The Shin Bet Has Failed in Gaza

The circumstances that led to Shalit's abduction point at the security service's failure in the Gaza Strip.

Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin testified yesterday before the Winograd committee. Diskin need not fear the Winograd report when it is published. He was called to testify mainly as an expert observer who was present at senior security consultations. Fortunately for him, the committee has been assigned to deal only with the campaign in Lebanon and not with the one ongoing in the Gaza Strip since June 25 last year, when Corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted.

For 18 years the Shin Bet was involved in Lebanon, as well as the territories. The 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon released Diskin from responsibility for intelligence north of the border. His agents there were dismissed or recruited by other employers - the Mossad did better than Military Intelligence. As long as Hezbollah maintains terror ties with Hamas or Israeli Arabs, the division of responsibility within the intelligence community is not cut and dry. However, Lebanon is no longer the Shin Bet's problem. This is not the case with Gaza. The Shalit affair is one of the low points for the Shin Bet in more than six years of conflict with the Palestinians. Its only apparent success in this affair was to avoid becoming the public image of responsibility for the failure. Diskin, unlike his predecessor Avi Dichter, stays out of the media spotlight, and the media's acquaintanceship with him, after a third of his term, is more superficial. He stands out less than his equivalents in the army.

The Shin Bet refused to cooperate with the investigation headed by Major General (Res.) Giora Eiland, which examined Shalit's abduction and the killing of two of his fellow tank crewmates. Eiland noted this with frustration; the crucial result is that the Eiland report hurt only the Israel Defense Forces officers, and not severely.

Diskin is not subordinate to the chief of staff or to the defense minister. His relations with the General Staff and Military Intelligence are tense, as the army complains of the Shin Bet's tendency to hoard intelligence information. The complaint is perhaps justified, but it is also hypocritical: Military Intelligence did not share intelligence with Division 91 or other forces on the ground - intelligence that would have helped prevent the abduction of two soldiers at Zar'it, on the Lebanon border.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Diskin's direct superior, did not force him to become involved in Eiland's investigation. In the public mind, the division commander, Aviv Kochavi, and the brigade commander, Avi Peled, are tainted. Diskin and his head of the Southern Region, G., might as well be completely unconnected to the incident.

The warning the Shin Bet provided in advance of the digging of the tunnel at Kerem Shalom did not address an exact location. But worse still is the lack of information since the moment of the abduction. The Shin Bet's network of sources has not provided results swiftly. It is easier to enlist locals to single out terrorists so that they can be assassinated than it is to find some traitor to reveal where Shalit is being held and thereby prevent the release of Palestinian prisoners. It is possible that the Shin Bet later obtained better information about Shalit and his abductors, but that was no longer enough for a military operation to free him alive. In any case, the joint failure of the Shin Bet and the IDF in planning such an operation led to an embarrassing blow to the government's bargaining position. The IDF was right and Olmert was wrong at the beginning of June, when at the General Staff they recommended to negotiate on an "arrangement" for a truce that would include a prisoner exchange. However, the issue is not who was right, but rather the government's room to maneuver, which has narrowed because of the Shin Bet's failure both in obtaining information and running local agents. The situation in the West Bank is easier for the Shin Bet. There, routine arrests provide intelligence and entire cells are wiped out thanks to one activist's arrest. In Gaza, as in Lebanon, the Arab system succeeded in deterring Israel from a large invasion. Presumably in advance of diplomatic agreements, the Shin Bet will use such examples to argue against major withdrawals that might erect cities of refuge for terror.