Faithful service

New Shin bet head Yoram Cohen’s commitment to his faith will only help boost his motivation to meet these myriad challenges and others.

Yoram Cohen 311 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Yoram Cohen 311
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Assuming he passes the Turkel Committee’s vetting process – a far from forgone conclusion, judging from recent precedents in the Prisons Service and the IDF’s General Staff – Yoram Cohen will become the 13th head of the Shin Bet, the covert organization responsible for our internal security.
No small matter has been made of the fact that Cohen, if approved, will be the first kippa-wearing Shin Bet head and that he is the latest in a line of religious men appointed to high-ranking security positions. Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh, who, like Cohen, graduated from a yeshiva high school, was recently tapped to serve as deputy chief of the General Staff and will probably compete for the top spot when Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz completes his term in three years. Ya’acov Amidror, who went to a national religious public school, was recently appointed head of the National Security Council.
Extensive media coverage was also devoted to reports that rabbinic figures supposedly lobbied Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to appoint Y., a leading competitor for the top Shin Bet position. Apparently Y., who until a few months ago was responsible for, among other tasks, monitoring potential Jewish terrorism, had developed bad relations with leading religious Zionist rabbis and leaders.
The increased attention that religious Zionist leaders are paying to security matters and the fact that Cohen, Naveh and Amidror are religious reflect the changing personnel makeup of our security services. According to rough estimates, for some time now about a quarter of soldiers graduating officers’ training courses for combat units have been Orthodox, even though they make up no more than 15 percent of the total manpower. In some elite combat units such as Shaldag, a reconnaissance unit that works on the ground with the air force, and the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, where Cohen served, percentages are even higher.
In part, this is a result of religious Zionist rabbis’ educational messages. A study published in the August 2010 edition of Maarachot, the IDF’s magazine, noted that the religious Zionist educational system, and particularly the post-high school pre-military Orthodox academies, were contributing significantly to the rise in the number of religious officers and soldiers serving in elite combat units. For many religious young men, military service is seen as a fundamentally positive and important undertaking, even a mitzva, which combines religious conviction with civic responsibility.
CONCERNS RAISED by some journalists, social scientists and politicians that religious soldiers might be torn between competing loyalties when a military command seems to contradict a religious edict have so far been proven baseless. During the Gaza disengagement in 2005, when IDF soldiers were tasked with evacuating Jewish settlements, a few dozen cases of insubordination were reported – a troubling phenomenon, but far from the wide-scale rebellion some had predicted. By contrast, some rabbis have marshalled theological arguments in favor of following orders for the sake of national unity. Many Orthodox leaders evidently recognize that insubordination on the Right would only justify left-wing refusal to perform military service in the West Bank, and lead to the deconstruction of the “people’s army” ethos.
Inevitably, high-ranking officers and commanders such as Cohen, Naveh and Amidror, with decades of dedicated service behind them, have fully internalized the command structure to which they belong. If anything, their religious convictions, rather than an obstacle to loyalty, are a source of inspiration to serve their country.
THE CHALLENGES facing Cohen if and when he takes over the helm of the Shin Bet are formidable. These include gleaning new intelligence on the whereabouts of captive soldier Gilad Schalit; confronting a potential third Intifada being organized for May 15; foiling cooperation between Islamists in Iran and Lebanon with Arab Israelis and Palestinians; maintaining intelligence contacts on the West Bank at a time when the IDF is transferring more security responsibilities to Palestinian Authority forces; and thwarting attempts by Iran and other Muslim extremists to smuggle arms into Gaza.
Judging from the tremendous success of Orthodox soldiers in the IDF in recent decades, as exemplified by the rise of Naveh, Amidror and many more like them, Cohen’s commitment to his faith will only help boost his motivation to meet these myriad challenges and others.