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Issues of the Day Heed the Gatekeepers: The Directors of Israel’s Secret Service Speak Out

The Shin Bet, the General Security Service, is along with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Mossad espionage agency one of the three pillars of Israel’s defense establishment. The Shin Bet is encharged with containing security threats internal to Israel and the Palestinian territories under its control. Its major function is to counter terror, both Arab and Jewish.

By the nature of their mandate, the people who head the Shin Bet are not disposed to talking or peacemaking: Their job is to deal decisively with any element that potentially undermines the State of Israel or threatens its citizens. The organization has additional functions as well, protecting government and other state officials and safeguarding security installations.


On the whole, however, the Shin Bet is mobilized as an intelligence and intervention agency aimed at preventing hostile elements from instigating, planning or implementing terrorist attacks. Some of its operations are carried out ruthlessly, at times in gray areas that are not legally or morally normative. It’s agents are very frequently involved in dangerous and thankless activities.  They are often  ungentle.


The Gatekeepers Speak


To gather six former heads of the Shin Bet, probe them on the most sensitive matters they faced while heading an organization that necessarily operates in the shadows, and film the interviews for presentation in theatres in Israel and abroad  is no mean achievement. That accomplishment, The Gatekeepers, which has been nominated for an Academy Award as the best documentary of 2012, sounds an alarm concerning the perilous waters into which Israel’s political leadership has taken the ship of state in recent years.


These men, who rose through the ranks of Israel's security and defense forces and who have devoted their careers to safeguarding Israel and its citizens, cannot be accused of being anything but patriots. They take their orders from the top echelon of the government, the prime minister and defense minister, and they counsel these officials concerning the areas which they, as the directors of a highly organized and effective intelligence agency, know intimately, often from first-hand experience.


Political Recklessness


Accordingly, their indictment of the incompetence, aloofness and cowardice that has characterized the country’s political cadres over the past two decades cannot be taken lightly. The Shin Bet directors know these ministers well: they have had face to face engagement with them, and have seen how they make decisions. To a man, these former directors of Israel secret service aver that Israel’s counter-terrorism strategy, while preventing many instances of mass murder by determined terrorists, is flawed and inadequate. The country’s leaders have pursued a policy of “No Strategy, Just Tactics,” as the film’s first segment is titled and presents.


The threats that have endangered Israel’s security – and it political, social and moral fiber as well – has not been confined to Arab terrorism alone. In the segment “Our Own Flesh and Blood” Jewish terrorists and extremists have planned and executed atrocities as ambitious as those perpetrated by their Palestinian counterparts.


For example, the Shin Bet broke the Jewish Underground that aimed, for messianic reasons, to blow up the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount and that succeeded in attacks against Palestinian mayors; the bombing by these extremists of civilian buses was averted by the Shin Bet at the last minute. The perpetrators were pardoned after serving parts of their service and many remain active in the West Bank settlement project.


The consensus among the Shin Bet  ex-directors is that the settlement movement has become a law onto itself, imperiling order in the Palestinian Territories and insinuating their partisan positions and agenda through official instruments of the state.


Security Requires a Political Settlement


There is widespread agreement among the Shin Bet men that the attempt to contain Arab terror in the absence of a political accommodation with the Palestinians, specifically negotiations leading to their statehood, dooms both Israelis and Palestinians to an ongoing cycle of violence. The demonization is mutual; both sides tend to view the other as the real terrorist.

The scenes of mass arrests and invasions of Palestinian homes in the middle of the night, coupled with footage of the aftermath of bus bombings in Israeli cities, amplifies the underlying message the Shin Bet directors conveyed: The current situation will lead only to terror and counter-terror.

Regardless of the results of tomorrow’s elections,  Israelis interested in leaving our descendants an Israel intact in body and soul must heed the Gatekeepers, demanding  that the political leadership engage in negotiations toward a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict – while there is still time. 

© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved