Reuven Shmerling, a grandfather of 19 from the settlement of Elkana, was killed last week — security forces say it was a terror attack
The Shin Bet, known in Hebrew by its acronym Shabak (Sherut ha'Bitachon ha'Klali or General Security Service), is Israel's internal security service, and currently headed by Yuval Diskin.
The Shin Bet is one of three principal organizations of Israel's intelligence community, along with Military Intelligence (Amman) and the Mossad, which is responsible for intelligence abroad.
According to its 2002 statute, the organization “serves the state of Israel and protects it from threats of terror, espionage, sabotage, subversion, and the exposure of state secrets.”
The Shin Bet was founded in 1948 with the declaration of Israel's independence, initially as a branch of the IDF. Responsibility for Shin Bet activity was later transferred from the IDF to the office of the prime minister.
Up until the 1967 Six-Day War, the Shin Bet focused on counter-espionage and monitoring political activity among Israel's Arab population. After the war, the agency's efforts to monitor terrorist activity in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip became a more dominant area of focus.
The Shin Bet has been accused of employing controversial methods during its interrogations of Palestinians.
Alongside its successes in thwarting terrorist activity against Israeli targets, the organization has also known failures, including the “Bus 300” affair, in which Shin Bet officials were accused of killing two Palestinian hijackers of an Israeli bus after they had been taken into custody. The organization also came under fire after the assassination of then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv by a far-right Israeli Jew. Rabin's death, according to the Shin Bet, “revealed severe flaws in the security apparatus.”
The Shin Bet gathers its intelligence through technological as well as human sources. One of the agency's most valued human resources was revealed in a February 2010 Ha'aretz exclusive when Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a Hamas leaders in the West Bank, outed himseld a years-long a Shin Bet agent.
The first head of the Shabak was Isser Harel, who also headed the Mossad. In recent years, former Shin Bet heads Ami Ayalon and Avi Dichter have gone on to become Knesset members, for Labor and Kadima respectively.
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