Jewish terror as dangerous to Israel as Islamic terror - ex-Shin Bet official

SECURITY AFFAIRS: The former Shin Bet chief for combating Jewish terror discusses his new book on the Rabin assassination.

THE SHIN BET’S former counterterrorism head Hezi Kalo. (photo credit: Courtesy)
THE SHIN BET’S former counterterrorism head Hezi Kalo.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Could anyone in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) have anticipated that Yigal Amir was a deadly threat to then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and have succeeded in stopping the infamous November 4, 1995, assassination which radically altered the course of history?

That is one of the main questions that a new book called A Mandate for Murder in Hebrew by Hezi Kalo and published by Yediot Aharonot attempts to answer.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Kalo addressed not only that issue, but also his role as head of the agency’s counterterrorism “Jewish Department” at the time, including with its controversial undercover agent Avishai Raviv.

But the main reason that Kalo said he came forward with the book now, around 26 years after the tragedy and after keeping mostly silent, was to strike down fake news conspiracies that have sprung up.

“I saw an increase in conspiracy theories about the assassination. I decided I wanted to write a book” to debunk “so many of the false narratives” that are being discussed, he said.

'A Mandate for Murder.' (credit: Courtesy)'A Mandate for Murder.' (credit: Courtesy)

His hope is that his book will serve as “an important professional document and history, and will not be politicized, and will prevent misleading” narratives so that “later generations that have no idea what happened can learn about [the real] circumstances of the murder.

“In this period of fake news, it is important to differentiate fact from fiction... to have a compass [that] will help [us] to learn the lessons so this will not happen again,” said Kalo.

Connecting his concern about fake news and the Rabin assassination, he said that he views Jewish terrorism “as a strategic threat to the state and no less than Islamic and Palestinian terrorism, especially these days, when there are those who delegitimize the IDF, the Shin Bet, the police and who do not recognize the state or the judiciary’s authority.”

REWINDING TO the evening Rabin was assassinated, Kalo writes in his book how he was out with his wife at the house of some friends and then was driving home when he received reports that Rabin had been shot.

After dropping off his wife and grabbing some extra clothes for potentially staying at the office for multiple consecutive days and nights, he rushed back to Shin Bet headquarters.

Kalo remains haunted by how euphoric Amir was when he met him.

He was mostly personally exonerated by the Meir Shamgar Commission which investigated the Shin Bet’s failure. This cannot be taken for granted, as the commission caused many top officials, including Shin Bet chief Carmi Gilon, to be fired or resign. Still, Kalo had never imagined something like this would happen on his watch.

He was appointed head of the agency’s division for handling Jewish terrorism in November 1993.

He said that incitement and concrete plans for violence by Jews against either Palestinians or Jews viewed as responsible for withdrawing from portions of the land of Israel were spiking.

Already in December 1993, he recounted, there was an incident where Jews randomly murdered three Arabs near Hebron for nationalistic reasons with no serious follow-up by law enforcement.

But he said the real turning point was Baruch Goldstein’s massacre in February 1994 of 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

He said the Shin Bet then understood that “there were people like Goldstein, who were ready to do anything, including desperate, extreme actions, to stop the peace process.”

Tremendous additional tension was also created by a series of terrorist attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

He said the new department quickly proved its value, explaining to Kalo and others the significance of certain rabbis having declared Rabin a “rodef” (someone whom it is legitimate to kill) or that the Jewish law of “moser” (a Jewish traitor) applied to him – both of which could lead radicals to treat such a person as worthy of death.

By 1995, even more incitement and potential violence was expected, as Israel drew close to benchmark dates for additional withdrawals.

He said that many who opposed Israeli withdrawals saw negotiations with the Palestinians as “a national disaster and a historic act of treason that was worthy of the death penalty.

“There was a huge volume of incidents in October [1995] – at Zion Square [a dangerous protest on October 2], then with Itamar Ben-Gvir [who implied he might threaten Rabin the way he was being threatening with portions of a car]. Then there was the ‘pulsa d’nura’ ceremony [invoking divine retribution against Rabin], the Mount Herzl attack on Rabin on October 5, the attack on Binyamin Ben-Eliezer’s car, which he described as reminding him of an attack he suffered in Lebanon, and the attack at Wingate [October 11], where the attackers got closest to him,” he recalled.

Regarding Ben-Gvir, Kalo said that it is “a disgrace that a man like him is in the Knesset, but that this is our system of democracy; it is something that democracy permits, and he was voted in.”

In a recent interview with Yediot Aharonot, Kalo said that there were also former Shin Bet and Mossad officials on the list of potential threats to Rabin.

Questioned about this, he said that this had been blown out of proportion. He said that there were only two former officials, and both of them were easily deterred from further provocative statements, after they were given a verbal warning.

IF KALO did not stop Amir, why did the Shamgar Commission exonerate him?

Kalo said his division sent out a staggering 300 warnings and updates over two years “relating to the desire to harm Rabin with violence or worse.”

Also, he recounted, “I talked with the attorney-general, the police chief and the prime minister’s secretary in May 1995 and warned them that Rabin was a central target and that other ministers were also targets. We checked with every source if they had any information about [threats] to Rabin and also followed specific suspects,” he said.

Kalo is adamant that his division neutralized a large number of actual threats.

“All over the place, people called him [Rabin] a traitor. We could not get to everyone who said they wanted to kill Rabin. We got to dozens of them in cases where intelligence indicated that they both wanted to kill Rabin and already possessed a weapon” for doing so.

In these more serious cases, where there was both a threat and a weapon in the mix, he said, “we took the weapon from them, interrogated them and made it clear to them ‘we are watching you.’”

In addition, he said that many activists were placed in administrative detention based on the Shin Bet’s recommendations until the threat that they or their group posed was deemed to have dissipated.

Did Kalo warn the Shin Bet secret service team protecting Rabin about Amir himself?

He responded, “He was a student activist. In August 1995, there was a report from [undercover agent Avishai] Raviv about him that he was an extremist and planning attacks against Palestinians. But there was no information about him relating to Rabin.”

There is no way that the name Avishai Raviv can come up without Kalo having to defend his decision to employ him as an undercover agent and to keep him on even after a variety of clear signs that Raviv undertook rogue operations.

In fact, many of Raviv’s rogue attempts to seemingly solicit others to perform violent acts as a way of entrapping them so they could be arrested have served as evidence by conspiracy theorists who take his actions out of context.

Regarding Raviv, Kalo said, “He was very productive. He helped catch lots of Kach supporters. He sent thousands of intelligence updates about attacks that were planned, and he helped us get to their weapons.”

Because of his ideology and identity, “my predecessor had checked him out carefully. He helped identify an increase in terror activities by Jews against Jews in the Hebron area.”

Also, in 1995 “I ordered an additional review of the source. This is not done by the undercover agent’s regular handler, but by someone [objective and] not connected to them. He was interrogated. There was nothing significant that he was hiding or anything he was doing without telling us. He passed a polygraph.”

Then there was an incident in September 1995 when Raviv went rogue and conducted a disturbing swearing-in ceremony in a cemetery for a radical organization he would head in which weapons were present.

Kalo said, “I was very angry because I saw how this might look after a probe.... They would say we knew, which is how things played out.... Now I am seeing this and we had not known about it [in real time]. We had an emergency meeting about how to react. We were also concerned about him getting exposed.

“I decided to [temporarily] cut him off [regarding communications], but not to [permanently] fire him,” he said.

He explained that leading into November 1995 and an eventual withdrawal relating to Hebron, there were high-level threats and concerns of a second Baruch Goldstein-style attack on Palestinians.

Kalo said that they thought that Raviv might give them a key lead to prevent such a disaster, and this justified keeping him on, despite his instability.

What about information brought to the Shin Bet’s attention about Amir by Shlomo Halevy? Halevy gave the IDF partial information about Amir’s potential intentions to assassinate Rabin, but obscured aspects of how serious or specific the information was. Why did that not lead to the agency catching Amir?

He responded, “We deal with so many serious threats. This was an IDF reserve officer with a security clearance, and from within the system, so he was not coming to mislead you, and he says he has information.

“From the outside it looks like we didn’t do anything. But it is not true.... The Shamgar Commission questioned me extensively.... They still did not impose responsibility on me over the issue because they understood what we did,” he said.

The former senior intelligence official said, “We did not throw the information into a dresser drawer. We looked into it with sources. Our intelligence undertook many activities.”

A DAY after Kalo’s interview with the Post, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin published an op-ed slamming Kalo for failing to have Shin Bet interrogators interrogate Halevy as opposed to farming out the questioning to the police.

Diskin, like former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon, said that the Shamgar Commission did not understand certain things or the significance of this error. He opined that the more talented and trained Shin Bet interrogators would have gotten out of Halevy critical details that he withheld from police – which would have led them to Amir.

Kalo rejected the criticism, while acknowledging, “In the end Rabin was killed. There is a no-win situation. We cannot say” that everything was fine, but the truth is that “other people didn’t do their job, and we did do our job. All of the retroactive analysis is simplistic.”

He added that the Shin Bet had to make tough choices with scarce resources about following up on thousands of threats, and that the police are often trusted with probing murder and even terrorism cases.

Also, he said that Diskin’s view that Halevy was concealing information made no sense in real time, in light of Halevy’s identity as someone within the defense establishment.

When Kalo said others did not do their jobs, he strongly pointed a finger at the agency’s secret service division.

“They were given both raw intelligence materials, transcripts from interrogations and photo albums of suspects. But no one can be everywhere,” he said.

Regarding how the security envelope could have missed Amir on the night that he killed Rabin, Kalo said, “I am not in the field. They saw the noises. Maybe there was so much noise” and low-grade potential threats that did not lead to an actual attack “that they were not impressed anymore. Even the Wingate attack did not raise their awareness level, so they were missing the concept” that a Jew like Amir might not just be angry, but might actually kill Rabin.

“I ask myself: Yigal Amir and Hagai [Amir] were with the protesters. There were no reports to us [from the agency’s secret service people on the ground] about them. This was getting overly used to” threatening protesters and starting to become complacent about them, since “if we had gotten information about the people at the protest, we would have checked all of them,” he said.

Regarding the night of the assassination, he said, “There were lots of police and other security [to control] the protests, but there was not even one additional security person” added to protect Rabin despite the rising threats and obvious potential threats at such a large event.

He said that some of Rabin’s security team said, “You cry wolf, wolf, all the time. We want something concrete. But we did not and would not get to [intelligence that] Yigal Amir would specifically try to kill [Rabin] on this specific day.”

Asked whether on that specific night, the security forces possibly were so overwhelmed with their focus on controlling the crowds that they were extra lax with protecting Rabin, he simply responded, “I don’t know what to say. Ask them.”

Some of Kalo’s critics have said that without full intelligence from Kalo about the exact person threatening Rabin and when there would be an attack, the security team could not properly defend against the threat.

“I do not accept this. There was no intelligence about the attack on [US president Ronald] Reagan [in 1981], but there were security personnel who defended him anyway.”

Kalo concluded by returning to one of his main themes of trying to avoid a repeat disaster.

Expressing approval of recently retired Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman’s public warnings against threats and delegitimization efforts against the political parties who eventually formed the current coalition, he warned that he believes the country has not learned from the past.

He said he hopes his book and public interviews would also encourage the defense and legal establishments to find stronger ways to limit and deter incitement.•