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A former senior Shin Bet security service officer yesterday blasted bodyguards from the service for failing to protect party leader and defense minister Ehud Barak at a violent incident earlier this week, in what he called "an extremely serious security and protection failure."

Shin Bet guards stood by while a Labor Party activist attacked Barak and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon at a gathering at the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv on Monday.

Sami Shoshan, a brother-in-law of former party leader Amir Peretz's reportedly assaulted Barak and Simhon, slamming a microphone in Simhon's face and snatching a microphone from Barak. Eyewitnesses said Barak was injured, but throughout the incident, which lasted several minutes, the security guards refrained from intervening or protecting Barak, as is their duty.

Instead, employees from Labor headquarters rushed to defend the two ministers. Other ministers from the party as well as and Knesset members who attended the event lashed out at the Shin Bet guards and Simhon's private bodyguards for their failure to act.

It also transpired that none of the participants in the gathering had been checked at the entrance.

Shaul Dor, head of the Histadrut branch in the Sharon region, and a member of Labor's executive committee, yesterday filed a complaint to Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin. Simhon filed a police complaint against Shoshan for assault.

People were within touching distance of Barak and assaulted him with curses and threats, Dor said in his complaint. "How is it possible that the defense minister, a potential target of hostile elements, could be exposed to real danger inside the headquarters of the Labor Party?"

After the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995, new directives were written for the Shin Bet's VIP security unit, obliging the service to provide bodyguards for the state's top seven leaders. The former Shin Bet official, during whose term the directives were renewed, told Haaretz that the event had not been guarded properly, in view of Barak's being one of the seven leaders who is subject to the Shin Bet's protection.

Participants in the gathering should have been examined at the entrance with metal detectors, he said. "The moment the security guards saw the man leap up from the audience seats in the direction of Barak, they should have placed themselves between him and Barak," he said.

"If, as reported, they didn't intervene at all, this is an extremely grave security and protection failure," he said.

Labor members also blasted party secretary general MK Eitan Cabel for not stating immediately that he intended to oust Sami Shoshan from the party following his violent contuct. They also slammed MK Amir Peretz for not stopping Shoshan, who is married to his sister Flora, from attacking Barak.

The Shin Bet refused to answer a query from Haaretz regarding whether it was conducting an inquiry into the incident.

"It's a case of heated tempers in a party debate, where no VIP under the Shin Bet's protection was exposed to any danger. The Shin Bet takes care to protect the VIPs, while at the saem time refraining from intervening in political activity," the Shin Bet's spokesman's office said.