Appointment Offers Glimpse Into Super Secret Mossad, Shin Bet Court

Special court is tasked with hearing disciplinary matters within the Mossad spy agency and Shin Bet security service.

Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman recently extended the term of Tel Aviv District Court deputy president, Judge Oded Mudrik, to serve as head of the special court for the intelligence community. The term for his substitute, District Court Judge Zeev Hammer, was also extended. According to the Civil Service Law, however, a person who has reached the age of 70 cannot be appointed to the bench. Judge Hammer is 70.

Chaim Nativ, an attorney and Shin Bet pensioner who represents Shin Bet employees in judicial forums, asked the minister of justice to rescind the appointment. In response to Nativ's appeal, the spokesman's office for the Ministry of Justice told Haaretz that the extension of Hammer's term was done accidently and a proper tender will soon be issued for a new substitute. Hammer himself said he was never notified about an extension of his term.

This minor story provides a peek into an unknown institution, the special court for the intelligence community, tasked with hearing disciplinary matters. It is a privilege granted only to the Mossad espionage agency and the Shin Bet security service; all other disciplinary issues involving civil servants are heard in regular state courts. Established decades ago out of an obsessive attempt to maintain total secrecy, the special court of the intelligence community must always be headed by a jurist; two laymen, one from Shin Bet and the other from Mossad, serve alongside.

Mudrik has served in this post since 1998, and his substitute is Hammer. The court is authorized to hear practically every violation by Mossad or Shin Bet personnel whose chiefs feel should be kept secret - and they usually maintain that any matter relating to their organizations is confidential and that it's best they remain out of the public eye. Cases range from sexual harassment during an operation in which Mossad agents pretend to be a couple, or a case officer pocketing "a commission" from the money he was to have paid his agent - and such things did happen.

Three years ago, the Civil Service Commission managed to appropriate the authority to discuss certain crimes, such as customs evasion and sexual harassment, and transfer them to the commission's disciplinary court. In all other matters, however, the special court of the intelligence community retains broad and unjustified authorities. There is no need for such a court and Mossad and Shin Bet personnel should be tried as ordinary Israeli citizens when they violate the law.

Getting the IAF to implement ORM

In the mid-1990s, the Pentagon introduced a management technique that until then had been used by banks. The aim of the technique, called Operational Risk Management (or ORM ), was to prevent unnecessary risk taking and "to maximize operational ability while preserving the assets, health and well-being of the people."

The U.S. Air Force forwarded the 150-page document to the Israel Air Force outlining the principles. However, the Israel Air Force has yet to implement ORM. Implementation could have reduced the number of helicopter accidents in the Israeli air force, says Lt. Col. (ret. ) Ofer Ben Peretz, who helped to translate and prepare the Hebrew version of the document.

After last week's helicopter crash in Romania, certain commanders remarked that the number of IAF crashes involving this helicopter - the Sikorsky CH-53 (code-named Yasur by the IAF ) - is low, despite "the difficult missions" assigned to it. But Ben Peretz disagrees. According to his calculations, the accident rate is actually very high. In his assessment, about 20 such helicopters have crashed - or between 40 and 50 percent of the fleet - since the air force purchased them in 1969.

Most were damaged in training accidents or regular operations, and a few in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 2006 Second Lebanon War. When the Sikorsky crashes are reviewed one by one, Ben Peretz tells Haaretz, the conclusion is that most of them could have been prevented.

One of the first four Israeli pilots to be trained on a Sikorsky after it was acquired from the United States, Ben Peretz held several jobs in the IAF including commander of a helicopter squadron and the first commander of the helicopter course at the IAF flight school. He also served as the air force attache in the United States. He has clocked thousands of helicopter flight hours on both training runs and operational assignments.

"The Yasur is a particularly difficult machine to operate, but then on top of that the IAF uses it bearing heavier loads than the United States does, and in difficult conditions - such as nighttime, sand and dust, and long missions. Maintenance in field conditions is therefore particularly difficult," notes Ben Peretz. On the other hand, he says, "The air force sees its primary mission to maintain superior combat fleets and thus allocates most of its resources to fighter planes and bombers," and so unfortunately the best and the brightest do not necessarily become helicopter pilots.

"The 1997 helicopter crash in the Upper Galilee [between two Sikorskys, killing 74 soldiers] prompted the decision to establish a helicopter command headquarters. But in my humble opinion, this is not an adequate solution. Resources are still not appropriately allocated and the pilots' training is still lacking," Ben Peretz explains. "Accidents are for the most part a result of human error. We have enough knowledge to be able to prevent them. There must be a change in perception. The moment you start compromising and loosening up, claiming there is a significant decrease in accidents and that your rate is comparable to other air forces, you have lost the battle against helicopter accidents."