Several months ago, I posted here news from an Israeli source of the designation of Yitzhak Ilan, 54, to be the next Shabak chief. Israel’s media cannot report his name as it is under gag (the rules state that no one under the rank of agency director can be named publicly, even if they’re long dead). But his identity is known to most of Israel’s reporters. Amir Oren profiled Ilan in today’s Haaretz, showering him with praise from current and former directors. The headline of the story, Who Laughs Last in Shabak, alludes to Ilan’s first name, Yitzhak, deriving from the Hebrew root meaning “to laugh.” The profile appears to be part of a carefully wrought coming-out party to the Israeli public for the director-to-be. Part of burnishing his reputation in the mind of the body politic.
Ilan, currently living in Ashdod, is an immigrant from the Republic of Georgia, who came to Israel in 1973. Oren somewhat ominously notes that Ilan will be the most powerful Georgian ever to have run an intelligence agency since Lavrenti Beria headed the NKVD in Stalin’s (another Georgian native) time.
Ilan joined the Shabak in 1982, recruited for his obvious skills in targeting Soviet spies. After some time, he apparently surprised his bosses by informing them he wished to change his assignment to the Arab sector, considered more “central” to the function of the spy agency. His superiors were reluctant to “waste” his native talents with such a move, but Ilan insisted. He learned Arabic, which became his fifth language after Hebrew, Georgian, Russian and English. He was assigned to investigations, but his then-boss, Avi Dichter, moved him to field work.
Among the accolades showered on Ilan by his former bosses are: sophisticated, creative and master of trickery. Dichter raves:
His character, astonishing. Talented as the devil. Learned in the sciences. A wonderful family.
Among the projects in which he ‘distinguished’ himself in his field work in the southern command were the assassinations of Yihyeh “the Engineer” Ayash in 1996, and the 2002 killing of Raad Carmi. A massive series of retaliatory terror attacks followed Carmi’s murder, but Ilan refuses to see them as that. Instead, he sees the terror attacks as the work of Carmi himself, being planned by him before his death and executed by his lieutenants. I must note here that Israel’s intelligence operatives never concede that their violence makes matters worse and Ilan is no different in his blindness.
More recently, Ilan was the head of the Jewish sector of Shabak and as such responsible for sweeping Jack Teitel‘s crimes under the rug in the usual way Jewish terrorists are treated: he received a designation from a psychiatrist that he is unfit to stand trial. Shabak, ever a creature of routine, follows similar scenarios in investigating and prosecuting both Jews and Arabs. The former are usually found too crazy to face justice, while the latter are always tortured during interrogation which invariably induces a “confession,” which a judge always allows to be admitted into evidence.
Ilan, however, wasn’t so lucky in his interrogation of Chaim Pearlman, also suspected of murdering Palestinians in cold blood. Pearlman walked and has never faced trial. I wonder why Oren’s profile didn’t note any of Ilan’s failures?
Upon his promotion, which awaits the approval of Bibi Netanyahu, Ilan will become the first Georgian to head the agency. He will also have risen to his position in an unorthodox way given that most Shabak chiefs come from the ranks of the IDF’s élite units.
The tragedy of latter-day Israel is that its Yitzhak Ilans are looked up to as heroes. Where skills of torture and murder are what qualifies a man to be the head of the nation’s domestic intelligence service. When peace eventually comes, it is the Ilans of Israel (and their Palestinian counterparts as well) who will be summoned by either a Reconciliation Commission or court to account for their crimes.