Of all the qualities that are necessary for a good Israeli intelligence chief, there’s one essential one you’d never think of in a million years: don’t cross Sara Netanyahu. You won’t find that one listed on any job description or set of requirements for the position, but in some sense it may be more important than all the other qualifications a successful candidate must have.
For a number of months, I reported that the next Shin Bet director to replace Yuval Diskin would be Yitzhak Ilan. Yet somehow he lost out to Yoram Cohen. I scratched my head and asked, what happened. Israeli media was full of rumors that the top candidate lost out in the end to a dark horse through some sort of taint or blemish that sunk his candidacy. The truth is that, in fact, until two hours before the announcement, Ilan was still the favored choice.
Ben Caspit hinted (Hebrew) that the settler movement hated Ilan (his previous intelligence jobs had involved investigating their acts of violence and extremism). Now, it appears likely that Sara and Eshel pointed out to Bibi that he had two good candidates, but that one angered one of his core constituencies (the settlers). So why not appoint the other and so retain their support? From this we can also expect that Cohen will go lightly on settler acts of terror and violence. Indeed, the fact that no one has been charged, prosecuted or imprisoned for a host of price tag attacks going back months may be ascribed to Cohen knowing on which side his bread is buttered.
In a recent conversation, a knowledgeable Israeli insider told me that Ilan ran afoul of Mrs. Netanyahu, though I never found out why. The benefit of the Eshel sexual harassment scandal is that it’s blowing the lid off other stories.
One employee of the bureau [prime minister's office] who testified in the Civil Service Commission probe said that Eshel told R. he was following her every move on orders from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara. According to this worker’s testimony, Eshel also told R. that she only had her job because of him, and that he was the one who had convinced Sara Netanyahu to okay her employment in the bureau.
Another person who testified to the commission said Eshel had let it drop to R. that he had a role in the appointment of Shin Bet security service head Yoram Cohen, and could therefore get help from the Shin Bet to monitor her activities.
We already know of the extraordinarily close relationship between Sara and Eshel. In fact, he was her eyes and ears in the PMO. He did her bidding. It now becomes obvious that one of the ways in which he did this was to promote the fortunes of the successful finalist, Cohen (who is, like Eshel, an Orthodox Jew). What does it say about a nation’s intelligence services that to be a successful candidate you have to cultivate the favor of the prime minister’s wife as much as or more than touting your actual professional qualifications?
Returning to the Eshel-Kidron case, it’s known that Sara disapproved of the former. This gave Eshel yet another point of leverage against the victim. He could go to her and say that Sara hates you, I’m the only one who stands between you and a pink slip. This is the mark of a canny sexual predator seeking pressure points to exploit for his own advantage. It reminds me of a previously exposed high level convicted rapist, Moshe Katsav. The only difference was that Katsav had numerous victims. Eshel appears not to have succeeded in his blandishments toward Kidron.