Inside Intel / As Long as You Have Your Bodyguard

The prime minister has filed an unprecedented request for 15 years of personal protection after retirement.

Benjamin Netanyahu has submitted an unprecedented request to have the state continue guarding him for 15 years after he completes his term as prime minister. The request was submitted recently to Maj. Gen. (ret. ) Amos Yaron, who heads a special committee responsible for determining personal protection arrangements for top Israeli officials.

Benjamin Netanyahu Olivier Fitoussi
Olivier Fitoussi

Under the rules set by the cabinet, a prime minister is only supposed to receive personal protection from the Shin Bet security service's personal protection unit for five years after retiring. Other top officials receive bodyguard services for shorter periods, at the Shin Bet's discretion.

So that his request would not look like an arbitrary bid for a special perk at the taxpayer's expense, Netanyahu wrapped it in casuistic security arguments. He proposed that anyone defined as "privy to the state's top secrets" be entitled to 15 years of Shin Bet protection while on trips overseas. That definition would render the defense minister, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, the head of Military Intelligence, the director of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission and the heads of the Shin Bet and the Mossad eligible for extended protection as well.

In 1975, three years after 11 Israeli athletes were murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the cabinet approved Resolution 411, which made the Shin Bet responsible for personal protection in Israel. In 1998, about two and a half years after the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Netanyahu - then in his first term as prime minister - appointed a special committee whose task was to determine personal protection arrangements for public figures. The committee was headed by former Mossad director Nahum Admoni.

The Admoni Committee submitted its recommendations in 1999, and the cabinet adopted them. Under these guidelines, the Shin Bet retained sole responsibility for personal protection in Israel, but subject to budgetary considerations. What this means in practice is that the cabinet, which approves the Shin Bet's budget, shares responsibility with the security service.

The Admoni Committee designated five categories as being eligible for Shin Bet VIP protection. At the head of the list were officials who symbols of Israeli sovereignty: the president, prime minister, Knesset speaker, leader of the opposition and Supreme Court president. Since then, the composition of the groups has changed, and two people were added to the "state symbols" group: the defense minister and the foreign minister.

The Admoni Committee (subsequently headed by former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit ) decided that the heads of the Mossad, the Shin Bet and the IDF should each be guarded by people from their own organizations. Ministers, in contrast, would be guarded by private security outfits paid for out of the relevant ministerial budgets.

Today the committee is headed by Yaron, and its other members are Prof. Asa Kasher and attorney Devora Chen. Netanyahu submitted his request to Yaron, who has yet to convene his committee to discuss it.

The bill that would be submitted to the taxpayers for this prolonged protection period, if it is approved, is hard to estimate, but it would be considerable. Moreover, other public figures are likely to seek the same arrangement. Apparently, they all adhere to Louis XIV's adage: "L'etat c'est moi."

Netanyahu's spokesman refused to comment for this report. Yaron said he does not comment on committee matters.

Richard in Wonderland

American blogger Richard Silverstein has turned his blog into an international poster board for reports that Israel's courts and military censor withhold from publication. In the past, he reported on the Anat Kamm affair at a time when the authorities were still stuffing the mouths of Israel's media with cotton wool.

Now Silverstein, who calls his blog Tikun Olam, says that he knows the name of the deputy head of the Shin Bet, and has even published it. He also said this man is Netanyahu's choice to head the Shin Bet after its current director, Yuval Diskin, steps down in May 2011.

Silverstein's blog feeds off information from Israelis. His postings generally contain a kernel of truth, along with a good deal of speculation and some half-truths.

But it's very doubtful that the prime minister has already decided who will replace Diskin, or even whether the next Shin Bet chief will come from the ranks of the service itself.

Nonetheless, Silverstein's blog is important, because it highlights the petrified ways of Israel's defense and legal establishments: They are deploying the methods of the 20th century to try to defend secrets that are no longer hidden from anyone on the information superhighways of the 21st century.

In the past, it used to be possible to publish the names of senior Shin Bet or Mossad officials if they had already been published abroad. But in Israel's Wonderland, which is far stranger than that of Alice, it is no longer possible to do this, because the Shin Bet Law forbids publishing the names of service employees even if they have already been published.

In such cases, the censor doesn't have any say, and it refuses even to screen such stories. All a journalist can do is go to court and try to challenge the ban. But usually, he will lose.

The spy who wouldn't spy

In October 2009 I met Yehuda Gil, a Mossad case officer sentenced by an Israeli court to five years in prison for relaying information with an intent to harm state security, theft and fraud. Gil initiated the meeting, which was held in his home. He tried to convince me that he is innocent, and that then-Mossad director Danny Yatom had framed him.

Gil is a charismatic storyteller, and he sounds persuasive. The fact is that for 23 years, he managed to dupe generations of trained intelligence officers from both the Mossad and the IDF. But after a careful examination, I concluded that Gil had tried to pull me into his web of deceit in order to exonerate himself. After consulting with my editors, we decided to killed the story.

Instead, Gil published a letter to the editor in response to Yatom's memoir, "Shotef Sod" ("Privy to Secrets" ). He also gave an interview on Channel 2 television. And tomorrow, Dr. Ronen Bergman is set to publish an interview in Yedioth Ahronoth in which Gil again asserts that Yatom set him up.

The truth, as established by the Mossad, Military Intelligence and police investigators, is completely different. Gil, a master of disguise who spoke several foreign languages, was sent to recruit a Syrian agent in 1974. He established contact with the agent after presenting himself as a representative of an international company interested in doing business in Syria.

The Syrian, a general, agreed to receive material benefits from Gil - among other things, an American refrigerator - but refused to betray his country and divulge any information in exchange. In short, the Syrian general didn't want to be a spy.

So for 23 years, Gil continued to send the defense establishment fake reports - some of which almost led Israel and Syria into war in the 1990s. He was convicted on solid evidence, and has refused to apologize and express contrition for his deeds.