Will ‘R’ be confirmed as next Shin Bet chief on Friday?

No one had objected to R, who is the current deputy chief and who has had a storied career of daring operations for decades.

Shin Bet (illustrative) (photo credit: PEXELS)
Shin Bet (illustrative)
(photo credit: PEXELS)

Everything is always last minute in Israel and the final confirmation of the new Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Director “R,” will be no different.

Although Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to select R to take office on October 13 as the next chief was announced on September 1, his final confirmation was set for this Friday.

The vetting task force, the Goldenberg Committee for Senior Appointments, led by former Supreme Court justice and state comptroller Eliezer Goldenberg, was due to give its nearly automatic stamp of approval on Friday.

No one had objected to R, who is the current deputy chief and who has had a storied career of daring operations for decades.

There was no political cloud as there might have been had former national security council chief Meir Ben Shabbat gotten the role.

The committee did tank Moshe Edri’s nomination for police inspector-general in 2018 and there have been some other such appointments. But most, including those of Aviv Kohavi as IDF chief of staff or of Amir Yaron as Bank of Israel president, sailed through without a hitch.

So Friday’s sign-off was supposed to be a boring non-show for a committee that almost always approves who the government nominates, and is just there to catch any last-minute catastrophic surprises missed by negligent vetting.

That was until late Wednesday night when an anonymous letter detailing two unspecified alleged incidents of misconduct against R came to light.

WRITING ABOUT one’s health publicly can have a similar effect. (credit: PIXABAY)WRITING ABOUT one’s health publicly can have a similar effect. (credit: PIXABAY)

The disclosure threw the media into a frenzy with speculation that the allegations could derail R’s nomination.

What are R’s chances at this point?

First, no one knows for sure, because his current Shin Bet background means the allegations cannot be publicized. The exception could be if there were criminal allegations, but all signs are that the allegations are of more minor unbecoming conduct. From what little we know, the signs are that R will be able to ride out the storm.

A statement from R said: “This is an anonymous letter that was written and sent about three years ago and is now being widely distributed. 

Behind the letter is an interested party who previously wanted to undermine two promotions.”

“The letter lacks a factual basis, is full of lies and is again intended to hurt my appointment,” he said. “If required, evidence of this will be presented to the senior appointments committee.”

There are at least two significant things about the response. One is that, if true, these are old allegations that have already been taken into account and were dismissed in allowing R to become the intelligence agency’s deputy chief.

Second, R’s statement was put out by the Shin Bet itself, which means he still has the full backing of the agency.

In and of itself, that is critical because unlike ministries that are more open to the public and where there are many officials who can fill a given role, the Shin Bet’s specialized and classified nature means very few can lead the agency and maintain the respect of its rank and file.

If R’s standing was weak within the agency, the rank and file could have leaked more things to the media and undermined him to try to help another “R,” who was deputy chief right before the current R, to slide into the role, having lost a close race between the two.

This did not happen.

Also, Bennett’s office recently announced that R, not Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman, had led the agency’s delegation at a key government meeting about the future of addressing violence in the Arab-Israeli sector.

As far as Bennett is concerned, the train left the station a while back.

Also, the letter is anonymous.

So all signs are that there is a specific individual or smaller group of individuals trying to undermine R.

Former Supreme Court justice Yaakov Turkel, who has also headed vetting and other state commissions, publicly decried the trend of anonymous letters being filed against senior appointments. In most cases, the candidate in question would need to give an explanation of the issue in dispute, which would often close the book on the issue, he implied.

When multiple minor allegations of misconduct with lower-level staff emerged right before the appointment of State Attorney Amit Aisman, he gave a public accounting, apologized, pledged to do better in the future and secured his appointment in short order.

Of course, if the allegations are truly serious, R may be stuck.

If that happened, Argaman, who already had his term extended to October from May, could find himself having to delay his retirement in the service of the state once again.