Analysis: A case that went very wrong for the Shin Bet

A suspect in four murders, Pearlman should have been indicted already, from the Shin Bet’s perspective.

311_chaim pearlman (photo credit: Channel 10)
311_chaim pearlman
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Chaim Pearlman’s release to house arrest on Thursday is without a doubt a blow to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and its vaunted Jewish Division.
A suspect in four murders, Pearlman should have been indicted already, from the Shin Bet’s perspective. The fact that he went home on Thursday is something of a failure, particularly in light of the Shin Bet’s claim that he is still the prime suspect in the 10-year-old murder cases.
So what went wrong? The main problem in the case is the lack of evidence. While Pearlman apparently boasted of his involvement in the crimes in some conversations with a Shin Bet informant, the security agency lacked any real proof to back up the claims.
When it finally pulled him in for questioning and held him without the right to see a lawyer – during which time he underwent nonstop questioning – Pearlman maintained silence and knew how not to fall into the Shin Bet traps.
This is in contrast to Jack Teitel, another suspected Jewish terrorist arrested recently, who broke down in his Shin Bet questioning and confessed to carrying out a string of anti- Palestinian terror attacks.
Pearlman apparently underwent mental preparation that enabled him to withstand Shin Bet interrogation tactics. This was reportedly done with the assistance of known right-wing activist Noam Federman, who has even written a small manual that has been circulated throughout the settlements to teach people how not to break down in Shin Bet interrogations.
One official speculated that had the Shin Bet arrested Pearlman just one month earlier, it would have succeeded in extracting a confession as occurred in Teitel’s case.
The Shin Bet is now investigating itself to see where it went wrong. The Pearlman case has caused the security agency damage by shedding light on the way the Jewish Division operates and how it can simply make people “disappear” for extended periods of time.
On the other hand, the nature of the intelligence business is sometimes about a hit or a miss. The Shin Bet, which is responsible for preventing both Palestinian and Jewish terrorism, works mostly on intelligence tidbits from a variety of sources. This doesn’t always lead to the desired outcome.
The Shin Bet has its work cut out for it. In a month, the freeze on settlement construction will come to an end, and the government appears to be leaning toward retaining the moratorium in places that would likely not be retained by Israel under a future peace deal with the Palestinians.
Some such places – like Yitzhar, Kfar Tapuah and other settlements in northern Samaria – are known hotbeds of Jewish extremism and have recently been the scene of increased violence.
If the freeze stays in effect in these areas, the fear in the Israeli defense establishments is that this violence will dramatically increase. The Shin Bet will have to work to foil these plans. And it will have no choice but to put the Pearlman case behind it.