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Shin Bet

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Israel Security Agency
Sherut haBitaẖon haKlali
שירות הביטחון הכללי
جهاز الأمن العام
Emblem of the Israel Security Agency
Emblem of the Israel Security Agency
Common nameShabak
AbbreviationEnglish: ISA, Local: Shabak - Hebrew: שב״כ, Arabic: شاباك
MottoMagen veLo Yera'e
Agency overview
Formed8 February 1949; 75 years ago (1949-02-08)[1]
Preceding agency
Jurisdictional structure
National agencyIsrael
Operations jurisdictionIsrael
Governing bodyPrime Minister of Israel
Operational structure
HeadquartersYarkon Park, Tel Aviv
Agency executive

The Israel Security Agency (ISA; Hebrew: שֵׁירוּת הַבִּיטָּחוֹן הַכְּלָלִי, romanizedSherut haBitaẖon haKlali, lit.'the General Security Service'; Arabic: جهاز الأمن العام, romanizedjihāz al'amn al`ami), better known by the acronyms Shabak (Hebrew: שב״כ; IPA: [ʃaˈbak] ; Arabic: شاباك) or Shin Bet (from the Hebrew term for "Security Service"), is Israel's internal security service. Its motto is "Magen veLo Yera'e" (Hebrew: מָגֵן וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה, lit.'the unseen shield'). The Shin Bet's headquarters are located in northwest Tel Aviv, north of Yarkon Park.

It is one of three principal organizations of the Israeli intelligence community, alongside Aman (military intelligence) and Mossad (foreign intelligence service).


Shabak is believed to have three operational wings:[2]

The Arab Department
responsible primarily for Arab-related counterterrorism activities in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
The Israel and Foreigners Department
formerly named the Non-Arab Affairs Department. It includes the Department for Counter-intelligence and Prevention of Subversion in the Jewish Sector, also known as the Jewish Department.[3] It is responsible for preventing espionage, and for dealing with extremists who carry out actions (such as terrorism) against the state and the democratic regime. As its original concerns mostly related to the Communist Bloc, it shrank after the fall of the Soviet Union, but rose again in importance in response to Jewish terrorist activity that began in the early 1980s.[4]
The Protective Security Department
responsible for protecting high-value individuals and locations in the country such as government officials, embassies, airports, and research facilities.

Although a security agency, it is not a part of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and its chief answers directly to the Prime Minister of Israel.

Duties and roles[edit]

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.[5][6]


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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]

Medal given to Shabak workers on the 40th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, 1988

In 1967, an Egyptian-Israeli double agent, Refaat Al-Gammal, 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.[11] 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.[11]

After the war, monitoring terrorist activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip became 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 the ensuing standoff and 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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[13]

In 1995, the Shin Bet failed to protect the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by 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.[14] Later, Raviv was acquitted of the charges that he encouraged Yigal Amir to kill Yitzhak Rabin.

A few months after the Rabin assassination, Hamas chief bombmaker Yahya Ayyash was assassinated in a targeted killing in which an explosive device was planted in his cellular phone.[15]

Gillon was replaced by Israeli Navy admiral Ami Ayalon, who helped to restore the organizational morale, after the debacle of the Rabin assassination, and to rehabilitate its public image.[16]

In 2000, Ayalon was replaced by Avi Dichter, an ex-Sayeret Matkal commando and experienced Shabak agent, who 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 November 2003, four former heads of Shabak (Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon and Ami Ayalon) called upon the Government of Israel to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.[17]

In May 2005, Dichter was replaced by Yuval Diskin, who served until 2011.

In 2007, the service launched its first-ever public recruitment drive, unveiling a "slick Website" 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.[18] 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".[19]

In 2011, Yoram Cohen was chosen as the new head of Shabak, and served until 2016.

In 2016, Nadav Argaman was chosen as the new head of Shabak, and assumed office on 8 May 2016.

On 11 October 2021, Ronen Bar was announced as the next head of the ISA,[20][21] and took office on 13 October.[22]

On 16 October 2023, following the successful surprise attacks by Hamas against Israel and the subsequent outbreak of the 2023 Israel–Hamas war, ISA director Ronen Bar took responsibility for his role in the failure of Israeli intelligence to predict the oncoming war from Gaza.[23][24]


Former Shin Bet director special assistant Barak Ben-Zur said that since 1948 (or more particularly 1957) the group has been brought under the control of the Knesset in order to monitor its budget. In May 2002, 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. The government legal adviser approves Shin Bet activities while the Political-Security Cabinet receives reports directly from the Shin Bet director and ensures that every detainee has the right to submit a complaint.[25]

Information gathering, interrogation methods and torture[edit]

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.[26]

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.[27] This ruling was hailed as landmark against using torture on Palestinian prisoners.[28]

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.[29][30][31][32] 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 no system of legal redress against security organizations is in place.[33]

Shabak has also worked closely with the Israeli Air Force in "targeted killings" of field commanders and senior leaders of Palestinian militant factions[34] 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 operations. Shabak's task is to give intelligence about when and where the target will be available for a strike and then react to IAF drone feedback to ensure the men at the location are indeed the correct targets.[35]


Salah Haj Yihyeh, a Palestinian who runs mobile clinics for Physicians for Human Rights, was detained for questioning by the Shin Bet.[dubiousdiscuss] 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.[36]

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.[37] The Israeli government rejected Omer's claims outright, citing inconsistencies in his allegations and noting that such investigations are strictly regulated.[38][39]

Shin Bet in popular culture[edit]

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.

An undercover Shin Bet agent appears in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow as a supporting character.

In Messiah, Tomer Sisley plays Aviram Dahan, a Shin Bet operative who is fighting terrorism to protect his country.

In Munich, Mathieu Kassovitz plays Robert, a Belgian toy-maker and explosives expert, who worked for Shin Bet as a bomb dismantler.

Shabak directors[edit]

Reuven Rivlin the president of Israel with Yoram Cohen the former director of the Shin Bet and Nadav Argaman the new director. May 2016

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The History of the ISA". Shabak. Retrieved 25 May 2011.
  2. ^ "Profile: Israel's Shin Bet agency". BBC News. 30 January 2002. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  3. ^ Assenheim, Omri (6 May 2013). "Mission: Impossible". Uvda (in Hebrew). Mako. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  4. ^ Hadar, Roni; Melman, Yossi (12 July 2006). "There's Someone To Not Talk With". Haaretz (in Hebrew).
  5. ^ "Refworld | Israel: Division of labour and mandates of the Mosad and Shabak (Shin Bet, General Security Service, Sherut ha-Bitachon ha-Klali); on forced recruitment to the Mossad or the Shabak". Refworld. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  6. ^ "Israel's national airline El Al is an intelligence front for the Shin Bet". Mondoweiss. 30 August 2023. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  7. ^ Shin Bet history Archived 2016-10-30 at the Wayback Machine (Hebrew)
  8. ^ "There's a speech by Khrushchev from the conference (Hebrew)". Haaretz. 7 March 2006.
  9. ^ Matitiahu Mayzel (2013). "Israeli Intelligence and the leakage of Khrushchev's "Secret Speech"". The Journal of Israeli History. 32 (2): 257–283. doi:10.1080/13531042.2013.822730. S2CID 143346034.
  10. ^ Shin Bet between 1957 and 1967 Archived 2016-08-05 at the Wayback Machine (Hebrew)
  11. ^ a b Melman, Yossi (31 March 2011). "How Israel won the Six-Day War Israel News". Haaretz. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  12. ^ David K. Shipler, Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land. 1986. ISBN 0-8129-1273-X. pages 89, 90.
  13. ^ a b Israel admits torture Archived 2019-03-22 at the Wayback Machine 9 February 2000, BBC
  14. ^ See the chapter on Raviv in the Shamgar report Archived 2011-08-08 at the Wayback Machine in Hebrew
  15. ^ Katz, Samuel. The Hunt for the Engineer. Lyons Press, 2002. ISBN 1-58574-749-1
  16. ^ Amir Oren (15 January 2007). "איילון מסוגל, ברק לא - מאמרים ודעות - הארץ". Haaretz. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  17. ^ Urquhart, Conal (30 November 2003). "Israel's hard men fight for peace". The Observer. London. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  18. ^ Franks, Tim (17 March 2008). "Israel's Shin Bet launches blog". BBC News. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  19. ^ Yaakov Katz, "Shin Bet security agency launches blog" Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine, Jerusalem Post, 17 March 2008.
  20. ^ "Ronen Bar: Israel's next Shin Bet Director". IsraelDefense website. 11 October 2021. Retrieved 11 October 2021.
  21. ^ Yoni Weiss (11 October 2021). "Ronen Bar Announced as New Shin Bet Head". Hamodia English website. Retrieved 11 October 2021.
  22. ^ "בטקס חגיגי: ראש השב"כ הנבחר רונן בר נכנס לתפקידו" [In a festive ceremony: appointed ISA head Ronen Bar took office]. בחזית (in Hebrew). 13 October 2021. Retrieved 16 October 2021.
  23. ^ Israel National News. "ISA director takes responsibility for allowing invasion". Arutz Sheva-Israel National News. Retrieved 16 October 2023.
  24. ^ Feldman, Joseph. "Shin Bet Head Takes Responsibility for No Warning Before Hamas Attack". VINnews/The Associated Press. Retrieved 16 October 2023.
  25. ^ "Inside Shabak". Al Jazeera English. 24 October 2013. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  26. ^ "A/55/373 of 11 September 2000". Domino.un.org. Archived from the original on 1 November 2013. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  27. ^ "Public Committee Against Torture v. Israel" (PDF). Elyon.court.gov.il. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  28. ^ World: Middle East Israeli 'torture' methods illegal Archived 2015-07-20 at the Wayback Machine, September 6, 1999, BBC
  29. ^ "The Interrogation of Palestinians During the Intifada: Ill-Treatment, "Moderate Physical Pressure" or Torture?, March 1991 | B'Tselem". Btselem.org. 1 January 1990. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  30. ^ "The ISA interrogation regime: routine ill-treatment | B'Tselem". Btselem.org. 1 January 2011. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  31. ^ "Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories | Amnesty International". Amnesty.org. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  32. ^ "Kept in the Dark, Oct. 2010 | B'Tselem". Btselem.org. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  33. ^ Tamar Pileggi, '850 Torture Complaints yield no investigations,' Archived 2015-10-30 at the Wayback Machine The Times of Israel 11 February 2015.
  34. ^ "BBC News - Israel pounds Gaza after deadly attacks near Eilat". Bbc.co.uk. 18 August 2011. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  35. ^ Katz, Yaakov (25 March 2021). "How the IDF invented 'Roof Knocking', the tactic that saves lives in Gaza". Jerusalem Post.
  36. ^ Akiva Eldar, Haaretz: "Physicians for Human Rights official detained by Shin Bet" Archived 2016-01-03 at the Wayback Machine, 3 June 2008.
  37. ^ Democracy Now: "Award-Winning Palestinian Journalist Mohammed Omer Details Abuse by Israeli Security Officials" Archived 2019-03-22 at the Wayback Machine, 7 July 2008.
  38. ^ "IMRA - Wednesday, July 9, 2008 RESPONSE TO ALLEGATIONS REGARDING MOHAMMED OMER AL-MUGHAIER". www.imra.org.il.
  39. ^ Ofra Edelman, "Charges dropped against settler filmed shooting Palestinians" – Haaretz Archived 2010-02-08 at the Wayback Machine, 14 July 2009.

External links[edit]

Media related to Israel Security Agency at Wikimedia Commons