The Adoptive Father of Israeli Intelligence

Meir Amit was not the father of the Israeli intelligence community, but in the 1960s he truly revolutionized Israeli intelligence to such an extent that he certainly deserves the title of adoptive father. Amit's major innovation was in expanding cooperation between intelligence agencies which typically guarded their autonomy, and in understanding the needs of the military and political echelons which used the intelligence information. It was not simply intelligence for the sake of intelligence, but rather a means of helping the prime minister, the defense minister and the IDF chief of staff to prepare the army for war and prepare Israel for peace.

Amit was the first head of Military Intelligence who didn't rise from within the ranks of intelligence. He was appointed to the position in 1962 after a series of failures and embarrassments on the part of his predecessors. Amit was the first to come to the position as a major general; and he was not just a major general.

He came with significant experience as GOC Central Command and as GOC Southern Command, and especially as headquarters chief during the 1956 Sinai campaign. His diversion from the operational field upgraded Military Intelligence and enabled him to sit alongside the chief of staff with similar authority as that possessed by veteran senior officers such as Yitzhak Rabin.

It also enabled him to contend without any inferiority with Mossad head and Shin Bet security service chief Isser Harel. In the dispute over the degree of the threat posed by the Egyptian missile program, which enjoyed the cooperation of German scientists, the school of thought represented by Amit (and Shimon Peres) gained ascendancy over that of Harel until Harel ultimately resigned and Amit was appointed as concurrent head of the Mossad. In 1963, with Rabin's appointment as chief of staff, Amit was asked to make a choice between the army intelligence branch and the Mossad. He chose to leave the army and remain in the civilian capacity with the Mossad.

As he had with the Military Intelligence, Amit revived the Mossad, encountering opposition, however, from Harel loyalists including Yitzhak Shamir. His former deputy and his successor as head of Military Intelligence, Aharon Yariv, came to his assistance. Amit and Yariv were colleagues, not adversaries, and the manner in which they cooperated, frequently with the directors of the prime minister's office and the foreign ministry, distinguished itself to such an extent that it was envied for years to come, but never emulated.

If Israel's greatest military victory was the Six-Day War, certainly an important portion of credit should be awarded to both the Mossad and Military Intelligence.

This included infrastructure built up over years and put in the hands of the Sayeret Matkal special operations unit. It also included technological advances and work with intelligence operatives. There were failures as well, but on the whole, Israeli intelligence was highly successful.