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Major Security Shake-Up Now Underway - Shabak Chief Dichter Retires; IDF Chief Of Staff Yaalon Steps Down Next week.

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Yuval Diskin has taken over from Avi Dichter as Chief of the Shabak Security Service. At a ceremony in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Ariel Sharon formally appointed Diskin who served as a Deputy to Dichter in the Security Service.The change in command is only the first of two major changes in Israel's command structure that has succeeded in containing Palestinian suicide bombers.

Dichter - Diskin

The one-two Israeli punch that has contained or defeated the Palestinian Intifada #2 is now being replaced. Today, Shabak Security Chief Avi Dichter retired after five years at the helm of the Shabak. Most of that time, Dichter had to cope with the wave of Palestinian suicide bombers launched by Yasser Arafat after the start of the current violence that started in September 2000. Not much is known about Yuval Diskin, his successor aged forty-nine. Diskin is naturally considered to be a top-notch professional with a lot of experience in the field. In keeping with secret service secrecy, the Israeli public had never heard of Diskin before his appointment. What is clear is that he will be 'stepping into very big shoes'.

Dichter's Legacy: Avi Dichter played a major role in the successful counter-terror campaign that stifled the unprecedented suicide bomber tactics of the Palestinians. In 2002, after Israeli children and civilians were being blown to smithereens in buses or sitting down to the Passover Seder, Dichter admitted publicly that the Israeli defense establishment: 'had not provided Israeli citizens with the security they deserved'.No political figures took such responsibility and Dichter's 'mea culpa' was all the more telling because Dichter had pressed for the building of the West Bank security fence that his boss, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had opposed. It was only after suicide bombers had kept walking in over the former Green Line from the West Bank, that the Prime Minister gave the green light. The security fence although still not completed has saved hundreds of Israeli lives despite the fact that over 1,000 Israelis have been murdered in the current wave of Palestinian violence with some 6,000 wounded and maimed for life.

It is fair to say that the relentless counter-terror campaign forced the Palestinians into accepting the current lull in terror attacks. Dichter instituted the policy of lopping off the head of the terrorist infrastructure by taking out the leaders who 'inspired' the strategy of terror; it developed into the 'targeted killing' not only of the suicide bombers. Top of the list were Hamas leaders Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Abdul Aziz Rantisi. The second echelon was also taken out; they are the comptrollers who recruit suicide bombers and dispatch them to blow up Israeli civilians. Diskin is said to have played a key role in this policy that kept the terrorists on the run. In looking out for their own skins, the terrorists had far less time and energy to plan new attacks.The strategy was built on the precise intelligence data from the Shabak that was meshed into the IDF's operational capability. The targeted killing policy meant just that; Israel's counter-terror campaign was directed at the terrorists and not as reprisals against innocent Palestinians. Sending up a helicopter gunship to fire a 'smart missile' to pinpoint a car carrying terrorists saved the lives of many Palestinians who would have been killed if the IDF had launched massive ground actions or air strikes. Nonetheless; before 9/11 it was often criticized abroad. Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell once chided Israel saying the Israelis should bring the terrorists to trial in a court of law. That is not to say that innocent Palestinians were not killed, how could it have been otherwise in this new brand of guerrilla warfare launched by Yasser Arafat? But the Shabak's Dichter and the IDF's Yaalon succeeded in fine-tuning a security system that allowed Israelis to return to more or less normal lives.

Diskin's Challenge:

  • Palestinian terrorism: Avi Dichter is leaving behind a security service system that contained the Palestinian terrorism; Diskin may soon need it more than ever. Despite the current lull, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the other terror groups are working overtime to regroup and rearm. Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas and his security apparatus are not lifting a finger to stop them. So sooner or later, possibly after Israel completes the disengagement this fall, the terrorists may launch Intifada #3 whether Abbas likes it or not.
  • Jewish terror: The Shabak like the Secret Service in the U.S. is responsible for the safety of the Prime minister and other state leaders. Far right extremists opposed to the withdrawal have said openly they would like to see Sharon dead; some say they pray for it. In the past, Avi Dichter said he was aware of 'several dozen' terrorists who could pose a threat but the evidence against them would not stand up in an Israeli court. The Shabak department that deals with Jewish terrorism may soon be recommending that Jewish suspects be placed under administrative arrest. This is a measure applied to Arab suspects in cases where disclosing the evidence in an open court of law might risk the lives of undercover agents.
  • Jewish Provocation: Another concern for the new Shabak chief is protecting Muslim holy sites from attacks by Jewish provocateurs. The idea would be to halt the withdrawal. A bomb, rocket or any other type of Jewish attack on the mosques on Jerusalem's Temple Mount would no doubt spark a worldwide flare-up of anti Israeli violence throughout the Muslim world. It is hard to foresee the outcome, but it would put paid to Sharon's disengagement. Only 10% of Shabak resources are allocated to coping with Jewish terrorism; Dichter says it's tough to penetrate Jewish terror groups and manpower is another problem.

Footnote: Avi Dichter, like IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon was ready, willing and eager to continue for another year at his post. However, Sharon said No! And like Yaalon, Dichter has also been heaped with laurels for doing a superb job in a super sensitive security post at a time that Israel is still at war and in the explosive atmosphere before the withdrawal and possibly before Intifada #3.It calls into question: 'If it ain't broken don't fix it!' But who knows all the behind the scenes considerations. Then again, fortunate is the nation that can retire such successful commanders and replace them with men considered every bit as good.

David Essing

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