Officials at the Shin Bet security service recently claimed in internal deliberations that organized incitement against Hosen L’Yisrael party chairman Benny Gantz in the most recent Knesset election campaign was similar in scope and intensity to the period preceding the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Haaretz has learned.
Following the March 2 election, the Shin Bet recommended that Gantz receive personal protection from the Shin Bet rather than Knesset security personnel, due to what it hinted was the potential for a political assassination.
In the election, Gantz headed a broad slate of parties under the Kahol Lavan banner. Last week, the slate splintered after Gantz decided to seek to bring his Hosen L’Yisrael party into a coalition government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Shin Bet recommendation was sent to an official panel on personal security headed by former Foreign Ministry director general Joseph Ciechanover. The panel concurred and the ministerial committee on the Shin Bet, whose members include Netanyahu and the ministers of defense, foreign affairs, public security and justice, approved the committee’s recommendation that the Shin Bet provide Gantz protection.
Initially, when the members of the ministerial committee were polled by phone on the issue, Justice Minister Ohana refused to support the request, asking that the committee hold a formal session on the matter. The justice minister cast doubt at the suggestion that threats on Gantz actually required that he receive protection from the Shin Bet rather than from the Knesset Guard and demanded to see the Shin Bet’s intelligence information, Haaretz has learned.
Ohana also said that he himself had been a victim of incitement recently. In private conversations, he explained that he was unwilling to serve as a rubber stamp for the Shin Bet. In advance of the formal committee session on the issue, however, he realized that a majority of ministers were in favor of Shin Bet protection for Gantz, so the committee’s further consideration of the issue became moot.
When Ciechanover was asked by Haaretz whether it wouldn’t be appropriate to make the intelligence assessment that his committee received public, he said it was the Shin Bet’s role to decide whether release such information. The Shin Bet declined to respond to Haaretz, but a security official remarked: “It’s no coincidence that it was the Shin Bet that approached the cabinet and asked for increased protection for Gantz ....”
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Even prior to the Shin Bet recommendation, Yuval Diskin, the former chief of the Shin Bet, told Haaretz that under the present circumstances, the security agency’s personal security unit should be responsible for Gantz’s protection rather than the Knesset Guard.
In comments before Gantz’s decision to join a Netanyahu-led government, Diskin remarked: “There is potential here for a return to the days of the mid-1990s [just prior to Rabin’s assassination], and social media are even intensifying the effect of the incitement. The public atmosphere should not be ignored. Even if Gantz is not the leader of the [Knesset] opposition, he’s a party leader with a chance of forming a government. Sometimes we have to apply the rule of common sense.”