How (not) to choose a Shin Bet head

Alsheich’s appointment as police commissioner has reopened the question of who is the best person to replace Shin Bet current chief Cohen.

RONI ALSHEICH, the deputy Shin Bet head who has been named to lead the Israel Police (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
RONI ALSHEICH, the deputy Shin Bet head who has been named to lead the Israel Police
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
The continuing saga of the appointment of the new commissioner to head the Israel Police, and the decision to nominate deputy head of the Shin Bet Roni Alsheich for the post, has also made the process of how Shin Bet leaders are chosen public knowledge.
During the current director Yoram Cohen’s tenure as Shin Bet chief, two senior Shin Bet officials served as deputies.
One is “N.” – he is still active in the organization – who served as deputy for three years, and the second is Alsheich, who has been a deputy for the past 18 months. Both men were considered strong candidates for the leadership of the Shin Bet when Cohen steps down.
Alsheich’s nomination is perhaps an indication of the direction Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is planning on taking the Israel Police – making it more professional, an organization with higher values, a higher level of excellence, improved long-term planning, better operational capabilities, increased law enforcement and crime prevention.
Alsheich will bring all of these capabilities from the Shin Bet, as well as a long tradition of operational skills, high-level intelligence gathering, thwarting of attacks and carrying out counter-offensive initiatives. It’s still unclear why Alsheich gave up the chance to lead the Shin Bet and instead accepted the appointment as police commissioner.
Alsheich’s appointment as commissioner has reopened the question of who is the best person to replace Shin Bet current chief Cohen. Since its inception, the agency has made great efforts to train its best operatives to one day take over the leadership of the organization.
Apart from the exceptional case in which V.-Adm. (res.) Ami Ayalon was appointed as Shin Bet head, who was brought in following the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, no one has even been brought in from outside to head the organization. There are two main reasons for this. First, it had never been necessary until that time. There had always been a number of quality, professional candidates who had been trained within the organization who were appropriate for the position. These candidates had grown within the institution. They were familiar with the operational and administrative procedures and had years of leadership experience.
Second, the Shin Bet is not a large organization.
It is extremely professional and its senior operatives are required to have an incredibly high level of control over operational and intelligence capabilities.
A Shin Bet leader is constantly required to evaluate situations, make decisions and supervise underlings in complex operations. He must be informed and ready to make decisions on the spot for multiple operations that are taking place simultaneously in different areas.
The lines of communication within the organization are short and the chief is personally involved in each and every operation.
In fact, it is absolutely impossible for an outsider – no matter how talented he may be – to learn within such a short time the heart of the intelligence work.
Even during his five years as Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon concentrated mainly on improving administrative processes and drawing conclusions. All other areas – investigations, counterterrorism and field intelligence – were managed by others.
The Shin Bet is an extremely professional organization. It has reached an outstanding level of excellence and has remarkable operational capabilities.
Its operatives are conscientious and although it may not always be super-organized, it is certainly adequate in this area. In short, the Shin Bet is worlds above the level of the Israel Police.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that the starting point of the next Shin Bet head is higher than that of the next police chief, the country is expecting great things of him. Even in the current era, the Shin Bet is in need of an organizational revamping.
Although it is constantly drawing conclusions and implementing improvements, not everything is perfect and there are plenty of areas that need to be reformed. Cohen’s successor has his work cut out for him.
For the Shin Bet to continue functioning at such a high level, with the same type of intelligence and operational capabilities that are available today and the same fighting spirit, the obvious conclusion is that next chief must come from within the ranks of the organization.
He must be familiar with the strategies for thwarting terrorism, operational processes and technological capabilities for collecting intelligence, as well as the complicated legal restrictions imposed on the Shin Bet within and beyond the Green Line.
The incoming Shin Bet chief will need to continue promoting the next generation of leaders to ensure that suitable chiefs will be at the ready in the future.
There are already a number of talented young people within the organization who are being trained to lead in the future. Only someone who knows the ropes is capable of carrying out these processes properly.
And so, following Alsheich’s appointment as chief of police, only one suitable candidate remains to take over the leadership of the Shin Bet: N. (his name cannot be published), who served as deputy head of the Shin Bet for three years and who recently returned to this position.
N. has overseen all Shin Bet operations for years and he is more knowledgeable about intelligence gathering and counterterrorism than anyone else in the organization. For years, N. has overseen the placement of people in the various departments and he managed all operational activity during Operation Protective Edge and Operation Pillar of Defense. He knows the organization inside and out, including all staff members, and is without doubt capable of leading the Shin Bet.
At this point, there is no reason for the prime minister to extend Yoram Cohen’s term as Shin Bet head. Such an extension would not be beneficial for the organization in any way. There is also no need to bring in an outsider to fill the soon to be vacated position. The prime minister needs to make a decision on this issue as soon as possible, in an effort to calm the atmosphere and put an end to speculation.
Only in this way will the Shin Bet be able to continue to function efficiently and a situation prevented where there is a chaotic media and political blizzard similar to the one that surrounded the appointment of the next police commissioner.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.