Bill would remove gov't ministers' security guards

New bill would grant full Shin Met protection only to PM, president, Supreme Court chief justice, Knesset speaker, defense minister, foreign minister and opposition leader.

Most of Israel's cabinet ministers would lose their full-time security personnel under a bill proposed by MKs Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) and Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) on Wednesday. The bill would amend the existing General Security Service bill to grant full-time Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) protection to seven leaders designated as "national leadership symbols": the prime minister, president, Supreme Court chief justice, Knesset speaker, defense minister, foreign minister and opposition leader. More than NIS 100 million is spent each year providing security for the 26 cabinet ministers. Each official's ministry is responsible for shouldering the cost of the security servicemen, who are hired by a private company but trained by the Shin Bet. Sa'ar said he had heard from Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel that "more than half of the cabinet ministers don't want to be guarded anymore." A source close to Yehezkel confirmed that many ministers had expressed an interest in relinquishing their security guards, but he would not confirm that it was more than half. The ministers have said that enduring constant surveillance was annoying and inconvenient. Yacimovich, meanwhile, noted that while the government was preparing to cut the 2008 budget for security on public transportation, such as buses, they were spending more money than ever guarding public officials. "At the same time that we are upgrading the security for VIPs, we are downgrading security for ordinary people. This is unacceptable," said Sa'ar. Shas faction chairman MK Ya'acov Margi confirmed a Channel 10 report on Wednesday that security had recently been upgraded around Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, ministers Eli Yishai, Ariel Attias and Meshulam Nahari and MK Haim Amsalem. Margi said the Shin Bet had received a warning that a Shas official in Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood was being targeted by Arab terrorists. Similar bills to reduce security personnel have been presented in the past, but none have succeeded in passing a final reading. Shin Bet protection failed to save the last two government officials who were assassinated: former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi in 2001. Ze'evi had complained about his security detail and had suggested that he did not need a full time bodyguard.