Former Shin Bet security service chief Yoram Cohen told Israel's Army Radio on Thursday that while he headed the agency, he did not believe the Shin Bet should provide protection for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's two sons, Yair and Avner, on a regular basis, but he was overruled.
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"During my time, our opinion was that there was no need to provide protection for them on an ongoing basis, but the position was not accepted," Cohen said.
The Prime Minister’s Office challenged Cohen's account of events, saying that in fact Cohen had recommended increasing security for Netanyahu’s two sons as a result of the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza and other security incidents. Cohen "warned of the need to increase the security arrangements for [the prime minister's] sons,” the Prime Minister’s Office said, also noting that Yair and Avner Netanyahu appeared on websites identified with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as “explicit targets for assassination."
“The security for [Netanyahu’s] sons, like the security of other figures, is [decided] by a ministerial committee and by a public committee headed by Joseph Ciechanover that examines the entirety of the threats and receives periodic updates about the security situation and the threat situation, and [it] decided that the prime minister’s sons should be protected,” the Prime Minister’s Office added.
The Prime Minister's Office's response appears deliberately to related only to the period following the 2014 Gaza war. Sources said that prior to that period, the Shin Bet had indeed opposed regular security protection for the prime minister's sons, but the Ciechanover committee decided otherwise.
Netanyahu's sons are the only children of any Israeli prime minister who have been given bodyguards. As a result, they receive a regular car and driver at government expense and are also given protection abroad, similar to what a government minister gets.
In October 2015, Yair Netanyahu was assigned a bodyguard when he accompanied his father and Australian billionaire James Packer to a session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Last year, when the prime minister's wife, Sara, and her sons took a family roots trip to Poland, bodyguards were also assigned to them.
The Prime Minister's Office has adamantly refused to provide information on the cost of providing the security or to provide any other explanation regarding the decision-making related to protection of Yair Netanyahu. The decision to provide protection for the prime minister's sons was made by the security division of the Prime Minister's Office, in keeping with the wishes of the Netanyahu family. The Shin Bet participated in discussions on the matter.