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Netanyahu is known for his hesitancy when it comes to appointing senior officials – the police commissioner and Mossad chief appointments have provided embarrassing examples of this. This time, however, he surprisingly appointed Nadav Argaman three months before incumbent Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen’s scheduled retirement.
The announcement of the appointment may have been timed to coincide with the Thursday evening television news and shape the front pages of Friday’s newspapers, thus serving Netanyahu’s desire to downplay the legal victory of Meni Naftali, former chief caretaker of the prime minister’s residence. Even so, an appointment well in advance that enables an orderly changeover is better than a last-minute stealthy appointment.
Whatever Netanyahu's motives may be, the burden now shifts to Argaman. His service chart is different from those of Shin Bet chiefs who served in the two decades since Yitzhak Rabin’s murder. He is not a senior military commander like Maj. Gen. (res.) Ami Ayalon and did not serve as Central or Southern Commander like Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin and outgoing chief Cohen. He did not specialize in operative work or in Palestinian affairs. He will not be seen as an intelligence authority who can advise the cabinet on issues pertaining to the peace process.
As a result, the roles of the IDF’s chief of staff, Military Intelligence chief, coordinator of government activities in the territories and the district commanders are expected to grow.
Argaman’s major challenge is both professional and ideological. Apart from dealing with the sharp rise in Palestinian terrorism and the fear that the stabbing attacks of recent months will turn into mass terror attacks, the new Shin Bet chief is also responsible for protecting Israeli democracy from those threatening to undermine it and confine it.
Argaman will have to pay special attention to dismantling Jewish terror cells, consisting of West Bank hilltop youths who declare their goal is to destroy Israeli democracy and establish a pseudo Jewish kingdom in its stead.
He will have to prevent politicians, especially during tense times of terrorism, from using the Shin Bet’s name to silence other political voices and opinions.
Argaman will also have to foil efforts by extreme-right politicians to use the security service to harass Palestinians and leftist activists. Argaman must remember at all times that the security service belongs to the state — and not to the prime minister or members of the cabinet.