The season of senior appointments in the security establishment ended as it began, with scandal and embarrassment. What have we encountered since August? A forged document that nearly brought a candidacy for chief of staff to a halt, suspicions of construction violations that scuttled the appointment of that same chief of staff just as he was about to take office, a Mossad espionage agency chief whose appointment only went through with difficulty as a result of a trivial connection to the forged document, a sex scandal that affected the outcome of the race for police commissioner, and a nominee to head the prison service whose appointment was withdrawn over doubts regarding his answers in a lie-detector test. And now, as an epilogue, we have a new head of the Shin Bet security service whom the media has picked on for his skullcap while rabbis on the right expressed pride in their success in foiling the candidacy of another contender for the post.
Since his announcement in a strange public event organized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the choice to head the Shin Bet, Yoram Cohen has sustained assaults from every direction, including the pages of this newspaper. Amir Oren of Haaretz protested the disclosure in articles on a Washington think tank website of Cohen's full name before his appointment. This paper's Gideon Levy, in addition to his regular complaint about the tyranny of the Shin Bet, didn't like the cell-phone case hanging from the nominee's belt.
The Washington comments, however, were made with the approval (problematic from a legal standpoint as it might be ) of the outgoing Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin. Levy ignores the fact that the quiet security situation that residents of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have enjoyed over the recent past is the result of the efforts of the Shin Bet and Israel Defense Forces rather than a sudden turnabout in Hamas' murderous doctrine. While Levy's attention was directed to the sight of the cell-phone case Yoram Cohen was wearing as he left his house, I was actually impressed by the modesty of the house itself where the new Shin Bet head grew up.
The disturbing aspect of Cohen's appointment is not the skullcap on his head, which is not expected to influence how he relates to right-wing ideological violators of the law, but rather the rabbinical campaign against Cohen's rival for the job, referred to only by his first initial, Y. The explanation for the campaign were the purported acts of "persecution" Y. engaged in when he headed the Shin Bet unit that tracked Jewish extremism. There has always been political involvement in security agency appointments, and the boasting by the rabbis and their aides should be taken to some extent with a grain of salt.
But considering the constant turmoil reining in Netanyahu's office and the inability to get even one security agency appointment through without complaints and accusations, it looks like a clear lesson can be derived from the events of the past six months. This involves the need to impose order and oversight in appointment procedures involving candidates for sensitive high-level positions.
After the so-called Galant affair involving the appointment of the IDF chief of staff, Labor Party MK Eitan Cabel, who is a senior member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, developed a bill that would regulate appointment procedures. Relying too on a state comptroller's report from last year regarding appointment of major generals, Cabel is proposing that two outside committees be established. One would set clear criteria for appointments to senior positions, including their required administrative and command experience. The other would involve an improved version of the Turkel committee on senior appointments that would examine the candidates' qualifications. Regarding the nomination of an IDF chief of staff, the defense minister would be required to submit the names of two candidates to the committee, rather than one. This is a rational and reasonable proposal which merits thorough discussion in light of the collapse of the current system.
What are the prospects that the government will recognize the need to deal with these matters seriously? Last week the IDF conducted a major headquarters training exercise called "Stones of Fire 13" rehearsing a scenario involving war on several fronts simultaneously. The army returned to these drills with greater vigor after the fiasco of the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Ignoring suggestions by the chief of staff, the political leadership refrained from sending a minister to join the exercises under its auspices to play the role of prime minister. Defense Minister Ehud Barak at least bothered to pay a visit to the exercise during a lull between his frequent flights abroad.
Netanyahu didn't come. Maybe he was too busy with his war with Raviv Drucker of Channel 10 news.
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