Before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last night his candidate to head the Shin Bet security service, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter reminisced in the Knesset about a fateful meeting 11 years ago. On March 15, 2000, Barak, then prime minister, summoned Dichter, the Shin Bet's deputy director at the time, as well as Dichter's predecessor in the post, Israel Hasson.
Barak told them which of them he had chosen to head the agency. It would be Dichter.
Ironically, Dichter, Hasson and another former deputy Shin Bet chief, Gideon Ezra, are all now Kadima MKs. Yesterday afternoon, while Dichter and Barak sat talking, not even current Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin or the leading candidates to succeed him knew whom Netanyahu would choose.
In addition to former deputy Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, whom the prime minister gave the nod to last night, also in the running in Diskin's view were Diskin's current deputy and a previous deputy chief who can only be identified as D. Also interviewed by Netanyahu and Barak for the nomination was G., a former Shin Bet chief in the south, but he never made it to the shortlist of finalists.
Until very recently, senior Shin Bet officials said it looked like the job would go to the current deputy Shin Bet head, Y. But Diskin knew more than the others how easily Netanyahu could be influenced.
The pick still needs the approval of the Turkel Committee on senior appointments.
About four months ago, the prime minister deliberated over who should succeed Meir Dagan as head of the Mossad spy agency, hinting to Tamir Pardo that the job was his. Due to Barak's reservations, Netanyahu consulted with Diskin, but the prime minister summoned Maj. Gen. (res. ) Shlomo Yanai, the current chief executive of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. The prime minister urged Yanai to take the post. Yanai said he would consider the proposal but would need time to lay the groundwork for a successor at Teva.
At that point, however, Yanai was surprised to hear that Netanyahu had dispensed with any obligation of confidentiality and publicly disclosed their conversation. Then, when Diskin got back to the prime minister giving his support to Yanai, but without any great enthusiasm, he was told the job would go to Pardo.
Although it's not clear at the Shin Bet how Netanyahu picked Cohen to head the agency, advocates of Cohen will point to his familiarity with the Iranian threat, a key issue on Netanyahu's plate.
When it comes to Cohen, for three years he was out of the Shin Bet and then coordinated specific areas of responsibility rather than the broad sweep of the agency's work. He will have a lot of material to digest in his new job.
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