JERUSALEM - A former Israeli spymaster has branded the country's leaders unfit to tackle the Iranian nuclear programme because of what he called the "messianic feelings" behind their threats to launch a pre-emptive war on Iran.
Other veterans have come out against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak recently, but the criticism from former domestic intelligence chief Yuval Diskin was especially strong.
"I have no faith in the prime minister, nor in the defence minister," Diskin, who stepped down as head of the Shin Bet a year ago, said in a speech partly broadcast by Israel Radio on Saturday.
"I really don't have faith in a leadership that makes decisions out of messianic feelings."
The catastrophic terms with which Netanyahu and Barak describe the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran have stirred concern in Israel and abroad of a possible strike against a uranium enrichment programme Iran says has peaceful ends.
World powers have been trying to curb Tehran through sanctions and negotiations that are due to resume next month.
Although Israel has threatened a pre-emptive strike if diplomacy fails, some experts believe that could be a bluff to keep up pressure on Iran, making it harder to interpret the swirl of comments from the security establishment.
Diskin's remarks came days after Israel's military chief, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, said Iran was "very rational"and unlikely to build a bomb in the face of world opposition, apparently undermining the case for a strike.
By using the language of religious fervour that Israelis usually associate with Islamist foes, Diskin appeared even more damning of Netanyahu and Barak, who have often crafted strategy alone and whose relationship dates back to service in an elite commando unit four decades ago.
The former head of Israel's Mossad foreign intelligence service, Meir Dagan, has ridiculed the idea of a strike on Iran.
Diskin, who spoke on Friday, said he was not necessarily opposed to Israel attacking Iran's nuclear sites pre-emptively, though he cited experts who argue that such an action might backfire by accelerating Tehran's quest for a bomb.
Yet going to war was not a job for Netanyahu, a second-term premier, nor Barak, Israel's most decorated soldier, Diskin said.
"I have seen them up close," he said. "They are not people who I personally, at least, trust to be able to lead Israel into an event on such a scale, and to extricate it."
The Prime Minister's Office and Defence Ministry had no immediate response to Diskin's remarks. A Netanyahu deputy, Silvan Shalom, rebuked the former spymaster and sought to assure Israelis that democratic process guided the government strategy.
"Not everyone thinks the same thing. This is not a decision that would be made by two people," he told Israel Radio.
"Ultimately, with all due respect to everyone, the one who is more important on this matter is the military chief of staff," Shalom said, referring to the general whose comments had appeared at odds with the official line.
Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, but Western nations as well as Israel fear it plans to build a bomb.