(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday named Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) senior official Meir Ben-Shabbat as the new head of the National Security Council, a position that had been filled only on an interim basis since Yossi Cohen left to take over the Mossad in January 2016.
Ben-Shabbat, 51, has served for 28 years in the Shin Bet, most recently as head of its southern division, which is responsible for the Gaza Strip.
In announcing the appointment at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Ben-Shabbat “has rich experience in defending the security of Israel, in the Israel Security Agency, including his recent post as head of the southern district, and he carried out all of his duties with distinction. He is also familiar to members of the security cabinet who are already well acquainted with the clarity of his thinking. We welcome him.”
In his nearly three decades in the Shin Bent, Ben-Shabbat has gained an expertise on the Gaza Strip and Hamas, and headed a number of different divisions, including cyber and the national anti-terrorism and anti-espionage divisions.
Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett, who is a member of the security cabinet, welcomed the appointment, saying Ben-Shabbat brings years of security and defense experience in various capacities and a profound understanding of Israel’s national security.
“It is essential that the NSC be a strong organization, playing a central role in the oversight and management of our national security,” Bennett said. “It must also be a support system, to provide diverse diplomatic and security alternatives and to prevent a single-minded conception from taking over.”
Ben-Shabat will be the 10th head of the NSC since its formation in 1999, and the first to come from the ranks of the Shin Bet.
Four of the previous heads came from the Mossad: Cohen, Ephraim Halevi, Ilan Mizrahi and Uzi Arad. Two others, Yaakov Amidror and Dani Arditi, held senior positions in military intelligence, and three of the former heads – David Ivri, Uzi Dayan and Giora Eiland – held senior military positions.
The National Security Council has been without a full time head since Cohen’s departure for the Mossad. Netanyahu’s choice for Cohen’s replacement, Avriel Bar-Yosef, never took over the post and is currently one of the main suspects in allegations of improprieties in the purchase of three German submarines.
Yaakov Nagel served as an interim replacement until April, and was instrumental in securing the $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding with the US governing its military aid to Israel over the next decade that was signed with the Obama administration. He was replaced upon his resignation by Eytan Ben-David, who has been the acting National Security Adviser since April.
The NSC has some 70 employees, and among its duties is to provide the prime minister with a summary of intelligence information that comes in from the various intelligence services, as well as to prepare the security cabinet meetings. The head of the NSC is generally one of the prime minister’s chief foreign policy advisers.