The Israeli police have arrested an alleged key Jewish settler terrorist, Chaim Pearlman, charging him with involvement in multiple murders and woundings of Palestinians going back as far as 12 years. As part of Pearlman’s counter-campaign to impugn the Shin Bet, he released transcripts of 20 hours of conversations with an agent of the Shin Bet’s Jewish terror section. He and his supporters have also outed the chief of the unit in a post at the pro-settler site, HaYamin, claiming he is Avigdor (Avi) Arieli and lives in the settlement of Kfar Adumim.
Haaretz reported in May, 2010 that two women and their 11 children from the far-right Kahanist settlement of Yizhar, were detained when they demonstrated outside the agent’s home in the settlement. I simply find it unbelievable that people would place their own children in such a situation and exploit them in such a way.
HaYamin also posted the image below of another Shin Bet agent whose nickname was Dada, and who Pearlman claims attempted to entrap him as reported in this Haaretz article.
An Israeli source reports that an Avigdor Arieli works in the prime minister’s office (of which the Shin Bet is a part) and joined a delegation of security officials who attended a 2007 NATO meeting. While I don’t profess to be an expert on how the Shin Bet and Mossad parse their relationship, I find it odd that a senior Shin Bet agent would attend a NATO conference. That would seem to be the bailiwick of the Mossad. But perhaps things are looser in Israel than in the U.S. intelligence community, where I think it would be doubtful an FBI agent would attend such a conference unless it directly related to a U.S. domestic security issue.
Pearlman’s transcripts are riveting and reveal Dada to be a overbearing, almost transparent provocateur, which is confirmed by the fact that Pearlman transcribed so many of their conversations likely suspecting his interlocutor was an agent. Among the main thread that the Israeli media has focussed on is Dada’s solicitation to assassinate Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, one of the leading Israeli Palestinian Islamists:
In the recordings released Thursday, the alleged agent can be heard saying that only an “extreme move” could change public opinion, citing the assassination of Sheik Ra’ad Salah as one such extreme move.
“I could do it,” the agent can be heard saying, referring to the proposed killing of the Islamic Movement leader, saying that Salah’s security would prevent him from succeeding, adding that if he were Pearlman he would commit the assassination.
“It’s not about hitting him [Salah] and getting in trouble. It’s about coming over, hitting him, and see you later, like that guy in Bar Noar” the alleged Shin Bet agent can be heard saying, referring to the killing of a counselor and a teenager at a Tel Aviv gay center last year.
The agent continues to explain how he would carry out Salah’s assassination, saying Pearlman would have to “use another person for that”…
“You don’t really want to do it,” Pearlman can be heard as saying, with the alleged Shin Bet agent replying: “Says who? Says you? What are you relying on? Can you check me? Come check me, I’m ready.”
When Pearlman asked if the alleged Shin Bet agent understood the ramifications of such an act, and if he would be willing to take responsibility for it, the agent said: “sure, why not.”
“How long will the noise continue? Will it lead to war? Won’t there be war without it happening?” the agent can be heard asking, adding that “war has casualties.”
“Listen I don’t have a problem [inaudible] someone who takes a life once and gets that feeling…. I would never do it to a Jew. It would be hard,” the alleged Shin Bet agent said, adding, “but I wouldn’t have a problem with one of those.”
After again discussing the risks such an action would entail, Pearlman can be heard asking if the alleged agent even knew where Salah lived, with the agent answering: “somewhere in the North, in one of the villages in the North.
“Look, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. The car passes. You shoot a burst. Chances are the driver will get killed,” the agent added, saying that Pearlman would have to either “finish him with one burst, or a few split ones.”
The alleged agent continues his description of the potential assassination, saying that it would not be the kind of operation where one would “come in close.”
“You need to be as far away as you can in this kind of situation. Or put a bomb in the car. That’s the classic one. Nothing’s left, everything goes everywhere,” the agent added, saying Salah would then “go to all hell.”
Clearly, Pearlman is accusing the Shin Bet of entrapment. He goes so far as to claim that he was a Shin Bet agent, which the agency confirms, though it claims this was for a short period in 2002. Pearlman will of course attempt to claim that any acts for which he is charged were carried out with the connivance of the intelligence agency.
There will be those on the left who will take Shin Bet literally and believe it wanted Pearlman to assassinate Salah. Though I do not necessarily believe this, I’m nevertheless concerned by having an agent plant ideas in a violent terrorist’s mind upon which he might act. It would be in the nature of the Shin Bet to believe they could stop him before he acted. But what’s to stop a nutcase like Pearlman from escaping their surveillance and carrying out the murder? They’re essentially activating a Golem and expecting they can control him. But remember the fate of the actual Golem, who ran amok and had to be killed by his creator, Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague. It’s the height of hubris for the Shin Bet to plant the seeds of murder in Pearlman’s mind.
In fact, the Shin Bet did something very similar in 1994, supplying rifles to two Israeli brothers knowing they planned to use them to murder a Palestinian. They came very close to succeeding thanks to the weapons supplied to them. And the victim recently received a paltry settlement from the State for his trouble. In fact, I believe the Shin Bet cared as little about the fate of the victim in this case as it does about Sheikh Salah. What would it matter to them if Pearlman had taken up the gun and actually succeeded in killing him? It would only matter in the sense of a possible embarrassment about being implicated in the incident.
I also wonder how the Shin Bet would deal with a potential Palestinian terrorist and whether they would go so far as to suggest targets and offer arms to carry out attacks. I don’t know the answer, but I would imagine they would treat a Palestinian differently out of deference to their Jewish targets.
Returning to Pearlman, his attorney is Adi Keidar, who works for the far-right terror legal defense organization, Honenu. They also represent Yigal Amir and lobby intensively for the legal pardon of convicted settler murderers.
As part of its coverage of this story, Haaretz published an eye-opening story explaining why the Shin Bet fails so miserably in tracking, preventing, and prosecuting Jewish terror:
When compared to the terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians…the percentage of Jewish terrorist cases that have been solved is far from being impressive. The rate at which cases are solved is also different. More often than not years pass before any arrest is made.
…To a great extent it boils down to resources. The main role of the Shin Bet security service is to foil terrorism aimed against Israelis
Chief among the reasons I would note is a failure of will. The Shin Bet’s views are so close to those of the settlers that they may not even want to stop them. And even if they do, they show an amazing unwillingness to prosecute them fully. Finally, those who are convicted and sent to jail almost invariably receive presidential pardons: an expectation Palestinian terrorists somehow never realize.
It’s also interesting to note that Judge Leah Lev-On, hearing Pearlman’s case, was asked by the Shin Bet to place a gag order on the proceedings. Astonishingly, she agreed but limited it–allowing publication of Pearlman’s name. This threw the security agency into turmoil. In fact, once she allowed publication of the accused’s name the Shin Bet was forced to seek removal of the entire gag in order to reply to Pearlman’s accusations against it. Israeli judges almost never reject such applications. They certainly never do in the cases of Israeli Palestinians accused of security threats. They also did not in the case of Anat Kamm. Either there was something in this particular judge that made her unwilling to be an accomplice to the Shin Bet; or perhaps she felt a certain affinity for Jewish suspects which few Israeli judges would feel for Arab suspects. Whatever her reasoning, she shocked the secret police out of their pants. They almost never lose on these motions and they likely did not expect to have to defend themselves and explain their behavior in such a public setting and so quickly after the accused terrorist’s arrest.
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Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.