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Chelsea, Juventus, Maccabi Haifa − who and what are all these soccer teams, with their unbeaten streak this year, when compared to the teams for whom a compact intense man played in Atlit about 25 years ago?His name was Ami Ayalon, and he became known as someone who was not prepared to leave the field until his team chalked up a victory. Many people wanted this, but it was within Commander Ayalon's ability to achieve his ambitions. As the commander of the Shayetet 13 elite naval commando unit, among whose people the games were played, Ayalon determined when the game was over − always, according to Shayetet legend, after achieving a final advantage for his team; only then were the players allowed to go back to work or rest.

In 1996, already a retired rear admiral having commanded the navy, Ayalon was called in to rehabilitate the Shin Bet security service, whose world had been shattered by the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Ayalon was not a professional in intelligence and prevention, but the gaps in his knowledge and experience in these areas were compensated for by his leadership, his determination and his ability to look from the outside in at the bubble that had blinded the Shin Bet. He promoted to the top positions members of 'Generation D' of the service: Avi Dichter to the protection division; Ofer Dekel to the non-Arab division; and Yuval Diskin to the Jerusalem and West Bank region. Ayalon breathed new, competitive, winning life into the depressed ranks. Above all he had to do this with respect to the national unit for the protection of very important persons, and indeed set out to implement the recommendations of Supreme Court Justice Meir Shamgar.

But this time Ayalon was no longer the master of the game, and he was pushed into an eternal "bunker" system. By this method, the maximum result is 1-0, with the hope of exploiting a momentary opportunity to make a goal. Ayalon delegated the work of coming up with a new doctrine for protecting the prime minister to a team headed by Shlomo Har-Noy, who was called in to command the VIP protection unit. On the team were representatives of the various specialties and units in the Shin Bet, organizational advisers and a rear admiral from the navy who was seconded to the Shin Bet ?(and later to the Mossad?), Yedidia Yaari.

Like Ayalon, Yaari, too, grew up ?(and played soccer?) in Shayetet 13 and became its commander. Last year Yaari was appointed the CEO of the Rafael Armament Development Authority, a sophisticated defense corporation. Like Ayalon, Yaari brought to the Shin Bet a combination of operational experience in small-scale combat and terror prevention − one of his posts had been head of naval intelligence − and unemotional scrutiny from the outside of a security organization in crisis. Among other things, even before the Shayetet disaster in 1997, Ayalon and Yaari knew that one of the dangers of a select unit that is wrapped up in itself is "marriage within the family." Both parents may perhaps be wonderful, but the blood relationship between them engenders flawed offspring.

The 'box' doctrineHar-Noy, Yaari and their team formulated the "box" doctrine − the concept of a crate, container, box, dense phalanx, inside of which is Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak or Ariel Sharon; in front and behind, the crowd's favorites, the bodyguards who walk backward in order to cover the prime minister's back. Together with scrupulous screening of everyone who comes in contact with the VIP in question, even more demanding than Saddam Hussein's security scrutiny at its peak, or Howard Hughes with the boxes of Kleenex in his hands − this was the perfect solution to Yigal Amir. Like the separation fence, this human wall also has its weak points, above it and in its openings, but it is expected to be able to overcome a lone assailant armed with a pistol, who sneaks in and ambushes his victim. If the assailant does not work alone, but is part of a cell, the intelligence units in the Shin Bet ?(whether in the Arab or the non-Arab divisions?) are supposed to issue a warning. Without it, a multiple attack will become a war. All this, of course, is based on the assumption that the incident involves the drawing of a weapon − not a booby-trapped truck and not a "creative" scenario of electrifying a microphone or releasing a parakeet infected with bird flu.

The encounter between reality and the Ayalon interpretation of the Shamgar report has created a monster − overprotection − ever since Rabin's assassination, instead of the under-protection in place before then.

In the name of guarding the protected individual, the Shin Bet has been pushed into imposing harsh decrees on the individual and on the public. The Shin Bet and its heads − Ayalon, followed by Dichter and Diskin − are not to blame for this, rather the culture of investigative commissions and the concentration on the most recent war.

The Agranat Commission bequeathed to the Israel Defense Forces decades of planning for the prevention of the Yom Kippur War. The Shamgar Commission forced upon the Shin Bet, in its desire to answer in advanced the questions that would be posed to it in the next investigation, the need to prepare again and again to prevent the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

The choice, ultimately, is that of Israeli society, with respect to the balance of risks and their prices, and the decision is not obvious. Even in war, the decisions to which the command "at any price" applies, are few. In the long run, protection at any price is not possible and is almost always − except, of course, in the case of a nuclear installation − not justified.

The airport modelIt is also possible to do otherwise. The downing or hijacking of a passenger plane or, alternatively, a bloody attack on the air gateway to Israel, would be a terrible blow, not necessarily less than that of the assassination of an official personage. But the opposing pressures create a certain balance at Ben-Gurion International Airport, which tends to work to the detriment of passengers' comfort, but in a way that is not so extreme.

About half a year ago, just prior to the completion of his tour of duty and the handing-over of the position to Brigadier General Shmuel Zakai, the head of the security division at the airport, Avi Rimon, appeared at a discussion in the Knesset Economics Committee together with his Shin Bet counterpart. Rimon explained: "The Shin Bet is responsible for the issue of the security treatment of the passenger and some of the armed guarding at the airport. I, the security division, a body that is instructed − I don't only get a letter from the Shin Bet saying 'from today be stricter in security inspections.' We are in constant dialogue with them, because in additional to the hat that I wear of an operational unit, which carries out the instructions of the directing body, I also have directors and I have to think about the price to the passenger. We have to find solutions that on the one hand, provide a good and sufficient level of security, and on the other do not impinge dramatically on the level of service given to the passenger."

Ostensibly, until Rabin's assassination, a similar approach also guided the protection of the prime minister. In fact, this was not a well-considered policy, but rather the result of two types of scorn − on the part of the bodyguards for their foes, and on the part of the Shin Bet higher-ups for the bodyguards. Years of apparent success in theoretical tests, with no practical exam, deceived the bodyguards into believing they could thwart assailants. Within the Shin Bet, where the main expertise is in combating terror, in protecting millions of Israeli civilians and not a handful of VIPs, they related to the bodyguards as hombres with earpieces and pistols, far from the central focus of the action. The meeting between me, myself and I, and me and the guys, culminated in three clicks of the trigger at Kikar Malchei Yisrael.

The publication of the IDF's organizational psychologists, Beyn hazirot ?(Among the Arenas?) this year published an article by Keren Hellerman entitled "What is special about the special units." Though it dealt with the Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance unit, Sayeret 13 and other units that are considered elite, by extension it also applies to the Shin Bet − a special organization with respect to its aims, its quality and the training of those who serve in it. Within the select units of the Shin Bet, protection was the least prestigious. In the air force, the most elite branch of the IDF, the combat branch is the most prestigious. The helicopter unit is considered less so. The significance of this hit the air force after the collision of the Yasurs in 1997.

The comparison applies in one of two aspects − the attentiveness of the senior command ?(the commander of the air force, the head of the Shin Bet?) to a secondary area, and is perhaps different with respect to the obvious solution: the VIP protection will be separated from the Shin Bet, so that the Shin Bet can turn its full attention to dealing with the prevention of terror and espionage; and the VIP protection wing, in the format of a government authority, will focus on its stated mission.

This is the model of the U.S. Secret Service, which also maintains its original aim − the prevention of currency counterfeiting − but its supreme test is the protection of the president and the vice president. ?(As the protector of the presidents, the Secret Service was actually born out of the Treasury Department, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln was not enough to spawn it: It took another 36 years and the assassinations of Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley.?)Somehow, despite the constant danger that hovers over presidents and presidential candidates, the work of the Secret Service is less clumsy and tries not to be ostentatious in its obvious presence, as compared to the Shin Bet bodyguards.

The tipping pointThe organizational solution of the commission that investigated the helicopter disaster, headed by David Ivry, which was adopted by defense minister Moshe Arens, was to appoint a senior staff officer with the rank of brigadier general to a new position: deputy chief of staff for helicopters. The other alternative − to separate the helicopters from the air force, along the lines of the model of the air corps of the U.S. ground forces − was rejected for reasons of efficiency with respect to deploying the force and savings in training and maintenance. Concerning the question of the independence of the VIP protection unit, too, experts who do not belong to one of the organizations warn that the costs of logical support and the recruitment and selection mechanisms would increase; there would also be problems of friction and boundaries between the Shin Bet, the police and the new authority, which would be a consumer of their intelligence.

These are weighty considerations, but when the head of the Shin Bet and his staff need to allocate attention, time and energy to carrying out their responsibility for securing VIPS, their ability to fight Arab and Israeli terror is affected. The Shin Bet will lose something of its ability to move employees around among its operational and protection units, but in a way that is secondary to reciprocal IDF-Shin Bet-Mossad "loans," the protection authority would be able to participate in this arrangement.

Ten years after the shock, it is permissible to reexamine the basic assumptions and shake off the armor under which Israeli society is threatening to collapse. The best protection from the motivation to assassinate the prime minister is the demonstration of policy consistency − even at times of leadership changes. The superfluous and annoying protection of the prime minister and more junior officials was forced on the Shin Bet by government decisions following the Agranat report, but the government is sovereign to change its decisions.

A proposal for a change in the Israeli protection arrangements in certain areas abroad, in the direction of eliminating the residence of heads of foreign security centers with their families and offices there, in favor of a home base in Israel, is now being formulated in discussions with the head of the protection wing − T., a former member of the Shayetet who came to the Shin Bet with Ayalon. This proposal too requires the government's agreement.

The tipping point between protecting the lives of the VIPs and encroaching heavily on them and the public is crying out to be altered. The current situation is nearly insane: Fighters are deprived of their weapons in a meeting with the defense minister and Diskin, who is himself responsible for protecting others, had to show up at the wedding of the daughter of a friend − 100 meters from the office of the head of the Shin Bet − surrounded by several bodyguards. At this rate, there will soon be a bodyguard for every bodyguard.