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In early September 2000, George W. Bush, then the Republican candidate for president of the United States, was given an intelligence briefing. Officials of the Central Intelligence Agency, armed, in the custom of the period, with a spectacular visual display, revealed to Bush the best information they had about enemies and threats: four consecutive hours about Russia and China, missiles and bombs.

According to Paul Wolfowitz, now the deputy secretary of defense, in an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Bush thanked the officials and told them that Wolfowitz and his security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, were interested in the range of the missiles, whereas he, Bush, wanted to know what was in the minds of the rival leaders, "what's in their mail, who advises them." The aides wanted information about capabilities, the leader sought to learn about intentions.

Bush has ceased wondering about what is going on in the mind of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Arafat's advisers are known, his mail is read, but the Americans, too, have despaired of trying to decipher the riddle of his deeds and blunders. The only explanation for the motives that are guiding this man - who welcomed the arrival of CIA chief George Tenet with a Palestinian court decision to open the cell of the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmed Sa'adat, and by allowing a booby-trapped car to proceed from northern Samaria to Megiddo Junction - is supplied by the research unit of Military Intelligence: These events are taking place not despite Tenet's visit, but because of it, and even in Tenet's honor.

Similar terrorist attacks accompanied the visits of Secretary of State Colin Powell and of his envoy, retired General Anthony Zinni. Tenet, too, was in Israel last summer in similar circumstances of attempted terrorist attacks, which were foiled by the efforts of the Shin Bet security service.

This is the gist of what the chief of staff-designate, Major General Moshe Ya'alon, maintains: Visits by high-ranking American officials are doomed to failure simply because that is the policy of Yasser Arafat.

The two provocative events of this week - the Sa'adat appeal and the Megiddo attack - are leading to a war of siege. Sa'adat will be taking his life in his hands if he opens the door and tries to slip out of Jericho. In the other cities of the West Bank, which are abuzz with preparations for terrorist attacks, brigades of the Judea and Samaria divisions have been operating almost routinely in recent weeks using the tried and true "siege and arrest" method. A similar tactic was utilized in biblical times, in a region where the architecture and the technology have been refined since then, but not the emotions and passions. Cities are besieged, rocks are catapulted, citizens and leaders are assaulted.That is an especially wonderful message for messianic Christians, who believe that the War of Gog and Magog will begin at Megiddo (Armageddon), in the wake of which will come the revelation of God on Earth.

Israel has greater freedom of action against Arafat. The George W. Bush of June 2002 is not the candidate in Wolfowitz's story of September 2000. A year later, on September 11, 2001, the president underwent a change. Now he is interested in taking action against capabilities - more specifically, Iraqi, Iranian and North Korean capabilities - without waiting.

Hundreds of bombs, booby-trapped cars and explosive belts were destroyed or seized in Operation Defensive Shield. The terrorist organizations lost many of their operational leaders, those who send the suicide bombers into action; the result was that dozens, perhaps hundreds, of lethal attacks were prevented. Nevertheless, according to an authoritative estimate, between 400 and 500 fomenters of terrorist attacks remain. This is the enemy that is being targeted: some 500 human targets whom the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet should be able to get their hands on.

A senior officer said this week that with a concentrated effort it would be possible to strike at these hundreds of terror activists; the raids on West Bank cities and on the refugee camps around them are producing intelligence toward the pursuit of that goal. And what then? the officer was asked. Then the number 2 of those who are killed or captured will become the number 1; the names will change, the difficulty will remain.

A single, permanent military solution, even if only for the military part of the problem, is not available. So the defense establishment is talking about a combination of means. In terms of the World Cup in soccer, this means a group of balance forces including "forwards pressing on the opponent's penalty area," midfielders on the halfway line, defenders in back and goalkeepers behind them: from forces besieging Palestinian localities to those who are guarding the 1967 Green Line. Leaving the forces in the cities for extended periods of time, as recommended by Shin Bet head Avi Dichter, is supposed to complete the buffer that is being erected between the territories and Israel.

The division and brigade commanders in the territories, who are spending day and night without letup in feverish activity, understand something that is less well understood by the General Staff, let alone by the government and the public: there are not enough forces - and without them, there is no point in building a fence and terrain obstacles. The Gaza Strip, which is portrayed as an exemplary case thanks to the "security system fence" - the popular name for the Fence Guard - is buckling under a tidal wave of impending terrorist attacks, both outward into Israel and inward into the settlements - and is crying out for infantry reinforcements. Without them, the Guard is under threat of breach.

The need for manpower has already been recognized in the West Bank. A new field headquarters, headed by the commander of the Adam training facility, will unite the mechanized infantry battalions of Duhifat and Horev, which are stationed in the West Bank. If no other solution is found for Gaza, such as transferring a brigade, a southern version of the Megiddo attack could take place north or east of the Gaza Strip.

The call that never came

In the afternoon of last September 11, Israeli time, the Shin Bet held a briefing for bodies outside the defense establishment. The subject was related to one aspect of Palestinian terrorism, for which expertise was required not only in collecting information, but in deciphering subtleties and understanding Islamic and regional contexts. Less than half an hour after the end of the briefing, the first plane slammed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. After it was verified that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, those in the Shin Bet thought that the FBI would soon ask Israel for assistance in the form of its know-how in thwarting terrorism and its experience in collecting intelligence about Arabs and Muslims. Or perhaps the FBI would want teams of interpreters. The Shin Bet prepared itself for the request - but it never came.

Despite the professional cooperation between the two secret services, the FBI has refrained from asking for help from the Shin Bet in the nine months that have gone by since September 11. The problem in this case has nothing to do with American suspiciousness. True, Israel, like France and other Western countries, is on the list of allies that are also intelligence rivals, especially in the realm of economic intelligence gathering. Israel has also not yet been forgiven for activating the spy Jonathan Pollard in American naval intelligence, though in conversations with senior Pentagon officials it emerges that after nearly 17 years, the fury is aimed more at Pollard himself - a traitor in their eyes, whose release from prison they will continue to oppose - than at Israel.

The Pollard affair reflects the difference between the organizational culture of the FBI, which finally arrested the spy but failed to uncover him, and the Shin Bet: the FBI is a police body, which collects evidence after a crime has been committed and prepares a case against the perpetrator. The Shin Bet is engaged in preventive action.

The FBI has close ties with the intelligence community in Israel; it is represented by an attache of the Justice Department in Tel Aviv. In Washington, where (to the Shin Bet's chagrin) Israeli intelligence is represented by the Mossad espionage agency, a representative of the Israel Police also liaises with the FBI.

In contrast to the old cliche of the IDF, "which does not choose its missions," the FBI chose not to investigate drug abuse cases. The result was the establishment of a separate federal branch for that purpose, the Drug Enforcement Administration. The operational logic of the two bodies is identical: both of them, just like city police forces, investigate separate cases. The Shin Bet, on the other hand, does not investigate the "terrorist attack in Netanya" or the "car bomb at Megiddo Junction." It investigates the fabric of "hostile terrorist activity" of which the various attacks are the concrete expression.

In a properly run state - which is fearful lest the law enforcement agencies themselves become violators of the law and abuse the country's citizens and subvert the foundations of the regime - the judicial approach is preferred, in which the suspect is given the benefit of the doubt. Better for a thousand criminals to go free than for one innocent person to be jailed even though he is innocent.

The entire United States Constitution is lofty in its principles, but problematic when the adversaries the country is facing are not King George III and General Cornwallis, but, say, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden (and Hitler and Stalin before them). Are the rights and freedoms of the individual, which are liable to be infringed partially and momentarily, truly more important than the thousands or even millions that are liable to die when a plane explodes against a skyscraper, or when a city's water is poisoned, or when weapons of mass destruction are unleashed?

Until a quarter of a century ago, the FBI and its top officials broke the law they had been entrusted to preserve. So new chiefs were appointed in the person of former judges: William Webster (who also served as CIA chief, based on a similar rationale) and Louis Freeh. Success was partial at best: Professionally, the regime of the judges was disastrous. The need to persuade a federal attorney - such an official is assigned to every case - that circumstantial evidence that warrants a search warrant is "75 to 80 percent" and not just "51 percent" resulted in information being concealed.

The judge is the politician's refuge. When Shlomo Ben-Ami, who was public security minister in the government of Ehud Barak, looked for candidates to head the police Investigations Department, he came up, among others, with the names of a district judge who was formerly the legal adviser of the Israel Police (Oded Mudrick) and the president of the Military Appeals Court, who preferred to become a district judge (Ilan Schiff).

On his visit to Israel, Pope John Paul II did not distinguish between the police and the security service. When Barak introduced him to Ben-Ami, the pontiff asked if this was the head of the KGB. Ben-Ami is a potential victim (and not the only one) of the commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Theodor Or - a panel that was established to examine the events of a quasi-war crisis (the police reaction to the riots in Arab towns and villages in October 2000) as though these were everyday public and criminal issues.