Intelligence


Israel Security Agency
Shin Bet
General Security Service
Sherut ha-Bitachon ha-Klali

Israel Security Agency (the ISA-formerly the General Security Service) -- Shin Bet, the Israeli counter-intelligence and internal security service, is believed to have three operational departments and five support departments.

  • Arab Affairs Department is responsibile for antiterrorist operations, political subversion, and maintenance of an index on Arab terrorists. Shin Bet detachments, known as HENZA, worked with Aman undercover detachments [known as Mista'arvim (Marauders)] to counter the uprising. This Department has also been active in countering the military wing of Hamas.
  • Non-Arab Affairs Department, formerly divided into communist and noncommunist sections, concerned itself with all other countries, including penetrating foreign intelligence services and diplomatic missions in Israel and interrogating immigrants from the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
  • Protective Security Department is responsibile for protecting Israeli government buildings and embassies, defense industries, scientific installations, industrial plants, and the El Al national airline.

Shin Bet monitors the activities of and personalities in domestic right-wing fringe groups and subversive leftist movements. It is believed to have infiltrated agents into the ranks of the parties of the far left and had uncovered a number of foreign technicians spying for neighboring Arab countries or the Soviet Union. All foreigners, regardless of religion or nationality, are liable to come under surveillance through an extensive network of informants who regularly came into contact with visitors to Israel. Shin Bet's network of agents and informers in the occupied territories destroyed the PLO's effectiveness there after 1967, forcing the PLO to withdraw to bases in Jordan.

Shin Bet's reputation as a highly proficient internal security agency was tarnished severely by two public scandals in the mid-1980s. In April 1984, Israeli troops stormed a bus hijacked by four Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Although two of the hijackers survived, they were later beaten to death by Shin Bet agents. It appeared that the agents were acting under orders of Avraham Shalom, the head of Shin Bet. Shalom falsified evidence and instructed Shin Bet witnesses to lie to investigators to cover up Shin Bet's role. In the ensuing controversy, the attorney general was removed from his post for refusing to abandon his investigation. The president granted pardons to Shalom, his deputies who had joined in the cover-up, and the agents implicated in the killings.

In 1987, Izat Nafsu, a former IDF army lieutenant and member of the Circassian minority, was released after his 1980 conviction for treason (espionage on behalf of Syria) was overturned by the Supreme Court. The court ruled that Shin Bet had used unethical interrogation methods to obtain Nafsu's confession and that Shin Bet officers had presented false testimony to the military tribunal that had convicted him. A judicial commission set up to report on the methods and practices of Shin Bet found that for the previous seventeen years, it had been the accepted norm for Shin Bet interrogators to lie to the courts about their interrogation.

In 1987, the Israeli government-appointed Landau Judicial Commission condemned torture but allowed for the use of "moderate physical and psychological pressure" to secure confessions and obtain information. In addition, although the Israeli Penal Code prohibits the use of force or violence by a public official to obtain information, the GSS chief is permitted by law to allow interrogators to employ "special measures" that exceed the use of "moderate physical and psychological pressure" when it is deemed necessary to obtain information that could potentially save Israeli lives in certain "ticking bomb" cases. The GSS first permitted interrogators "greater flexibility" in applying the guidelines shortly after a bus bombing in Tel Aviv in October 1994 that killed 22 Israelis. The Government has not defined the meaning of "greater flexibility" or what might constitute a "ticking bomb" case. At roughly quarterly intervals, the Government has approved the continued use of "special measures." On August 22, Israel's ministerial committee on GSS interrogations authorized the continued use of "special measures," including shaking.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) declared in 1992 that such practices violate the Geneva Convention. Human rights groups and attorneys challenged the use of "special measures," especially shaking, before the Israeli High Court a number of times during the year. In each case the court either rejected the petition or ruled in favor of the GSS. Israeli authorities maintain that torture is not condoned but acknowledge that abuses sometimes occur and are investigated. However, the Government does not generally make public the results of such investigations. Israel conducted two official investigations into the 35 complaints received in 1997.

Shin Bet's reputation was further compromised by the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin in November 1995 by a right-wing Israeli extremist. In the aftermath of the ensuing scandal, the head of Shin Bet [Karmi Gillon] resigned in January 1996 and was succeeded by Rear Admiral Ami Ayalon.




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