Dichter's Failure

Avi Dichter has turned from an excellent Shin Bet head into a very mediocre minister of internal security.

"It's an excellent job," a senior police officer quoted his friend, Israel Prisons Service Commissioner Yaakov Ganot as saying. "You don't have to hurry - the work is not running away." It is not clear whether the senior officer was actually quoting the commissioner accurately, or whether he thought up the quote himself, but he added: "Unless someone runs away, and then it's big trouble."

Ganot, who earlier on in his career was a courageous commander in the Border Police and lost an eye in a terrorist ambush along the northern border, is considered a strict and activist officer. This was of no avail to him last Friday when Benny Sela, one of the IPS' most dangerous inmates - although not quite as dangerous as some of the murderers in his keep - pulled the wool over the eyes of the service and the police and escaped from their custody.

Sela managed to slip through the cracks between the judicial system that summons prisoners to appear in court and the IPS, and between the latter and the police. The committee of inquiry headed by Major General (res.) Amos Yaron has the task of finding out how these cracks came to be.

The appointment of Yaron is difficult to understand. He does not have a great deal of knowledge about police, wardens and prison affairs - just as police and IPS officials do not understand the Israel Defense Forces first hand or the workings of the Defense Ministry, where Yaron served as director general for six years. Yaron was appointed mainly because he himself was not a "graduate" of the institutions that are being investigated. But Sela's escape also draws attention to the person who appointed Yaron - Avi Dichter, who was one of the best heads the Shin Bet security services has had since its establishment.

An amusing book of Shin Bet memoirs written by David ("Daud") Rathman documents how the Shin Bet was transferred from the ascetic and self-denying, Polish-born generation to the present-day generation of Arabic-speaking agents, who feel at home in the territories and Lebanon. Dichter's contemporaries saw the Shin Bet becoming up-to-date and participated in making it an effective organization for thwarting terror.

Dichter has turned from an excellent Shin Bet head into a very mediocre minister of internal security. He is just an ordinary politician and cannot chalk up even one improvement with respect to the way the police work. Any citizen who has the frustrating task of having to deal with investigators of complaints and other policemen might ask himself what has happened to Dichter since he emerged from behind the dark veils of secrecy of the security service into the gray world of internal security. The difference is similar to that between the IPS and the Shin Bet.

If Sela's escape exposes such serious defects in the system - and even before those responsible for them are found, Dichter is already talking about taking steps against them - this means that he has failed in his oversight of the police and the IPS, and in trying to identify problems ahead of time. As a person who previously headed a security organization, equipped with administrative experience and an outside perspective on the systems that have to be supervised, Dichter should have been able to see much farther than Ganot and Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi. Their failure is his failure.

Not everything that proves successful in the Shin Bet, the special forces or the fighter squadrons of the Israel Air Force will also be successful in the slower and more unwieldy mechanisms, which are not necessarily staffed by elite volunteers who are hungry for achievement and need no one to spur them on.

Ehud Barak reached the apex of his capabilities when he was commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance unit. During rare visits to the division which he commanded, he had less influence. As chief of staff, he initiated processes that did not always filter down to the lower ranks. As prime minister, he had only partial control of his ministers and lost the trust of millions of citizens. It is possible that Dan Halutz, who excelled in all the positions in the air force, and not as chief of staff, is yet another representative of this phenomenon.

Unless he is given another portfolio in the government, Dichter will be responsible for finding replacements soon for both the police commissioner and the IPS commissioner. There is no abundance of internal candidates for these posts. His apparent inclination to pass these people over and to bring in someone from the outside, from a special unit such as the Shin Bet, could turn out to be an expensive mistake.