The cabinet on Monday gave final approval to Ronen Bar to become the next chief of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) starting on Wednesday.
Bar will take the reins of Israel’s elite homeland security and intelligence agency as the country confronts a conflict still on low boil with Hamas in Gaza, frequent threats from Hamas and Islamic Jihad West Bank terror cells, addressing the wave of murders of Israeli-Arabs and new technological spying threats.
Speaking outside his home hours before his appointment, he lauded the Shin Bet’s “stellar operatives” and said he was excited to move forward.
The government’s vetting committee for senior appointments on Friday had already cleared Bar, who until now has publicly simply been known as “R”.
The entire political spectrum had been supportive of Bar’s nomination following his decades in the agency, including serving as the deputy chief as well as serving in the elite IDF Sayeret Matkal special forces reconnaissance unit and even having had a brief foray with the Mossad.
Briefly, between Wednesday night and Friday, there was sudden concern that his nomination might tank like that of Moshe Edri, who was blocked by the vetting committee in 2018 from becoming chief of police based on a last-minute scandal.
But the Goldenberg Committee for Senior Appointments, led by former Supreme Court justice and state comptroller Eliezer Goldenberg, said it found nothing improper about Bar’s conduct once it heard from him, outgoing Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman and other involved officials.
Since the anonymous letter detailing two unspecified alleged incidents of misconduct against Bar have been rejected and Shin Bet processes are classified, it is unclear whether their substance will ever come to light.
On September 1, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett nominated Bar to succeed Argaman.
Bar beat out the most recent former deputy Shin Bet chief, also known as “R” in the mainly two-way competition.
Prior to June, when Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister, former senior Shin Bet official and Netanyahu’s national security council chief Meir Ben-Shabbat had been the favorite.
BUT HE was never seriously considered for the position by Bennett due to his closeness with Netanyahu and objections to his candidacy from within portions of the Shin Bet itself.
Bar is 55, married and has three children.
He earned a university degree in political science and philosophy from Tel Aviv University and holds a master’s degree in public management from Harvard University.
Bennett served in the same special forces unit as did Bar during his IDF service, though he is younger than Bar. Some believe this influenced the final decision.
In 2011, Bar was appointed head of the Shin Bet’s operations. Following this, in 2016, he was promoted to be the head of Shin Bet headquarters, the number three post responsible for force build up.
In 2018, Bar replaced the other R, his competitor, as deputy chief of the agency. Bar’s units have been given numerous security awards over the years.
Bennett said that “Bar is a daring fighter and an excellent commander. I have no doubt that he will lead the agency to new highs of excellence for the sake of Israel’s security.”
In comparing Bar and prior deputy chief R, some Shin Bet sources said the prior deputy chief R has a bigger world view when it comes to technology, collection and analysis of intelligence issues.
Some agency sources also said that Bar may overly lean on using new technological spying over traditional human spy recruitment.
In other contrasts, some say that the prior R is more beloved, inspires more social cohesion among the rank and file than does Bar, who also may need to work on his Arabic.
Prior to the May 10-21 Gaza War in which Bar helped coordinate a massive amount of joint operations between the IDF and the Shin Bet, some agency sources had said that the prior R’s experience from the 2014 Gaza war might give him an edge.
Yet, Bar appears to have won additional critical support from the IDF, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and others from his performance during the May war.
Also, some say that Bar may be more charismatic and more of a stand-out talent in operations than his competition, the prior R. As well, Bar followed a more similar operations-focused career, like Argaman, than the prior R.
Further, they say that Bar filled in some of his inexperience with Shin Bet branches beyond the operations side by serving consecutively in the agency’s number two and number three roles. Both of these roles require wide exposure to all of the agency’s branches.
Argaman has run the agency since May 2016 and was due to step down this past May, but his term was extended due to the lack of a stable coalition at the time when his term was due to expire.
The outgoing Shin Bet chief was known for dramatically shifting the resources and manpower of the Shin Bet toward the technology and cyber spheres, various daring operations, positive security relations with the Palestinians and for pushing back against incitement from right-wing politicians against the formation of the current coalition.