JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Four former heads of Israel's Shin Bet security service launched an unprecedented joint attack on government policy toward the Palestinians in an interview on Friday in which they called for withdrawal from occupied land.
``(Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon has spoken often about the need for painful compromises, and there are no painful compromises except evacuation of settlements,'' Yaakov Peri, Shin Bet chief from 1995 to 1998, told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
``We are heading downhill toward near-catastrophe. If nothing happens and we go on living by the sword, we will continue to wallow in the mud and destroy ourselves,'' he said, reflecting a consensus among his three colleagues.
The Shin Bet, which has been led by chiefs of various political persuasions, has been at the forefront of Israel's battle against militants in a three-year-old uprising and runs networks of Palestinian informers in the West Bank and Gaza.
The interview in Israel's biggest newspaper by the four ex-directors followed recent criticism by army chief Moshe Yaalon of government-ordered travel restrictions on Palestinians, which he said only encouraged militancy.
``For once and for all we have to admit there is another side, and it has feelings and is suffering -- and we are behaving disgracefully,'' said Avraham Shalom.
Shalom headed the domestic security service from 1980 until 1986, when he resigned and was pardoned in a scandal over the beating to death by Shin Bet agents of two Palestinians captured after they hijacked a bus in 1984, and a cover-up he ordered.
Asked to comment on the interview, a senior government source described the former security chiefs' approach as naive.
``The situation is not as weak as they describe. We have made major achievements in our fight against terrorism...every place where it is possible...to relieve pressure on the Palestinians, we will do it,'' the source told Reuters.