|Israel Security Agency
שירות הביטחון הכללי
Sherut haBitaẖon haKlali, General Security Service
جهاز الأمن العام
|Abbreviation||English: ISA, Local: Shabak - Hebrew: שב״כ, Arabic: شاباك|
Emblem of the Shabak
|Motto||מגן ולא יראה
Magen veLo Yera'e
The Defender that shall not be seen or The unseen shield
|Formed||February 8, 1949|
|Legal personality||Governmental: Government agency|
|Governing body||Prime Minister of Israel|
The Israel Security Agency (ISA, Hebrew: שירות הביטחון הכללי Sherut haBitaẖon haKlali "General Security Service"; Arabic: جهاز الأمن العام), better known by the acronym Shabak (Hebrew: שב״כ, IPA: [ʃaˈbak] ( listen), Arabic: شاباك) or the Shin Bet (a two-letter Hebrew abbreviation of the name), is Israel's internal security service (similar to the British MI5 or the American FBI). Its motto is "Magen veLo Yera'e" (Hebrew: מגן ולא יראה, lit. "Defender that shall not be seen" or "The unseen shield").
Shabak is believed to have three operational wings:
- The Arab Affairs Department: responsible primarily for Arab-related counterterrorism activities in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
- The Non-Arab Affairs Department: responsible for non-Arab security issues and cooperation with foreign security agencies, previously concerned with the Communist Bloc.
- The Protective Security Department: responsible for protecting high-value individuals and locations in the country such as government officials, embassies, airports, and research facilities.
Duties and roles
Shabak's duties are safeguarding state security, exposing terrorist rings, interrogating terror suspects, providing intelligence for counter-terrorism operations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, counter-espionage, personal protection of senior public officials, securing important infrastructure and government buildings, and safeguarding Israeli airlines and overseas embassies.
With the Israeli declaration of independence in 1948, the Shabak was founded as a branch of the Israel Defense Forces and was initially headed by Isser Harel (the father of Israeli Intelligence, who later headed the Mossad). Responsibility for Shabak activity was later moved from the IDF to the office of the prime minister. During the 1948 Arab–Israeli war, Shabak's responsibilities included only internal security affairs. In February 1949 (a short while before the end of the war), its responsibilities were extended to counter-espionage.
One of the Shabak's leading successes was obtaining a copy of the secret speech made by Nikita Khrushchev in 1956, in which he denounced Stalin. A Polish edition of the speech was provided to the Israeli embassy in Warsaw by the boyfriend of the secretary of a Polish communist official. The Shabak's Polish liaison officer conveyed the copy to Israel. The Israeli government then decided to share the information with the United States, which published it with Israeli approval. On the other hand, a study published in 2013 by Matitiahu Mayzel casts doubt on the story, arguing that the speech was not secret and that it was conveyed to the West by multiple sources, including Soviet political and intelligence agencies.
A notable achievement in counter-espionage was the 1961 capture of Israel Beer, who was revealed to be a Soviet spy. Beer was a Lieutenant Colonel in the reserves, a senior security commentator and close friend of Ben-Gurion and reached high Israeli circles. Beer was tried and sentenced to ten years in prison (later extended by the Supreme Court to fifteen years, following his appeal), where he died. A year before, Kurt Sitte, a Christian German from the Sudetenland and a professor in the Technion, was revealed as a Czechoslovakian spy.
In 1967, an Egyptian-Israeli double agent, Rif'at al Gamal/Jacques Bitton, gave Egypt false information about Israel's battle plans, claiming it would begin with ground operations. The Egyptians thus left their aircraft on open runways, which enabled the Israel Air Force to knock out Egypt's air force within three hours of the outbreak of the Six-Day War. Operation Yated, as it was later known, is considered one of the most successful deceptions in Israeli intelligence history, on a par with Britain's Operation Mincemeat during World War II.
After the war, monitoring terrorist activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip become a major part of Shabak's mission. During 1984–1986, Shabak experienced a major crisis following the Kav 300 affair in which four Palestinian militants hijacked a bus. Two of the hijackers were killed in an ensuing standoff, the other two were killed shortly after being taken into custody by Shabak officers, who later covered up the event and conspired to frame a senior IDF officer. Following the affair, Shabak head Avraham Shalom was forced to resign.
The 1987 Landau Commission, set up to investigate Shabak interrogation methods, criticized the organization and established guidelines to regulate what forms of physical pressure could be used on prisoners. Among the practices authorised were "keeping prisoners in excruciatingly uncomfortable postures, covering their heads with filthy and malodorous sacks and depriving them of sleep." Human rights groups in Israel maintained that this amounts to torture. A 1995 official report by Miriam Ben-Porat, made public in 2000, showed that Shin Bet "routinely" went beyond the "moderate physical pressure" authorised by the Landau Commission. In the report, Israel admitted for the first time that Palestinian detainees were tortured during the First Intifada, between 1988 and 1992.
In 1995, the Shin Bet failed to protect the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli radical Yigal Amir. Shin Bet had discovered Amir's plans, and a Shin Bet agent was sent to monitor Amir, and reported that Amir was not a threat. Following the assassination, the Shabak director, Carmi Gillon, resigned preemptively. Later, the Shamgar Commission pointed to serious flaws in the personal security unit. Another source of embarrassment and criticism was the violent, provocative and inciting behavior of Avishai Raviv, an informer of the Shabak's Jewish Unit during the time leading up to the assassination. Later, Raviv was acquitted of the charges that he encouraged Yigal Amir to kill Yitzhak Rabin.
In 2000, Ayalon was replaced by Avi Dichter, an ex-Sayeret Matkal commando and an experienced Shabak agent, tightened the working relationship with the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli police. Dichter was in charge when the al-Aqsa Intifada erupted. He turned Shabak into a prominent player in the war on terrorism after the collapse of the 2000 Camp David Summit.
In May 2005, Dichter was replaced by Yuval Diskin, who served until 2011.
In 2011, Yoram Cohen was chosen as the new head of Shabak, the position which he currently fills.
Former Shin Bet director special assistant Barak Ben-Zur said that since 1948 (or more particularly 1957) the group has been brought under control of the Knesset to monitor its budget. In May 2002, a landmark was set when Shin Bet was brought under the purview of the Knesset Foreign and Security Committee, which could investigate whether it is working within legal boundaries which, in turn, involves the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is also involved. The government legal adviser approves Shin Bet activities, the Political-Security Cabinet receives reports directly from the Shin Bet director and that every detainee has the right to submit a complaint.
Information gathering, interrogation methods and torture
Shabak also extracts information by interrogating suspects, and there is a history of concern over its methods. In 1987, after complaints about excessive use of violence, the Landau Commission drew up guidelines condoning "moderate physical pressure" when necessary, but in 1994, State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat found that these regulations were violated and senior GSS commanders did not prevent it.
Later, in 1999, the Israeli Supreme Court heard several petitions against Shabak methods, including (1) "forceful and repeated shaking of the suspect's upper torso, in a manner which causes the neck and head to swing rapidly," (2) manacling of the suspect in a painful "Shabach position" for a long period of time, (3) the "frog crouch" consisting of "consecutive, periodical crouches on the tips of one's toes," and other methods. The Court ruled that Shabak did not have the authority, even under the defense of "necessity," to employ such methods. This ruling was hailed as landmark against using torture on Palestinian prisoners.
Shabak claims it now uses only psychological means, although B'Tselem and Amnesty International continue to accuse Shabak of employing physical methods that amount to torture under international conventions. In 2015, Physicians for Human Rights–Israel noted that petitions against Shin Bet had quadrupled since 2012, and claimed that over the past several years of 850 complaints against Shin Bet for torture none had yet been investigated. It further claimed that that no system of legal redress against security organizations is in place.
Shabak has also worked closely with the Israeli Air Force in "targeted killings" of field commanders and senior leaders of Palestinian militant factions of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and Fatah. These killings are usually done by helicopter gunships. Both the IAF commanders and Shabak agents sit together in the command center to monitor the operation. Shabak's task is to give intelligence about when and where the target will be available for a strike and then to react to IAF drone feedback to ensure the men at the location are indeed the correct targets.
Salah Haj Yihyeh, a Palestinian who runs mobile clinics for Physicians for Human Rights, was detained for questioning by the Shin Bet.[dubious ] In the questioning, Yihyeh answered questions about the activities of the organization, its budget, the identity of its donors, and details about others employed by PHR. The board of Physicians for Human Rights, in a letter to Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, rejected the "crossing of a red line in a democracy." The letter argued that since the only cause for calling an employee of the group was to scare him, the tactics were unacceptable and illegal.
Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer was detained in July 2008 by Shin Bet. Having arrived on a flight from London, Omer says that he was taken aside by a Shin Bet official. According to Democracy Now!, Omer was later questioned, strip-searched, and then beaten by eight armed Shin Bet officers. Injuries from the ordeal allegedly left Mohammed Omer in the hospital for a week. The Israeli government rejected Omer's claims outright, citing inconsistencies in his allegations and noting that such investigations are strictly regulated.
Once considered a commitment to lifelong anonymity and even invisibility in Israeli society, today a Shabak agent who achieves high rank in the service, especially the director, is considered a candidate for membership in the top units of the Israeli government and business community. This process follows a trend started by ex-generals and colonels of the Israel Defense Forces, the trailblazers including Moshe Dayan, Ariel Sharon, and Yitzhak Rabin. In the Shabak and the foreign intelligence Mossad service, the trend showed up much later (during the mid-1990s), even though Isser Harel (who served as head of both services) and Meir Amit of the Mossad both served as lawmakers.
Ex-Shabak directors today are increasingly visible as candidates for higher office. Yaakov Peri became the chairman of Bank HaMizrahi in 2002, and also became a highly visible guest on television programs. Carmi Gillon serves as Chairman of the Local Council of Mevaseret Zion, a Jerusalem suburb, while Avi Dichter and Ami Ayalon were at one time leading candidates for defense minister (Dichter for the Kadima party formed by prime minister Ariel Sharon, Ayalon on the Labour party ticket). Dichter eventually became Minister of Internal Security in the government led by Ehud Olmert. Ayalon has attracted widespread following as a co-initiator with Palestinian dignitary Sari Nusseibeh of the non-governmental Peoples' Voice initiative to petition the governments in Israel and the Palestinian Authority for a permanent settlement.
In 2007, the service launched its first ever public recruitment drive, unveiling a "slick Web site" and buying on-line ads in Israel and abroad in a campaign aimed at "attract[ing] top-tier computer programmers" to its "cutting-edge" IT division. On March 18, 2008, it was announced that Shabak's official website would also offer a blog, where four of its agents would discuss anonymously how they were recruited, and what sort of work they perform; they would also answer questions sent in by members of the public. The decision to launch the blog was made by the Shin Bet's top brass, including head Yuval Diskin, and is part of an attempt to attract high-tech workers to the agency's growing IT department. According to Shabak officers, the Web site and blog are aimed also at promoting a more accessible and positive public image for the secret service, long associated with "dark, undercover and even violent activity".
In 2012, six former heads of the Shabak (Shalom, Peri, Gillon, Ayalon, Dichter, and Diskin) featured in a documentary film, The Gatekeepers, and discussed the main events of their tenures.
- Isser Harel (1948–1952)
- Izi Dorot (1952–1953)
- Amos Manor (1953–1963)
- Yossef Harmelin (1964–1974)
- Avraham Ahituv (1974–1981)
- Avraham Shalom (1981–1986)
- Yossef Harmelin (1986–1988)
- Yaakov Peri (1988–1994)
- Carmi Gillon (1995–1996)
- Ami Ayalon (1996–2000)
- Avi Dichter (2000–2005)
- Yuval Diskin (2005–2011)
- Yoram Cohen (2011–)
- Israel Security Forces
- Israel Border Police
- Security agency
- Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration
- Aliyah Bet
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- "BBC News - Israel pounds Gaza after deadly attacks near Eilat". Bbc.co.uk. 2011-08-18. Retrieved 2013-10-30.
- Akiva Eldar, Haaretz: "Physicians for Human Rights official detained by Shin Bet", 3 June 2008.
- Democracy Now: "Award-Winning Palestinian Journalist Mohammed Omer Details Abuse by Israeli Security Officials", 7 July 2008.
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- Yaakov Katz, "Shin Bet security agency launches blog", Jerusalem Post, 17 March 2008.
- Shabak website (English)
- Profile: Israel's Shin Bet agency, BBC
- Text of the 1999 High Court of Justice ruling (PDF)
- B'tselem report on Shabak's use of torture
- "Inside Shin Bet" video documentary by Al Jazeera
- Shin Bet (FAS)
- Knesset said "No" to Shabak
- Yousef, Mosab Hassan (March 3, 2010). Son of Hamas. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House. p. 288. ISBN 978-1-4143-3307-6.