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Shabak emblem "The unseen shield"

The ( , an acronym for Sherut ha-Bitachon ha-Klali ( ), literally General Security Service), officially known in English as Israel Security Agency (ISA), and commonly known as the Shin Bet, is Israelmarker's internal security service. Its motto is "Magen VeLo Yera'e" ( , lit. "Defender that shall not be seen", or, better, "The unseen shield"). 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).

Duties and roles

Shabak's duties are:

Legal status and methods

Shabak relies mainly on HUMINT to gather information and intelligence. It uses informants from the local population in order to gather intelligence about planned attacks or about the location of terrorist leaders. Shabak has overwhelming success with informants, managing to target the top leaders of the Palestinian militant organizations—including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. The killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abed al-Aziz Rantissi indicates how deeply Shabak has penetrated into the Palestinian militias. As a result, the Palestinian groups, mainly the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, have killed many countrymen suspected of being 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 Justice Moshe Landau) 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 Courtmarker 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 accuse Shabak of employing physical methods that amount to torture under international conventions.

In 2002, the Knessetmarker 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 five years in duty, unless there is a state of emergency.



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. It was only later that its responsibilities were extended to counter-espionage and the monitoring of suspicious Israeli Arabs.

Early days

In the beginning, as part of efforts to prevent anti-state activity, the Shin Bet monitored pro-Sovietmarker opposition parties suspected of supporting the Soviet Union over Israel if the Cold War were to become an active full-scale war. The political leadership, headed by David Ben-Gurion, silenced publications that dealt with these activities. Only Uri Avneri successfully published about these activities in the Haolam Hazeh newspaper. A great controversy was created when two Shin Bet agents were caught installing a bugging device in Meir Yaari's office (Yaari was the leader of Mapam — a Socialist Zionist party with favorable views of the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin).

One of the Shabak's most important successes, though often incorrectly attributed to Mossad, was to obtain 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 Warsawmarker 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 Statesmarker, which 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 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 (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 Germanmarker from the Sudetenland and a professor in the Technionmarker, was revealed as a Czechoslovakianmarker spy.

Post-Six-Day War

Medal given to Shabak workers on the 40th anniversary of the state of Israel, 1988.

After the Six-Day War, Shabak efforts to monitor terrorist activity in the West Bankmarker and Gaza Stripmarker become a 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 would turn Israel into a "Shabak state". However, Shabak imposed restrictions on itself in order not to harm democratic values or separation of authorities and to prevent the risk that Shabak will be used in a totalitarian manner.

Years of crisis

During 1984–1986, Shabak experienced 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 the affair, Shabak head Avraham Shalom was forced to resign.

The event resulted in the Landau committee, which regulated Shabak interrogation methods.

In 1995, the Shin Bet failed in its mission of protecting the Prime Minister with the assassinationmarker of Yitzhak Rabin by a right-wing Israeli radical Yigal Amir. Following the assassination, the Shabak' head, Carmi Gillon, resigned preemptively. Later, the Shamgar investigation committee pointed serious flaws in the personal security unit. Another source of embarrassment and criticism by the committee 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. Later, Raviv was acquitted from accusations of encouraging Yigal Amir to kill Yitzhak Rabin.

A few months after the Rabin Assassination, when Shimon Peres was Prime Minister, a unit of the Shabak assassinated Hamas chief bombmaker Yahya Ayyash by planting an explosive device in his cellular phone.

Gillon was replaced by outside "import", Israeli Navy admiral Ami Ayalon. It is claimed that Ayalon has raised morale at the Shabak, following its failure with Rabin's murder, and to have worked hard to restore its reputation with the general public .

Second Intifada

In 2000, Ayalon ended his five-year term, and was replaced by veteran Shabak official, Avi Dichter. Dichter, an ex-Sayeret Matkal commando and an experienced Shabak agent, tightened the working relationship with the Israel Defense Forces and 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 Palestinian terrorists 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 Israel Defense 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 many consider to be 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 to give 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 site 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.

2003 to 2006

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.

Avi Dichter is one of the chief supporters of building a defense barrier opposite to the Palestinians in the West Bankmarker. 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 coordinator, 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 Israelimarker prime minister Ariel Sharon.

In September 2006, the Shin Bet launched its first-ever public recruitment drive with the creation of a Web site. The employment campaign, coming on the heels of a newly approved defense budget, is targeting computer programmers.

Rising profile

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 (during the mid-1990s), 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 Chairman of the Local Council of Mevaseret Zionmarker, a Jerusalem suburb, 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 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.

In 2007, the service launched its first ever public recruitment drive, unveiling a "slick Web site" 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. 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 hi-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".

Controversial detentions

Salah Haj Yihyeh, an Israeli who runs mobile clinics for Physicians for Human Rights, was detained for questioning by the Shin Bet. 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.

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

Lists and tables

Important events in Shabak history

Heads of the Shabak

See also


  1. "Shabak" is the official term now used by the Israeli government. However, both in English-language Western and Israeli press and publications, it is usually referred to by its original Hebrew name, the "Shin Bet."
  2. A/55/373 of 11 September 2000
  3. See the chapter on Raviv in the Shamgar report in Hebrew
  4. Ayalon Can, Barak Cannot, in Hebrew
  5. Israel's hard men fight for peace | World news | The Observer
  6. Your Financial News Source
  7. Barrier 'has prevented 20 Palestinian attacks' - Telegraph
  8. BBC: Israel's Shin Bet launches blog
  9. Jerusalem Post:Shin Bet security agency launches blog
  10. Haaretz: Physicians for Human Rights official detained by Shin Bet
  11. Democracy Now: Award-Winning Palestinian Journalist Mohammed Omer Details Abuse by Israeli Security Officials
  12. PMO (via IMRA): Response to Allegations Regarding Mohammed Omer Al-Mughaier

External links

Official sites


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