The various organizations that make up the Israeli security establishment use of a plethora of slogans: The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) calls on its members to “Protect, but not be seen;” the Mossad instructs its people to “Fight the war with deception”; and the IDF has adopted David Ben-Gurion’s charge that “Every Jewish mother should know that she has entrusted the lives of her sons with worthy commanders.”

These words embody the essence of these organizations, but is every member of them “worthy” and should every “deception” be allowed? The most venerated values of the Shin Bet are loyalty and restraint.

The IDF has always operated according to the principle of the “Spirit of the IDF,” however something has begun to change recently.

Incidents which have forced us to raise the question, “Is this indeed a coincidence or just a natural process?” One of these instances was the release of the documentary The Gatekeepers. In this unique film, which is currently being shown as a series on Channel 1, former Shin Bet directors speak openly and publicly for the first time about dilemmas they have faced and the nature of their relationships with senior Israeli politicians.

Although the artistic value of the documentary is admirable, viewers cannot help but squirm uncomfortably in their seats as they watch former Shin Bet heads discuss the friction and arguments they have had with Israeli prime ministers. For the first time ever, Shin Bet heads are directly or indirectly publicly criticizing decisions made by government leaders. Granted, the movie only covers incidents that occurred in the past, operations which have come to completion, arguments which have been settled and frustrations that have been forgotten.

But the reality remains the same.

Another ugly incident was when former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin spoke openly about actions taken by the prime minister and defense minister, drawing heavy criticism from numerous commentators and former Shin Bet heads. They criticized the way Diskin spoke, the amount of exposure these revelations received and the fact that Diskin chose to speak out just before January’s national election.

The question remains: Is it proper for the former head of a secret state organization to openly and flagrantly speak out against a state leader under whom he served? Is it right for him to publicly expose meetings between the heads of intelligence agencies and the prime minister that took place behind closed doors? Is the type of drink or brand of cigar that the prime minister and defense minister drank and smoked during these confidential meetings relevant information? And should an IDF chief of staff be allowed to discredit a defense minister under whom he serves? This exact situation is under criminal investigation in what is known as the Harpaz Affair, in which a fake document was leaked by Lt.-Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz in an effort to discredit a candidate for IDF chief of staff, Yoav Galant.

Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, one of Harpaz’s good friends, was also entangled in this embarrassing affair, as was Ashkenazi’s assistant, Erez Weiner. The inquiry committee and the state comptroller determined that the conduct of the military commanders and their superior, Ashkenazi, was improper and disloyal. Not only were the chief of staff and his deputy involved in the Harpaz Affair, but the head of the Mossad and other senior officers were implicated.

These events raise the question of how loyal must chiefs of armed forces and security organizations of democratic nations be to the politicians under whom they serve.

It is important to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with the relative openness that the Shin Bet has been offering the media. The hard beginnings of this process began during the tenure of Shin Bet chief Yaakov Perry, but have matured into an organized media arrangement (that was inaugurated in 2000 by the author, in an organized and orderly process and was approved by the Shin Bet). The Shin Bet is complying with this arrangement with the media with integrity and absolute credibility, as well as with the values espoused by all Shin Bet units: Loyalty and restraint.

In the past, I had the honor of participating in these discussions and extremely intimate late-night meetings held by thenprime minister Arik Sharon. We did not believe that his choice of food affected his judgment or decision-making process as prime minister. Not one of the heads of organizations who were subordinate to the prime minister considered offering the media a glimpse into which foods the prime minister offered at these meetings that lasted until the wee hours of the morning. We all knew, especially the Shin Bet leaders and employees, that what happens inside these walls stays inside these walls, especially differences of opinions between the Shin Bet chief and the prime minister. The military also knows that discussions regarding appointments and budgetary decisions should not be published in newspapers as they are today.

Almost all information regarding secret operations is still kept under lock and key, and most politicians have no real information on them. But today, many people are asking: If the former head of the Shin Bet is doing this, then is every manager or employee of an organization allowed to settle accounts with former employers, to openly discuss company practices and how they were treated, and openly discuss details of the organization? Is it legitimate to publicly discuss issues that were brought up in private discussions behind closed doors? If it is, then is it proper to detail which foods were served during the most secret discussions, or how a certain leader was sitting, or the scathing and embarrassing way in which a senior leader addressed a subordinate? Should a head of the Shin Bet speak about personal conflicts he has with a political leader publicly, or forge a document that would cause great harm? We know where this all began, but have no way to predict where it will end.

The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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