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The new Shin Bet chief has his work cut out for him

R. may not be a stranger to the complex challenges facing the Israel Security Agency, but as of Tuesday, the responsibility for all of them rests on his shoulders.

Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) head Nadav Argaman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 20, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) head Nadav Argaman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 20, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s choice of R. as the next director of the Israel Security Agency was almost a given.

While his rival for the position would have been an equally obvious choice, R. has a clear advantage: for the past three years he has been the deputy director of the ISA—or the Shin Bet as it’s more commonly known. This made him Nadav Argaman’s natural successor.

The claim that Bennett appointed R. because they both served in the Israel Defense Force’s elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit is ridiculous. As important a line as that is on their résumés, both have come a long way since then, and have met several times along the way. Some of these meetings occurred during Bennett’s tenure as defense minister, and others in the months since he took office as prime minister. Bennett has had ample opportunity to get to know R. and become familiar with his qualities.

In his personal life, R. is known as a foodie, he loves to travel abroad and he loves rowing. He’s also a die-hard fan of the Hapoel Tel Aviv FC.

Professionally, R. is widely considered an exceptional agent. He has more operations under his belt than the media is allowed to report on, and is lauded for his sophisticated strategies, something that was undoubtedly a factor in the decision to appoint him to the agency’s top position.

Defense officials in the military and the Mossad intelligence agency enthusiastically welcomed his appointment (and most likely recommended him for the position in the first place).

As head of the ISA, R. will have to quickly chart a path ahead for the agency. Argaman leaves him a stable agency with a strong organizational and human infrastructure, and with quite a few achievements, most prominently a stable security situation in Judea and Samaria, where the number of terrorist attacks is low, as well as a significant increase in the Shin Bet’s cyber capabilities.

However, R.’s task will be more complicated than his predecessor’s, and also slightly different. First, he will have to quickly form his own “hive”—appoint a new deputy and also some new division heads.

He will also have to make a decision on what is arguably a volatile issue: how to operate in the Arab sector.

The Shin Bet failed to provide warning prior to the riots that swept through Israel’s mixed cities in May during “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” and was required to conduct a review as a result. This is an issue that requires an immediate response, especially given the rising violence in the Arab sector.

R. will have to decide whether to continue with the line Argaman used, which left the Arab Israeli sector mostly for the Israel Police to handle, or whether to involve the Shin Bet.

The agency has plenty of reasons to get involved, from the fact that most of the illegal weapons in the sector were stolen from the IDF and could be used for terrorist activities, to the threat that the increasing violence in the sector poses to the state.

The new ISA director will also have to pay special attention to Judea and Samaria. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s term in office is waning, and the Shin Bet will have to provide ample intelligence on the question of “what happens next” for the P.A. once Abbas is gone. This includes gearing up for the possibility that Hamas—or more radical elements within Fatah—will make a play for control of the P.A.

This would require R. to bolster cooperation with Palestinian security forces, especially given the diplomatic disconnect between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

The Shin Bet will also have to prepare for a potential escalation in the Gaza Strip and provide the defense establishment with consistent, solid intelligence enabling Israel to prevent terrorist groups in the coastal enclave from growing stronger and, if need be, target them in a future operation.

He has extensive experience in operations in this sector, but now the overall responsibility will be placed on him, including for a possible decision on the elimination of Hamas leaders.

Last but in no way least, R. will need to further expand the Shin Bet’s cooperation with the IDF, the Mossad and the Israel Police.

Relations between these organizations are immeasurably better now than they were in the past, but there is still a long way to go before they fully realize each other’s relative capabilities and benefits, which will inevitably lead to greater operational efficiency, as well as savings on overhead.

In any case, R. passed his first test with flying colors: his appointment was welcomed by Shin Bet officials, including Argaman. There were no jolts to the system, no one was shocked, no doors were slammed. All that’s left is for the government to formally approve the nomination, after which R. will be able to emerge from the shadows and become a known public official.

Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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