Supervising the Mossad / Bibi's Private Army

The Mossad is the least supervised of all Israel's security organizations. The Israel Defense Forces, meanwhile, is under tight scrutiny. The Shin Bet operates mostly inside Israel and the territories, and in close proximity to the civilian population. As a result, the Shin Bet has lost a great deal of its secrecy and discovered the advantages of relative transparency vis-a-vis the Justice Ministry and even the media. Only the Mossad continues to play hide and seek and enjoys a special status: It's the prime minister's private army.

In a retrospective look at the scandals and foul-ups, it's hard to believe how much credit prime ministers are willing to grant the Mossad, protecting it from other branches of the state and limiting the chain of responsibility to merely the Mossad head and the prime minister above him.

Another example that comes to mind is the Lillehammer Affair in 1973, with Zvi Zamir and Golda Meir. There was also the failed attempt against Hamas' Khaled Meshal in 1997, with Danny Yatom and Benjamin Netanyahu. If during Netanyahu's second term as prime minister the Mossad is involved in yet another foul-up, the only ones responsible are Dagan and Netanyahu. None of their colleagues, either professionals or politicians, can share the glory of success or the condemnation of failure.

However, in many operations involving the IDF, especially the air force, navy and intelligence, room is made for the Prime Minister's Office, and even the Foreign Ministry. In recent years many important missions have been brought before the prime minister and the ministers of defense and foreign affairs, as well as senior confidants in the cabinet. Occasionally these missions have been put for final approval before the entire cabinet.

Not so Mossad missions. In most cases, these are approved by the prime minister alone. In some cases, the defense minister participates. A broader ministerial forum is not involved, especially when the issue involves "negative handling" - a term for assassination.

Such operations are also not brought to the attention of the shadow government in the Knesset, which helps supervise the government's most sensitive security-related decisions. The shadow government means the Knesset's foreign affairs and defense subcommittee on the secret services. The head of the shadow government is the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Tzachi Hanegbi, and all its members have served in previous governments in positions privy to the country's secrets. They are privy to everything except that little negative handling, decided by Dagan and Netanyahu.

The National Security Council, whose role was highlighted with the establishment of the Netanyahu government, is not a major contributor to supervising the Mossad. No less problematic is the makeup of the committee that is chaired by Dagan and includes the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence as well as the prime minister's military secretary. The roles of these organizations differ, and the chief of staff does not take part in the meetings.

Concerns about exposure are characteristic of the operational levels, as well as those responsible for a mission's success and the lives of the agents and their sources. But when this is used to limit participation in the thought process to the prime minister and the Mossad chief, without others taking part in analyzing the strategic and diplomatic implications, the unavoidable result is a series of foul-ups.

Cairo 1954 and Amman 1997 are the most notable. The Mossad is not the private army of Netanyahu and Dagan but an arm of the State of Israel. The state and its citizens pay the cost of errors; they must not allow these top leaders to evade supervision in the hope that fake beards, wigs and glasses will cover their true identity.