Shin Bet in Danger of Playing Politics

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Some 40 years ago, the late government minister and Ratz leader Shulamit Aloni was at the center of a fateful moment in Israel’s history, when peace or exacerbation of the conflict hung in the balance. Then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin missed the opportunity, gave up Ratz and succumbed to pressure by the National Religious Party and Gush Emunim. And so he lost the chance for a Jordanian-Palestinian agreement with King Hussein, before the territories filled with settlements.

The Israel Defense Forces, under Chiefs of Staff Motta Gur and Raphael Eitan, read the map and assisted the settlers. Sometimes – as noted in the biography of one of the architects of the settlements, Matti Drobles – in providing helicopters to transport structures to alternative sites. When the army wanted to prevent withdrawals for the purpose of an agreement, intelligence officers were called to explain why this or that hilltop couldn’t be given up, because only there could an early warning station go up. That was a transparent pretext, professional jargon in the service of political viewpoints. The IDF’s then chief of Military Intelligence, Brig. Gen. Dov Tamari, unraveled the pretext and proved that there were alternatives – if only they were sought. Policy should dictate the search for the means, not vice versa.

Today, MI director Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and the head of the army’s research division, Brig. Gen. Itai Baron, are steering clear of intelligence assessments tailor-made for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is eager to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities (Iran is at least two years from a nuclear bomb, according to MI assessments) and to evade an agreement with the Palestinians according to the Obama-Kerry plan.

MI’s work and its conclusions are thorough and unbiased. Professional disagreements among research officers are worked through and presented to their superiors.

MI is subject to three masters: the prime minster, defense minister and chief of staff, and the promotion of its officers does not depend on a nod from Netanyahu. That is not the case with the National Security Council, which is supposed to give an overview, but whose current head, Yossi Cohen, openly wants Netanyahu to appoint him head of the Mossad in 18 months.

The situation in the Shin Bet security service is worst of all, with three out of its four senior officials coming from a religious background and radiating sympathy for a worldview that opposes diplomatic compromise that would involve the evacuation of settlements.

The secular Gur and Eitan have been resurrected in the Shin Bet as the passive and closed Yoram Cohen; his energetic deputy, known by the initial R.; and the head of the Arab-Iranian desk, M.

Despite silent internal foment, Shin Bet’s leaders are recruiting and promoting in their own image, and middle-level managers, therefore, see this as a model to emulate. The annual evaluation of Shin Bet employees now includes an arbitrary question, infuriating in its ambiguousness: Does the employee “act in accordance with a Zionist value system”? The Shin Bet is now filled with religious employees, much greater than their percentage in the population. Religious women doing national civilian service receive priority over secular women soldiers for interesting intelligence posts, and many remain in the Shin Bet after their voluntary period is over.

The Shin Bet can kowtow to Netanyahu, its sole supervisor – and appointer, for all intents and purposes, of its director – in two ways: procedure and content. It can decree that the negotiations die a slow death, if its position on security following an agreement breaks down into hundreds of objections, the discussion of which will take years. It also has the power to sound the alarm, loudly, over what could happen following a withdrawal (and suppress the security cost of no agreement). Who would dare challenge the Shin Bet’s warnings as long as Netanyahu accepts them? When it is convenient for him, of course – like in the case of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit – he ignores these warnings with the help of public opinion polls.

The Shin Bet is the secret, most dangerous card that Netanyahu keeps in his pocket for the final struggle against Obama-Kerry. The organization, which fights terror well, could damage the peace process if it exceeds its field of expertise, and political and personal considerations guide the moves of its senior officials.

Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen.Credit: Emil Salman

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