The Shabak (in Hebrew, שב"כ "Shabak" (help·info)) an acronym of "Shérūt Bītāhōn Klālī" שירות ביטחון כללי) known in English as the Shin Bet (which was how the Shabak was known in Israel in its early days) or the GSS (General Security Service), is the Internal General Security Service of Israel. Its motto is "מגן ולא יראה," which translates into: "Defender (Shield) who shall not be seen". The service consists of close to 5,000 employees. It is one of three principal organizations of the Israeli Intelligence Community, alongside Aman (the military intelligence of the IDF) and Mossad (responsible for overseas intelligence work).
The Shabak's duties are:
* Upholding the state security against those who seek to undermine it by terrorist activity or violent revolution.
* Expose terrorist organizations of Israeli civilians (both Jewish and Arab).
* Interrogations of terror suspects.
* Providing intelligence for counter-terrorism operations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
* Protect the lives of senior public officials (see also: bodyguards).
* Secure important infrastructure and government buildings.
* Ensure the security of El-Al, Arkia and Israir flights and Israel's embassies abroad.
One of the Shin Bet's roles is to protect the lives of senior Israeli ministers and public servants (such as the President of Israel). The Shin Bet is also responsible for preventing the funding of underground movements and terror groups whose members are Israeli citizens. It accomplishes this goal by using interrogations and secret agents (HUMINT).
Legal status and methods
The Shabak relies mainly on HUMINT to extract information and gather intelligence. It uses informants from the local population in order to gather intelligence about planned terror attacks or about the location of terror leaders. Shabak had overwhelming success with informants, managing to target the top leaders of the Palestinian terror organizations—including hardliners such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. The killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abed al-Aziz Rantissi shows how deeply Shabak has penetrated into the Palestinian militias. As a result, the Palestinians groups, mainly the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades started killing suspected collaborators.
Shabak also extracts information by interrogating suspects. In 1987, after complaints about excessive use of violence in interrogations of Palestinian prisoners, the Landau Committee (headed by a former Supreme Court President) prepared a two-part report on Shabak's interrogation methods. Only one part was made public. It revealed that the Shabak regularly used violent methods of interrogation and that Shabak agents were tutored to lie in court about how evidence was uncovered. The committee report also gave guidelines for future interrogations but most of the details were in the secret part of the report. The open part revealed that the guidelines allowed Shabak to apply "moderate physical pressure" in the case of "necessity." In 1994, State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat, in a report not made public until February 2000, found that during 1988-1992 "Violation of the Landau Commission and the GSS regulations continued to be widespread in the interrogation facility in Gaza and, to some extent, in other facilities.… Veteran and senior investigators in the Gaza facility carried out severe and systematic violations. Senior GSS commanders did not prevent these violations."
In 1999 the Israeli Supreme Court heard several petitions against Shabak methods. It found that these included: (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.
In the Justice Ministry, the Department For Special Roles, there is a senior investigator who checks complaints about Shabak interrogations. Shabak claims that it is now basing its interrogations only on psychological means. However, organizations such as B'Tselem and Amnesty International still regularly accuse Shabak of employing physical methods that amount to torture according to international conventions.
In 2002 the Israeli Knesset passed a law, regulating the activity of Shabak. The law ruled that:
* The Prime Minister of Israel is in charge of the Shabak and carries ministerial responsibility for its activity. The head of the Shabak answers to the prime minister.
* The Shabak head will serve 5 years in duty, unless there is a state of emergency.
With the declaration of Israeli Independence, the Shin Bet was founded, as a branch of the Israel Defense Forces, and was headed by Isser Harel (the father of Israeli Intelligence, who later headed the Mossad). Responsibility for Shin Bet activity was later moved from the IDF to the office of the prime minister. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that was declared against Israel following the Israeli independence, the Shin Bet's responsibility included only internal security affairs. It was only later that its responsibilities were extended to Counter-espionage and the monitoring of Israeli Arabs (Arabs who did not leave Israel during the 1948 war of Israeli independence and who were granted Israeli citizenship).
In the beginning, as part of the efforts to prevent undermining activity, the Shin Bet also monitored pro-Soviet opposition parties, which were suspected of supporting the Soviet Union over Israel if the Cold War would become an active full scale war. Today, this kind of activity is considered harmful to democracy. The political leadership, headed by David Ben-Gurion, made sure to silence publications that dealt with those activities, which were published only in Haolam Hazeh newspaper by Uri Avneri. A great controversy was created, when two Shin Bet agents were caught installing a bugging device in Meir Yeari's office (Yeari was the leader of Mapam - a Socialist Zionist party, but with favorable reviews on the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin).
One of the Shabak's most important successes, though it is often incorrectly attributed to the Mossad, was to obtain a copy of the secret speech made by Khrushchev in 1956, when 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, who published it with Israeli approval.
Up until the Six Day War, the Shin Bet continued to focus on counter-espionage and monitoring political activity among the Israeli Arabs. Shabak's most notable achievement in counter-espionage was the capture of Dr. Israel Bar in 1961 who was revealed to be a Soviet spy. Bar was a Lieutenant Colonel in the reserves, a senior security commentator and close friend of Ben-Gurion, and reached high Israeli circles. Bar was tried and sentenced to ten years in prison (which was later extended by the Supreme Court to fifteen years, following his appeal), where he died. In the same year, Kurt Sita, a Christian German from the Sudets and a professor in the Technion, was revealed as a Czech spy.
After the Six Day War
After the Six Day War, Shabak efforts to monitor terrorist activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip become a more and more dominant part of the organization activity, and today it is considered to be the major part of Shabak's mission. Yeshayahu Leibowitz warned that the control over the territories will turn Israel into a "Shabak state". However, Shabak imposed restrictions on itself in order to not harm democratic values, separation of authorities and to prevent the risk that Shabak will be used in a totalitarian manner.
Years of crisis
During 1984-1986 Shabak went into a major crisis following the Kav 300 affair in which two terrorists who hijacked a bus and took hostages were executed without trial by Shabak officers, who later covered up the event and gave false testimonies. Following this affair, Avraam Shalom (then the head of Shabak) was forced to resign.
The event resulted in the Landau committee, which regulated Shabak interrogation methods.
In 1995 a crisis followed the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir. Following the Shabak's failure to protect Rabin, Carmi Gillon was forced to resign. Later, the Shamgar investigation committee learned of serious flaws in the personal security unit and the provocative and inciting behavior of Avishay Raviv - an Agent provocateur of the Shin Bet Jewish Unit. Raviv obtained a "photoshopped" picture of Rabin in an SS uniform, created by two Chabadniks, and presented it in the infamous Zion Square demonstration in Jerusalem prior to Rabin's murder.
Gillon was replaced by outside "import", Israeli Navy admiral Ami Ayalon. Ayalon rehabilitated Shabak after Rabin's murder and worked hard to restore its reputation with the general public.
In 1996, a unit of the Shabak assassinated Hamas chief bombmaker Yahya Ayyash by planting an explosive device in his cellular phone. The operation was carried out after an instruction by then Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
During the al-Aqsa Intifada
In 2002, Ayalon ended his 5-years term and he was replaced by veteran Shabak official, Avi Dichter. Dichter, an ex-Sayeret Matkal commando and an experienced Shabak agent, restored Shabak's good reputation and tightened the working relationship with the Israeli Defence Forces and the Israeli police. Foreign press hinted that Shabak is working tightly with the elite Israeli counter-terror unit, YAMAM.
Dichter was in charge when the al-Aqsa Intifada erupted. He managed to react quickly to changes and turn Shabak into a prominent player in Israel's war against terror-inciting Palestinians after the collapse of the 2000 Camp David Summit.
The Shin Bet is most known for its role in the conflict with Palestinians. The Shin Bet produces intelligence which enables the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to prevent suicide bombings before they reach their destinations. This is usually done by preventive arrests and deploying road blocks when there is a serious alert.
In addition to preventing suicide bombings from the West Bank by arrests and special operations, Shabak is working tightly with the Israeli Air Force in order to pinpoint and kill terror masterminds and terrorist leaders by precision air strike. The targets are field commanders and senior leaders of Palestinian militant factions (which Israel consider as terrorists), mainly those of Hamas, but also of the Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Fatah and even one Al-Qaeda linkman (Iad Al-Bik). These assassinations, called "targeted killings", are usually done by helicopter gunships, where both IAF commanders and Shabak agents sit together in the command center monitoring the operation. Shabak's task is giving intelligence when and where the target will be available for a strike and then reacting to IAF drone feedback and ensuring the men on the sight are indeed the wanted terrorists (this part is called "identification and incrimination").
Shabak's effective activity during the second Intifada boosted its reputation both among the Israeli public and counter-terror experts.
In November 2003, four former heads of Shin Bet (Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon and Ami Ayalon) called upon the Government of Israel to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Ami Ayalon, along with Palestinian professor Sari Nusseibeh, launched the National Census peace initiative.
Avi Dichter is one of the chief supporters of building a defence barrier against Palestinians in the West Bank. The Israeli government began building the Israeli West Bank Barrier in 2003. Dichter has since said that the barrier 'is working' and helps to prevent and reduce terror attacks.
In February 2005, Ariel Sharon announced that Yuval Diskin, a veteran Shabak field agent, senior negotiator with Palestinian officers and mastermind of the "targeted killings", will replace Dichter after he ends his five-year term. On May 15, 2005 Diskin entered into office after Dichter left with great applause from the press, the politicians, and the public. Dichter has joined the political arena and is now a member of the Kadima party, founded by the former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.
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 brass 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, 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 mayor of Mevasseret Zion near Jerusalem, 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 current 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.
* "Bus 300" Incident: In 1984 two Shabak agents killed a Palestinian in custody. The following is an excerpt from a 1996 L.A. Times article: "The security agent's two prisoners had already been beaten when the agent took what he now calls a simple step. He picked up a rock and battered their skulls until they were dead."
In an inquiry into the incident the officers involved said, "We put them in our van, and then I received instructions from [Shin Bet chief] Avraham Shalom to kill them, so I killed them," said Yatom, who then was the 36-year-old head of the agency's operations branch and the top Shin Bet agent on the scene." (L.A. Times Jul 27, 1996)
* The B'Tselem group, an Israeli information center for human rights in the occupied territories, presented estimates at a news conference that the Israeli Shin Bet interrogates between 1,000 and 1,500 Palestinians a year. "Some 85 percent of them -- at least 850 persons a year -- are subjected to methods which constitute torture," it said in a report on interrogations. These estimates are based on official sources and human rights organisations. (B'Tselem Report 5/19/98)
Important events in Shabak history
* 1948: the Shabak is founded as the Shin Bet and is one of the three secret services in Israel along with the Military Intelligence and the Foreign Intelligence (later, the Mossad).
* 1956: the Shabak obtains a copy of Khrushchev's speech denouncing Stalin.
* 1961: the Shabak expose Doctor Israel Bar as a Soviet spy.
* 1984: the Bus 300 Incident, two hijackers hijacked a bus and after IDF and Shabak regained control over the bus, Avraam Shalom ordered the killing of the two terrorists who were in custody. The officers involved tried to cover this up.
* 1987: the Izat Nafsu affair, when an officer was cleared from spy charges, and Shabak was highly criticized for his methods and norms.
* 1995: the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir and the failure of Shabak to prevent it.
* 1996: the Shabak assassinates Hamas top bombmaker Yahya Ayyash.
* 2000-2005: the al-Aqsa Intifada and Shabak main role in intelligence gathering and counter-terror efforts. Avraam Dichter received high credit for Shabak part in thwarting hundreds of suicide attacks and the targeted assassination of terrorist leaders.