The latest developments in the operatic struggle between the two Israeli military-intelligence giants, the IDF and Shin Bet, has taken further twists and turns in the past 24 hours. Bibiton (aka Yisrael HaYom), which has the ear of the prime minister and perhaps even his writing hand, writes (Hebrew) today that Shin Bet chief, Yoram Cohen, should resign immediately. He has, in its view, embarrassed not just himself and his agency but the nation, with his unseemly assault on the Israeli army. The reporter says Cohen has “lost the trust of his bosses” in the Knesset, cabinet, and even in the prime minister’s office.
Though at the same time, he suggests that Cohen should learn the motto of his agency and protect while being unseen. So whether Cohen’s job is really in jeopardy is an open question.
But what is unprecedented is open warfare with blood running down the streets from this mortal combat between the two Israeli security monoliths. Conflict has always existed among these entities, sometimes even bursting forth into public view. But never in such a bold, brash fashion, using Israel’s most popular TV news magazine program to advance the agenda of the attacking party.
There once was a time in Israel when these battles were fought in cabinet rooms or in IDF headquarters. The struggle was always to advance the nation’s security and interests despite the war of wills among individuals. But in the age we now live in, generals and spy chiefs mobilize the media to sell themselves and their agenda. It’s become an age of personality and selling, rather than values. Yet another indication of the decline of the Israeli state.
Cohen has shot himself not just in the foot, but in a much more sensitive spot given this humble-pie eating statement Netanyahu forced him to release, which contained this lie:
It’s appropriate to stress that at no point did Shin Bet members claim, including those interviewed for [the Channel 2 Uvda] program, that Shin Bet passed on a warning of a war with Hamas in July.
In a letter to Shabak veterans, Cohen returned to the warpath with this unyielding statement:
We stand behind everything said on the [TV] program by our people. These things [they said] are absolutely accurate and reflect reality and the full chain of events. All the information offered by our people on the show was truthful and supported by hard evidence. We stand behind its [the program’s] integrity and our own authenticity and true professionalism.
In the blatant contradiction between these two passages, it’s hard to see how Cohen will be able to climb down from the tenuous position in which he’s placed himself and the Shabak.
Israel’s most popular media commentator, Nahum Barnea, has entered the field as well against the Shabak. He takes on one specific portion of the Uvdah program which featured a Shin Bet agent with the code name “Shiran.” To bolster the claim that the agency warned the IDF of Hamas’ intent to use tunnels to burrow into Israel, she tells the interviewer of an attack during Operation Protective Edge. In it, militants used a tunnel to penetrate Israeli territory. But Shiran claims the tunnel led directly to a border moshav called N’tiv Ha’Asarah and the attack was intended to kill civilian residents.
That’s news, Barnea says, to the moshav, which says there never was such a tunnel in their midst. In fact, the tunnel in question did enter Israeli territory, but never threatened any civilian target. Rather (though Barnea doesn’t say this explicitly), it was intended to attack a military target. This further bolsters the important note that during Protective Edge, while Israel was killing 1,800 Gaza civilians, Hamas made a point of refusing to use its tunnels to attack Israeli civilians. When its fighters had opportunities to attack civilians, they jeopardized themselves by waiting for a military target to attack.
I am by no means arguing that Hamas was an angel in this conflict. After all, it did fire missiles into Israel which killed five civilians. But compared to Israel’s behavior, Hamas’ was relatively benign. It largely defended its own territory. And contrary to the Shabak claims in Uvdah, it rarely tried to “take the fight to the enemy” and never attempted to conquer Israeli territory.