Freedom of speech or (lack of)

This is an ideal opportunity to put things in order and discuss the relationship between the Shin Bet and the political officials that it answers to.

By
May 19, 2016 22:17
Nadav Argaman, the man named to head the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet)

Nadav Argaman, the man named to head the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet). (photo credit: Courtesy)

The new head of the Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, was sworn in last week in Tel Aviv. For the first time in many years, the new chief does not hail from the agency’s Arab Affairs Division.

This is an ideal opportunity to put things in order and discuss the relationship between the Shin Bet and the political officials that it answers to, and to examine whether politics affects this professional relationship.

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Since its establishment in 1948, and during the first years of the young state under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, the Shin Bet has been extremely influenced by politics. Although it has carried out security activities in a completely professional manner, the decisions of what actions to carry out were always made in full cooperation with the prime minister. The appointment of the head of the organization was made on a professional basis, but his commitment was personally to the prime minister and his requirements. Individuals chosen for the position of head of the Shin Bet have always been chosen according to their professional capabilities, but their complete commitment to carry out the desire of the prime minister was always understood to be of utmost importance.

Since the early years, a lot of water has flowed down the Jordan River and the Shin Bet has gathered an incredible amount of intel. Over the past four decades, Shin Bet operations and decisions have been almost completely free of political machinations. No longer are operations carried out in accordance with the prime minister’s every whim no matter what the price. No longer are Shin Bet operatives used to gather information about political opponents.

I will say right here that at the current time the Shin Bet does not operate out of political motives and that all its actions are completely professional and based on the organization’s principles that were laid down in a document delineating the agency’s core values. This document was created by Ami Ayalon, who served as Shin Bet head from 1995 to 2000.

However, I am fearful that the new Shin Bet head will be tested early on in his term, just like the new Israel Police commissioner, the new Mossad chief, and the new IDF chief of staff and his deputy. It’s an open secret that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a reputation for appointing people who are willing to adjust their positions to his own, who are not expected to oppose his ideas, and who will carry out policies that Netanyahu supports. Unfortunately, there is a very serious conflict of interest between these two paths.

Over the past few decades, Israel’s security agency heads have had relative freedom to act independently.

They formulated policies and implemented strategies according to what they deemed was in the best interests of the state. Of course, their actions must always be lawful and fall within the framework of government policy, but they were free to set their own priorities based on their intel and assessments of the constantly changing reality out in the field. During Netanyahu’s tenure, however, there’s been a dramatic return to the intense involvement of the political echelon in security matters, such as we haven’t seen since the days of Ben-Gurion and the Mapai party.

We don’t need to look back too far in the history of the Shin Bet to see that Yaakov Peri had almost complete freedom of action and expression during the entirety of his tenure (1988–1994), as did Ami Ayalon (1996–2000), who insisted on expressing his views to the government. Avi Dichter, who served (2000–2005) as head of the Shin Bet under Ehud Barak and Arik Sharon, also enjoyed freedom of speech. This was not the case, however, when Yuval Diskin (2005–2011) dared to voice his opinions, which at times were considered too extreme and contradicted Netanyahu’s views. In these instances, Diskin was summoned to the Prime Minister’s Office so he could be chastised and asked to toe the line.

Netanyahu did not appoint Diskin to the position, and so had not been able to review strategy and details beforehand. Some people claim that Diskin was not loyal to Netanyahu, and there is some truth to that statement, but that does not override the worrisome concern that Netanyahu has been intentionally trying to keep the leaders of the security agencies on a tight leash.

Netanyahu’s harsh reaction last week to a statement made by IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.- Gen. Yair Golan proves once again how much heads of Israeli agencies need to be careful before making statements that don’t toe the line of the Prime Minister’s Office. The opinions Dichter, Ayalon and Dagan used to be able to express at closed press conferences, can no longer be voiced freely. It seems that anyone currently interested in becoming the head of an Israeli security agency must first commit to agreeing with the prime minister’s opinion on every issue. And this is exactly where the greatest danger lies.

The IDF, Shin Bet, Mossad and Israel Police are security agencies that belong to all of the citizens of the State of Israel and are committed to the values of professional excellence and operational independence in an effort to achieve their goals.

When an organization must always be adjusting its positions to accommodate the prime minister, it is committing professional suicide in the long run.

The security barrier separating Israel from the Palestinians was only established following the persistence and determination of Avi Dichter.

Dichter served under Arik Sharon, who had not been in favor of constructing a barrier. Sharon, however, was not adverse to Dichter voicing his opinion during cabinet meetings, and it turned out that Dichter received overwhelming support from the cabinet and as a result, the barrier was indeed built and the number of attacks on Israelis fell drastically soon thereafter.

Unfortunately, such a situation could never take place under the current leadership. For example, if the current government policy is to do nothing to stop Hamas from digging tunnels from Gaza into Israel, then this has a strong effect on the Shin Bet’s priorities regarding this issue. Or if the government refrains from passing legislation that would curtail the activity of Jewish terrorists, it would make it much harder for Shin Bet agents to thwart attacks and interrogate suspects.

To this end, Netanyahu has appointed people whom he believes will be committed to keeping within the guidelines he’s set. It’s hard for me to understand, though, how Netanyahu plans to deal with IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, who so far has made a great effort to keep his own opinion to himself.

I find it hard to comprehend that Netanyahu will stand for Nadav Argaman, who is famous for his stubbornness and his blunt statements.

I am fearful to think of what will happen to these organizations under the leadership of the current prime minister, who seems to be focused solely on his own personal status instead of making sure that the country remains safe.

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

Translated by Hannah Hochner.Freedom of speech or (lack of) The new head of the Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, was sworn in last week in Tel Aviv. For the first time in many years, the new chief does not hail from the agency’s Arab Affairs Division.

This is an ideal opportunity to put things in order and discuss the relationship between the Shin Bet and the political officials that it answers to, and to examine whether politics affects this professional relationship.

Since its establishment in 1948, and during the first years of the young state under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, the Shin Bet has been extremely influenced by politics. Although it has carried out security activities in a completely professional manner, the decisions of what actions to carry out were always made in full cooperation with the prime minister. The appointment of the head of the organization was made on a professional basis, but his commitment was personally to the prime minister and his requirements. Individuals chosen for the position of head of the Shin Bet have always been chosen according to their professional capabilities, but their complete commitment to carry out the desire of the prime minister was always understood to be of utmost importance.

Since the early years, a lot of water has flowed down the Jordan River and the Shin Bet has gathered an incredible amount of intel. Over the past four decades, Shin Bet operations and decisions have been almost completely free of political machinations. No longer are operations carried out in accordance with the prime minister’s every whim no matter what the price. No longer are Shin Bet operatives used to gather information about political opponents.

I will say right here that at the current time the Shin Bet does not operate out of political motives and that all its actions are completely professional and based on the organization’s principles that were laid down in a document delineating the agency’s core values. This document was created by Ami Ayalon, who served as Shin Bet head from 1995 to 2000.

However, I am fearful that the new Shin Bet head will be tested early on in his term, just like the new Israel Police commissioner, the new Mossad chief, and the new IDF chief of staff and his deputy. It’s an open secret that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a reputation for appointing people who are willing to adjust their positions to his own, who are not expected to oppose his ideas, and who will carry out policies that Netanyahu supports. Unfortunately, there is a very serious conflict of interest between these two paths.

Over the past few decades, Israel’s security agency heads have had relative freedom to act independently.

They formulated policies and implemented strategies according to what they deemed was in the best interests of the state. Of course, their actions must always be lawful and fall within the framework of government policy, but they were free to set their own priorities based on their intel and assessments of the constantly changing reality out in the field. During Netanyahu’s tenure, however, there’s been a dramatic return to the intense involvement of the political echelon in security matters, such as we haven’t seen since the days of Ben-Gurion and the Mapai party.

We don’t need to look back too far in the history of the Shin Bet to see that Yaakov Peri had almost complete freedom of action and expression during the entirety of his tenure (1988–1994), as did Ami Ayalon (1996–2000), who insisted on expressing his views to the government. Avi Dichter, who served (2000–2005) as head of the Shin Bet under Ehud Barak and Arik Sharon, also enjoyed freedom of speech. This was not the case, however, when Yuval Diskin (2005–2011) dared to voice his opinions, which at times were considered too extreme and contradicted Netanyahu’s views. In these instances, Diskin was summoned to the Prime Minister’s Office so he could be chastised and asked to toe the line.

Netanyahu did not appoint Diskin to the position, and so had not been able to review strategy and details beforehand. Some people claim that Diskin was not loyal to Netanyahu, and there is some truth to that statement, but that does not override the worrisome concern that Netanyahu has been intentionally trying to keep the leaders of the security agencies on a tight leash.

Netanyahu’s harsh reaction last week to a statement made by IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.- Gen. Yair Golan proves once again how much heads of Israeli agencies need to be careful before making statements that don’t toe the line of the Prime Minister’s Office. The opinions Dichter, Ayalon and Dagan used to be able to express at closed press conferences, can no longer be voiced freely. It seems that anyone currently interested in becoming the head of an Israeli security agency must first commit to agreeing with the prime minister’s opinion on every issue. And this is exactly where the greatest danger lies.

The IDF, Shin Bet, Mossad and Israel Police are security agencies that belong to all of the citizens of the State of Israel and are committed to the values of professional excellence and operational independence in an effort to achieve their goals.

When an organization must always be adjusting its positions to accommodate the prime minister, it is committing professional suicide in the long run.

The security barrier separating Israel from the Palestinians was only established following the persistence and determination of Avi Dichter.

Dichter served under Arik Sharon, who had not been in favor of constructing a barrier. Sharon, however, was not adverse to Dichter voicing his opinion during cabinet meetings, and it turned out that Dichter received overwhelming support from the cabinet and as a result, the barrier was indeed built and the number of attacks on Israelis fell drastically soon thereafter.

Unfortunately, such a situation could never take place under the current leadership. For example, if the current government policy is to do nothing to stop Hamas from digging tunnels from Gaza into Israel, then this has a strong effect on the Shin Bet’s priorities regarding this issue. Or if the government refrains from passing legislation that would curtail the activity of Jewish terrorists, it would make it much harder for Shin Bet agents to thwart attacks and interrogate suspects.

To this end, Netanyahu has appointed people whom he believes will be committed to keeping within the guidelines he’s set. It’s hard for me to understand, though, how Netanyahu plans to deal with IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, who so far has made a great effort to keep his own opinion to himself.

I find it hard to comprehend that Netanyahu will stand for Nadav Argaman, who is famous for his stubbornness and his blunt statements.

I am fearful to think of what will happen to these organizations under the leadership of the current prime minister, who seems to be focused solely on his own personal status instead of making sure that the country remains safe.

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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