Shin Bet Heir Apparent: Sophisticated, Creative and Cunning

The new head of the security service will have to deal with an emerging reality in the Gaza-Sinai-Egypt triangle, and work with other agencies for possible terror attacks and renewed Hamas-Hezbollah cooperation.

There is a new chief of staff. A new police commissioner. A new head of Military Intelligence. And a new director of the Shin Bet security service is soon to come: Yuval Diskin will be completing his tenure in another two and a half months, after six years. But there is no new director of the National Security Staff since Uzi Arad resigned the position late last month. The National Security Staff Law that sets out and regulates the role of the director is not being implemented - and the prime minister is to blame. Provision 7 of the law, for example, stipulates that the National Security Council head "will regularly be invited to every discussion of the committee of the heads of the secret services." In fact, even during Arad's tenure, those meetings continue to be attended only by the heads of the Mossad, the Shin Bet and MI, and are organized by the premier's military secretary - the NSC chief's rival in the Prime Minister's Bureau.

The traditional structure of the committee of the heads of the security agencies - the Mossad-Shin Bet-MI trinity - is not suited to Israel's needs in the second decade of the 21st century. Missing is a representative of the Foreign Ministry, preferably its director general or the head of its Center for Political Research. Also missing is the commissioner of police - or alternatively, the police investigations and intelligence chief.

Izhar Shkedi

Moreover, it is hard for MI to serve as the sole representative of the Israel Defense Forces. After assuming his post, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who now makes a point of being called "Binyamin," ordered the heads of the intelligence and planning directorates of the General Staff to update their assessments as to the strategic threats facing the army, and for which it must prepare. The planning directorate's assessment will weigh the net balance of forces. Yet neither its representative, nor the chief of staff, nor a representative of the operations directorate attend meetings of the above-mentioned security committee.

Furthermore, the IDF's assessment is not interchangeable with that of a broader, national evaluation, which takes into account the interrelationships between the policy made by the government of Israel and its actions, on the one hand, and external factors, on the other hand. That sort of input, prepared at the staff echelon beneath the cabinet ministers, should be the responsibility of the NSC, which, as noted above, is sidelined.

The chairman of the security services committee is usually the head of the Mossad. There was an element of logic to this in the 1950s and 1960s, first when Isser Harel served both in this position and as head of the Shin Bet, and later when Meir Amit simultaneously headed both the Mossad and MI, and his successor at MI was his deputy, Aharon Yariv. Today there is no real reason for this.

Rivalry and suspicion are rife today among the various agencies despite shared activities, mainly in the field. The situation is that Mossad chief Tamir Pardo was appointed to his position just a few months after MI head Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi was appointed to his, but the former is 10 years older than the latter. Thus it is expected that Pardo will still be head of the Mossad in about two and a half years when Kochavi is appointed GOC of a command en route to the post of deputy chief of staff and, presumably, to becoming a candidate for chief of staff. This is a career trajectory taken in the past by current Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Moshe Ya'alon (now vice prime minister ), and, with a slight difference, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak - all of whom served as chief of staff before entering politics.

Shin Bet scenarios

After the decline caused by the debacle surrounding the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Shin Bet has been blessed with a series of excellent chiefs, each with his own style: Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter and Diskin. The next chief is slated to be a deputy of Diskin's. There remains only one small question: Which one?

Of the three candidates (all of whose names it is legally forbidden to publish ), all have served as deputies, and now two have made the short list: the one who served first under Diskin, and his current deputy. All signs indicate that the latter will receive the blessing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is supposed to then inform the government of the appointment (though the government's approval is not required ); the decision is also expected to be approved quickly by the Turkel committee that vets such appointments.

The promotion of Diskin's current deputy to the top post would be unique: He is different from the native-born Israelis and fighters in elite units who preceded him (Ayalon from the navy's Shayetet 13, Dichter from the elite Sayeret Matkal and Diskin from Sayeret Shaked - all special ops units ), for whom the bullying of and friction with Palestinians was a "natural" continuation of their military service. The deputy, 54 and a resident of Ashdod, was born in Georgia, in the former Soviet Union. At the age of 16 he was the USSR's youth champion in the field of exact sciences. A year later, in 1973, he came to Israel with his family, enlisted in the IDF and served as an anti-aircraft officer. In 1982 he joined the Shin Bet.

As befits his background, he was appointed to be an investigator in cases involving Soviet reconnaissance. One of the people he investigated was Shabtai Kalmanovich, who was convinced to open up thanks to a game of chess, a shared hobby. (Kalmanovich, a dubious character who penetrated Israeli political echelons and provided information to several foreign intelligence organizations, was exposed, punished, returned to mysterious business dealings and was eventually murdered. )

The presumed candidate for Shin Bet chief impressed his superiors and then, in the late 1990s, surprised them with his desire to move into the Arab arena, the focal point of the agency's work. The Shin Bet head at the time, Jacob Perry, wondered why it was worth it for him to abandon his specialty, but the agent insisted and learned Arabic, his fifth language after Russian, Georgian, English and Hebrew. In the meantime, he also continued to excel at investigations. Dichter, who was perhaps the first person to discover this man's talents, pulled him out and posted him to the headquarters of the southern division of the agency, for which Dichter was then responsible.

Diskin's deputy is a sophisticated, creative and cunning person; his boss is unstinting in his praise: "At the personality level - amazing," says Diskin. "Talented as can be. Smart in the exact sciences. A wonderful family. The transfer from investigations to the field is not easy; it's like moving from the paratroops to the armored corps. Few people do this and even fewer do it successfully, the way he did. In the south, new horizons were opened to him, and he revealed himself to be an extraordinary analyst and an admired administrator - strict, but fair, devoted and fatherly."

His most important victory in Gaza was the operation in which "the Engineer," Palestinian terror mastermind Yahya Ayyash, was killed with a booby-trapped telephone in January 1996. Six years later, his plan was executed for killing Raad Karmi, a prominent Fatah terror activist, by means of another explosive charge - this time camouflaged in a brick in a wall along Karmi's usual walking route in Tul Karm. In the eternal dispute about the effect that killing Karmi had on the continuation of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the Shin Bet deputy's position is clear: Any subsequent terror attacks were not to avenge Karmi's death, but rather had already been in the pipeline; it was Karmi who had planned and ordered them, he asserted.

At that time he was already head of the Samaria subdistrict, under the director of the Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria district - his current competitor, Diskin's first deputy. From there he shot to the top and headed three branches in succession: those dealing with investigations and with Arab citizens, and the "Jewish division." This was a multifaceted and well-balanced sort of ascent, which afforded him great familiarity with the "business" of the Shin Bet. The rest of his positions, including that connected with the VIP security department, he completed as deputy - in effect acting like the director general of the service. Dichter, who was Ayalon's deputy, agrees with Diskin that service as a deputy in the agency is vital before attaining the top post, and says: "Good heads are built of good deputies."

Since the next Shin Bet chief will hold the position for five or six years, it is expected that during this period an entire stratum of branch heads will retire and make way for a new one to advance. In any event, the mission of the new head of the Shin Bet will be to continue the trend recently spearheaded by Diskin: to reduce manpower to save expenditure, make more use of innovative technology and increase operational flexibility. Outwardly, he will have to deal with an emerging reality in the Gaza-Sinai-Egypt triangle, and to prepare, with the police, for a possible mix of terror attacks, renewed cooperation between Hamas and Hezbollah, and mass public disturbances - and all this in light of the uncertainty in Israel's domestic politics leading up to new elections.

A single security agency cannot deal with all this on its own. The various organizations will need to overcome their rivalries, ignore outdated concepts about sector boundaries and divisions of labor, and realize that the political echelon will not necessarily work against them. In a place where various brains are supposed to be working together and not against one another, strokes of brilliance like exploding telephones or bricks are not going to be of any help.