The deputy director of the Mossad, A., will appear tomorrow at an event open to the public being held in a Tel Aviv hotel - a seminar sponsored by the Jewish Agency on "The Jewish Nation at War." A. will lecture about "The effect of the situation in our region on the Jews of the Diaspora: Centers of anti-Semitism and how to fight the issue." As far as we know, this is the first public appearance of its kind that represents a phenomenon: the director of the Mossad, Ephraim Halevy, has been encouraging increasing openness toward journalists and other public-opinion makers.
This is refreshing proof of the role of intelligence in a democratic society. Intelligence not only is supposed to provide the government and the army, as one member of the intelligence community in Washington puts it, with facts and analysis, but also it is supposed to influence - through public discussion of policy and budgets - what society and its branches will do with this information, so that it won't be shelved.
During his four years as Mossad head, first for fear of the reaction of his critics - in active service or retired - later as adviser to his third prime minister, Halevy worked to restore the damaged image of the organization, which was the result of a series of embarrassing failures. His success, thus far, has been only partial. Reality is stronger than legends: a person who was injured in this week's terrorist attack in Netanya is not free to admire intelligence success abroad.
As opposed to the Mossad, the Shin Bet has undergone a revolution. It has leaped forward from a feeling that it had reached a low point in the wake of a number of scandals - the Bus 300 affair, the incrimination of Izzat Nafsu, the investigation of former director Yaakov Peri on matters of proper administration, the slaughter of Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron by settler Baruch Goldstein, the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the use of Avishai Raviv as an agent provocateur - to its peak of prestige in preventing terrorist attacks. The former director of the Shin Bet, Ami Ayalon, started the revolution, through leadership more than through professionalism. His successor, Avi Dichter, has raised the security services to new heights. The Shin Bet has succeeded in shaking off its reputation as a body guilty of false testimony and manufacturing evidence. Its reliability today, in the eyes of those who come in contact with it, is very high, with the exception of its denial last year of Israeli involvement in some of the pinpoint assassinations of alleged Palestinian terrorists.
During the past decade, the balance of powers in the Shin Bet has changed somewhat: alongside the strong field units, the staff bodies (the office of the head of the services and of his deputy, the research unit), whose weakness prevented proper use of intelligence, have been reinforced. This is a change that had been proposed a decade ago to then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir by his intelligence adviser Amos Gilad (then a colonel). This week we read that the head of the FBI, Robert Muller, has reached a similar conclusion. He is reinforcing research capability against terror in the investigative unit at the expense of the field units.
In their fight against terror, the Americans are following in the footsteps of the Israelis, including pinpoint assassinations - two weeks ago in Afghanistan, they missed in an attempt to kill an enemy with a missile from a drone. The excellent coordination among the Israeli intelligence community - Dichter is prepared to reveal everything, including the identity of his sources, to the heads of Military Intelligence and the Mossad - arrived late and only as a necessity resulting from fighting in the territories. Even the convoluted Americans knew that it was necessary to break down barriers, but they needed the attacks of September 11 to force reorganization.
Deterrence, the most important task of intelligence, is a necessary condition for preventing attacks, but it isn't enough. The uncertainty remains, and the decision makers on the government level are afraid of the connection between their actions and the reactions of the enemy, and their internal status. One should distinguish between the intelligence failure of September 11 and its political use against the president, retaliatory activity by the Democrats for U.S. President George W. Bush's efforts, before the elections, to assume the halo of the military leader fighting against terror. It's easy to say, "If someone comes to kill you, kill him first." It's much more difficult to know who is coming, when and how; whether he is really coming to kill you; and to prove, when you have made the first move and prevented the attack, and have been criticized for your belligerency, that the threat would in fact have been carried out. The intelligence failure is not an only child; its brothers are political and operational failures.
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