Be Careful of ex-Shin Bet Heads

Ami Ayalon and Avi Dichter must be judged in keeping with their characters and worldviews, and not in accordance with their former organizational affiliation.

Unlike the tale of Hansel and Gretel, which ends happily after all, the legend of the wondrous virtues of the heads of the defense establishment does not always have a happy end. We have seen chiefs of staff and senior Israel Defense Forces officers who once enjoyed omnipotent glory before having their human weaknesses exposed on entering the political arena. The latest happening comes in the form of ex-heads of the Shin Bet security service: Ami Ayalon and Avi Dichter are being recruited by Amir Peretz and Ariel Sharon respectively with the intent of impressing the voters. The two are being marketed in terms of the security-oriented reputation they earned in their previous posts; the working assumption is that using such an image is an effective means of garnering public support.

Past experience, when it comes to famous defense establishment officials who have entered political life, should have refuted this assumption: When one reviews the more well-known names of senior commanders who have entered the political establishment, the picture that emerges is, at best, a mixed one, and for stringent observers, disappointing. Among those with the gall to aspire to political leadership were Moshe Dayan and Yigael Yadin, Yitzhak Rabin and Rehavam Ze'evi, Mordechai Gur and Rafael Eitan, Aharon Yariv and Ariel Sharon, Meir Amir and Avigdor Kahalani, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Ezer Weizman, Ehud Barak and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Shaul Mofaz and Yitzhak Mordechai, Danny Yatom and Matan Vilnai.

This list (a partial one) is evidence that the IDF is not necessarily the ultimate training school for politicians. It also teaches that the melting pot of the army does not produce clones: Among the officers mentioned were bright ones and foolish ones, hot-tempered ones and cool-headed ones, those who walked the straight and narrow, and those who were bent. Some changed their behavior as a result of their encounter with the civilian establishment; others remained rooted in military thought patterns. One can say with perfect certainty that their military service did not give them any real advantage when it came to managing the affairs of state.

Familiarity with a number of heads of the Shin Bet leads to a similar conclusion - if not a more severe one: In recent years, the public at large was afforded the opportunity of getting to know, in an unmediated fashion, the likes of Ehud Yatom, Gideon Ezra and Yisrael Hasson (who chose recently to tie his political destiny to Avigdor Lieberman). Now, both Ami Ayalon and Avi Dichter are also seeking the voters' trust. Though both have headed the Shin Bet, they are entirely different in character, their worldviews and their approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This fact in itself should be enough to undermine the custom of filling the parties' lists with individuals who are labeled in keeping with their sectoral identity, instead of selecting them based on their skills.

Among the past Shin Bet heads there are those who filled their position very successfully, and there were those who failed dismally. Familiarity with a number of them makes one wonder not only about their degree of suitability to the political arena, but also about the efficiency of the filtering and promotion processes within the Shin Bet.

Ami Ayalon and Avi Dichter must be judged in keeping with their characters and worldviews, and not in accordance with their former organizational affiliation.

Ayalon chose to join Labor under Amir Peretz - a decision that is an indication of his political slant. He moved to the Shin Bet from the IDF (to rehabilitate the organization after the murder of Rabin), and on completing his term in office, he established the People's Voice, which seeks an end to the conflict with the Palestinians and is characterized by a distinctly humane approach that addresses the enemy on an equal footing.

Dichter has gone for Sharon's new party, and has thus declared a political perspective different from that of Ayalon. Ever since he was a soldier, and all the way through to his last post in the Shin Bet, Dichter has looked at the Palestinians through gun sights, frequently ignoring the political ramifications of his approach. He is a renowned believer in the method of "targeted killings," whose legality remains in doubt, and took it to an unprecedented level of effectiveness.

Wise statesmanship is, in brief, the ability to foresee the future. There is no convincing evidence to show that the Shin Bet is the proper school for the training of successful statesmen.