Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu with family, Sara Avner (left) and Yair. .
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
No country’s citizens enjoy seeing their hard-earned money go to pay for security details for politicians’ families.
In the US, President Donald Trump and his family have come under fire for costing American taxpayers tens of millions of dollars for such needs. Eric and Donald Jr., Trump’s sons, are afforded Secret Service details for all their trips abroad, during which they oversee their father’s far-flung business dealings. Similar complaints were leveled against former president Barack Obama and his family when they took lavish vacations.
In Britain, Australia and various European Union countries, gripes of the same nature have been raised.
And the debate has come to Israel. Comments made by former Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen last Thursday, during an interview with Army Radio, have sparked a war of words. The man who headed the Israel Security Agency for five years until 2016, said he did not believe the Shin Bet should provide protection on a regular basis for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s two sons, Yair and Avner. Cohen, however, was overruled on that by a special committee headed by Joseph Ciechanover.
“During my time, our opinion was that there was no need to provide protection for them on an ongoing basis, but the position was not accepted,” Cohen said.
The Prime Minister’s Office responded by saying Cohen had in fact recommended increasing security for Netanyahu’s two sons in 2014. That was in the wake of Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in Gaza, which was precipitated by the kidnapping and murder of three teenage boys: Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah.
Cohen apparently was referring in the interview to the period preceding the kidnapping and Gaza military conflict, while the PMO referred to the period immediately after. Security arrangements for the two Netanyahu sons have been in place since 2009.
The security community’s opinion on the present need to provide security to Yair and Avner Netanyahu is unclear. In Western countries, extending state-funded personal security to political leaders and their families is not at all uncommon. Even if it is true, as reported in the media, that Netanyahu’s sons are the first children of a prime minister in Israel’s history to receive such security treatment, it could very well be that new threats necessitate this change in policy.
However, the PMO should be more forthcoming with information on the cost of providing that security.
There should also be more transparency regarding how these decisions are made.
It is not clear, for instance, why Yair and Avner Netanyahu are provided with round-the-clock security – including during trips abroad – while people like former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert are not.
The potential blow to Israel if either of these men is harmed in a terrorist attack would arguably be no less severe than if anyone from Netanyahu’s family was targeted.
The danger to Israel’s security would be significant if either man was kidnapped, since both have been privy to sensitive information. Yet both men travel inside Israel and abroad without any state-sponsored security detail.
Even though they are no longer in office, they are still symbols of the State of Israel and would be an attractive target for any anti-Israel terrorist organization. If, God forbid, something did happen to either of these men, the harm would not be isolated to them. It would have far-reaching strategic consequences for the entire country.
We would like to believe that the security establishment decides whether or not to protect individuals based on objective criteria. But it is difficult to escape the feeling that politics might be in play considering that two former prime ministers - Barak and Olmert - travel the country and the world without security.
Israel’s national interest necessitates that terrorist organizations are not given the opportunity to undermine the nation’s security. Providing protection to important public figures should not depend on narrow politics.
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