New security bosses will face sharper challenges

Analysis: Shin Bet appointment concludes personnel changes at top of Mossad, IDF, Military Intelligence, Police, and Prisons Service.

By
March 29, 2011 04:53
2 minute read.
Aftermath of terror attack near J'lem bus station

Jerusalem Terror Attack 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s announcement on Monday that Yoram Cohen would serve as the next head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) brings an end to the sweeping personnel changes at the top of Israel’s various defense, security and intelligence agencies.

In the past four months, the heads of the Mossad, IDF, Military Intelligence, Israel Police, Prisons Service and now the Shin Bet have all either been replaced or had the identity of their successors announced.

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While Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak claim that it was coincidental, it could also be part of a failure to conduct long-term strategic planning and foresee that changing everyone could be potentially dangerous – particularly with the threats Israel currently faces.

Cohen knows the Shin Bet well. He has served in the agency for over 30 years, and climbed from the bottom up, like Yuval Diskin, the current head.

But despite his years of experience, Cohen will face some major challenges.

The Shin Bet’s primary focus is the Palestinian arena, but it also works to combat general Arab and Iranian espionage, as well as Jewish terrorism. All three are becoming more and more relevant.

With regard to the Palestinians, there is some concern within the defense establishment that the IDF and the Shin Bet have lost some of their previous advantages due to the dramatic drop in military activity in the West Bank – and the reliance on the PA security forces to operate in its place.

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Without having boots on the ground inside almost every West Bank city anymore, it is argued that the IDF and the Shin Bet have difficulty gathering information like they were able to during the second intifada, when arrest raids took place on a daily basis.

It is interesting that the IDF and the Shin Bet are still hunting for those responsible for the murder of Udi and Ruth Fogel and their three children earlier this month in their home in Itamar. In the past, the Shin Bet and IDF were known for being able to capture terrorists in a matter of days.

There could be a couple of reasons: Either it was the act of a lone attacker, which makes the case more difficult to crack; or it was carried out by a larger terror infrastructure, which the Shin Bet is still working on bringing down. Either way, Israelis have gotten used to speedy justice. That is clearly not always the case.

But Palestinian terrorism will not be the only issue topping Cohen’s agenda. The growing number of so-called “price tag” attacks carried out by settlers and right-wing activists have the potential to spark a larger conflict with the Palestinians and lead to a new escalation in violence in the West Bank.

The Shin Bet usually treads carefully when operating within settlements and working to uncover Jewish terror plans. But there have been cases in recent years – like Jack Teitel, the American- Israeli who allegedly murdered at least two Palestinians and was behind a string of bombings and attacks – that demonstrate the potential danger.

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