy of Brexit (which her government estimated at between £1.7bn and £11.2.bn a year by 2030). But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose considerable austerity. 

Nor would EU membership provide a panacea. Scotland would likely be forced to wait years to join owing to the scepticism of Spain and others facing their own secessionist movements. At present, two-thirds of the country's exports go to the UK, compared to just 15 per cent to other EU states.

The SNP will only demand a second referendum when it is convinced it can win. At present, that is far from certain. Though support for independence rose following the Brexit vote, a recent YouGov survey last month gave the No side a four-point lead (45-40). Until the nationalists enjoy sustained poll leads (as they have never done before), the SNP will avoid rejoining battle. Today's figures are a considerable obstacle to doing so. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.