Background Details on The Gatekeepers
(1980 - 1986)
Avraham Shalom began his military career before the State of Israel was
founded. He fought in the Palmach, the pre-state underground
paramilitary group that formed the basis of the IDF, and then
moved to the Shin Bet just as it was being founded. In 1959-1960, he
was part of the team of Mossad and Shin Bet operatives that
tracked and kidnapped an Argentine citizen, Ricardo Klement,
better known as Adolf Eichmann, and brought him to justice in Israel.
Following the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich
Olympics, Shalom was appointed head of the Shin Bet's Security Desk. In
1980, he became Head of the Shin Bet.
Shalom's turbulent tenure was rocked by terrorism from Palestinians
and, increasingly, from fundamentalist Jews who opposed all
concessions in the country's quest for peace. A "Jewish Underground"
composed of radical West Bank settlers opened fire on the Islamic
College of Hebron, killing three students, and planted bombs
in the cars of leading Palestinian officials, permanently
maiming the mayors of Ramallah and Nablus. When Shalom eventually
caught the "Underground," he uncovered a plot to blow up the Dome of
the Rock, an act which would have unleashed the fury of the
entire Arab world against the State of Israel.
By the early 1980s, Shalom was one of the most influential security
figures in Israel, though this eventually led to his downfall. In 1984
he ordered the summary execution of two terrorists captured
alive after hijacking the 300 bus from Tel Aviv to Ashkelon. A front
page newspaper photo of one of those terrorists being taken
off the bus in handcuffs led to an official investigation.
Shalom remained taciturn throughout, and refused to divulge the full
story of what happened, even after senior Shin Bet officials resigned
in protest. According to Shalom, the incident was handled
with the full consent of the highest levels of government. Prime
ministers Yizhak Shamir and Shimon Peres supported Shalom, but the
public outcry eventually forced his resignation in 1986.
Yaakov Peri (1988 - 1995)
Yaakov Peri would have fit right in to a John Le CarrĂ© novel as a foil
to the enigmatic Smiley. Suave, debonair, a true ladies' man, he could
have easily followed a career in music and, in fact, he played trumpet
for Jerusalem's Voice of Israel Orchestra.
Born in Tel Aviv in 1944, Peri entered the Hebrew University upon his
release from the IDF. He completed his studies at Tel Aviv University
with a joint degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Jewish History. He
was recruited by the Shin Bet in 1966, and was trained as a field
officer in the Arab sector. In 1987, following the 300 bus incident, he
was appointed deputy director of the Shin Bet, and the following year
Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir selected him as its head.
The crisis facing the Shin Bet at the time was how to cope with the
Intifada, an unprecedented mass uprising in the Occupied Territories.
Peri, who had spent years studying and working in the Arab sector, was
instrumental in setting up a vast network of informers and
collaborators in the early years of Israel's occupation. Yet despite
all this, the sudden eruption of the Intifada came as a complete
surprise to him and other senior members of the Shin Bet.
During his tenure, allegations were made about "exceptional practices"
at the Shin Bet's Gaza City interrogation facility. Though an official
investigation acquitted Peri, the agents who ran the facility claimed
that they had been hung out to dry in order to avoid another public
scandal so soon after the 300 bus incident.
Peri left the Shin Bet in 1994. During his six years in office he
instituted the conceptual changes necessary to deal with a new
political reality in the Middle East, in the wake of the Intifada and
Oslo Accords. As a confidante of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, he took
part in the delegation that negotiated security agreements with the
Palestinians. Despite his position as a spymaster, no one questioned
his integrity or fairness.
Carmi Gillon (1994 -
Carmi Gillon, who succeeded Peri as Head of the Shin Bet, comes from an
aristocratic Israeli family. His grandfather was the only Jewish
justice to serve on the Supreme Court of the British Mandate of
Palestine, his father was a State Attorney, and his mother was Deputy
Attorney General. Nevertheless, he was also one of the people least
prepared to head the Shin Bet, and his brief tenure was marked by its
greatest debacle -- its failure to protect Prime Minister Rabin from an
Carmi served in Israel's Armored and Artillery corps before sustaining
an injury in the War of Attrition. Upon completing his
service, he studied Political Science at The Hebrew University. It
was there that he was first recruited by the Shin Bet. He
spent the first part of his service working for its Security
Desk, charged with protecting Israeli installations overseas, including
embassies, El Al offices, and other facilities. In 1982 he
was appointed head of the Jewish Desk, and was involved with
the capture of the Jewish Underground and of Yonah Avrushmi, who threw
a grenade at a Peace Now demonstration in Jerusalem in 1983. At the
time it was the most serious attack by Jews against Jews in
modern Israel's history.
Gillon left this position in 1987 to study at the National Security
College. Upon graduating, he assumed several senior positions
in the Shin Bet, while simultaneously studying for an MA in
Political Science and Public Administration. He later served
as head of the Shin Bet's Northern Command, overseeing
operations in Lebanon.
In March 1994, Gillon was handpicked by Yaakov Peri to succeed him.
During his brief tenure, he shifted the organization's focus
to Jewish terrorism, especially from the right. This new
direction posed a serious challenge to Gillon. It required
him to conduct surveillance on Israelis who had never
committed a crime, but whom he suspected of preparing to launch the
most severe attacks against the state and its leaders.
Exacerbating the problem was the fact that these people,
mostly idealistic settlers with extensive military training, had the
support of many prominent politicians.
Despite numerous successes in the war against Jewish terrorism, this
was also where Gillon confronted his greatest failure. He had
long warned that extremists would attempt to kill Prime 8
Minister Rabin in order to hinder the peace process, but Israel had
never faced political assassinations before, and most people
were skeptical of his assessments. They were wrong. On 4
November 1995, an assassin managed to slip through the "sterile area"
surrounding the prime minister and shoot him from close
range. Gillon immediately took responsibility for the fiasco
and handed in his resignation, but this was rejected by
acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Ironically, this enormous failure was followed by one of Gillon's
greatest successes. In January 2006, the Shin Bet
assassinated "The Engineer," Yahya Ayyash, a Palestinian terrorist who
had masterminded some of the bloodiest attacks on Israeli civilians in
The following day Gillon resigned, still overwhelmed by the aftershocks
of the Rabin assassination.
Ami Ayalon (1996 - 2000)
Ami Ayalon was an outsider, brought to rehabilitate the Shin Bet in the
aftermath of its most dismal failure -- its inability to
protect Prime Minister Rabin from an assassin's bullet. As a
young boy, Ayalon was raised on a kibbutz, where he excelled
in soccer, even though he was thought to be "too short."
Friends sometimes say that because he was so short he felt a need to
overcompensate by being in top physical shape.
Unlike his predecessors, Ayalon came to the Shin Bet directly from the
military, where he was a decorated officer. As a young commando in
1969, he received the IDF's highest honor, the Medal of
Valor, for his role in the fabled Green Island Raid against an Egyptian
military instillation. Though he was severely wounded in the
assault, he returned to his Naval Commando unit and eventually became
its commander. During the late 1970s and early 1980s he personally led
teams of divers in numerous raids against Palestinian installations
along the Lebanese coast. In 1992 Ayalon was made head of the Navy,
with the rank of Major General.
The Shin Bet's reputation was in shambles following the Rabin
assassination, so Prime Minister Peres decided to bring in an outsider
to help restore public confidence. Ayalon was his top choice for the
position. Not only was he a beloved war hero; he was also a resilient
and stubborn commander, with a reputation for being a straight-shooter.
Forthright and even sharp-tongued, he would "tell it like it is,"
regardless of whether he was addressing his subordinates or his
superiors. Most of all he was a hard-edged veteran of Israel's elite
Ayalon's main goal as Head of Shin Bet was to increase security around
the country's leadership. Until Rabin's assassination, Israel had been
a very open society with relatively free access to politicians among
all sectors of the population. An assassin's bullet changed all that.
The country's leaders suddenly became targets and required layer upon
layer of protection. Ayalon was charged with implementing this.
During Ayalon's five-year tenure, he waged a relentless war against
terror under three very different prime ministers: Shimon Peres,
Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ehud Barak. Yet though he is considered to be
the most left-wing head of the Shin Bet, it was actually Labor Prime
Minister Ehud Barak for whom he reserved his sharpest criticism. When
the Camp David talks collapsed in 2000, conventional wisdom assumed
that Barak had offered Arafat everything, and that it was only the
Palestinian leader's intransigence that prevented them from reaching a
peace treaty. Ayalon shattered this myth, claiming that Barak had
arrived unprepared and hectored Arafat, instead of negotiating with
him. Ayalon also claims that the Intifada was not planned by Arafat. He
believes it was a popular eruption of longstanding frustration among
Avi Dichter (2000 - 2005)
Avi Dichter is a chameleon, who is just as comfortable in
Palestinian society as he is in Israeli society. Upon completing his
military service in Sayeret Matkal, Israel's legendary commando unit,
Dichter joined the Shin Bet and was stationed in its Southern Command,
responsible for the volatile Gaza Strip. By 1992 he was head of the
Southern Command, overseeing some of the Shin Bet's most brazen
operations, including the assassination of "The Engineer" in 1995. He
served for a short time as head of the Shin Bet's Security Desk,
following the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin. In May 2000 his former
commander in Sayeret Matkal, now Prime Minister Ehud Barak, promoted
Dichter to the position of Head of the Shin Bet, succeeding Ami Ayalon.
Shortly afterward the country erupted in the bloody al-Aqsa
Dichter's military training served him well. Convinced of the justice
of his cause, he could be cold and ruthless, but as someone who was
comfortable mingling with the Arab population he also appreciated the
value of HUMINT (human sources of intelligence). He was successful
under Barak and flourished under Ariel Sharon, when the latter became
prime minister. Both he and Sharon were pragmatists, and Dichter was
never forced to justify his preferred strategies, no matter how
diplomatic-or how forceful -- they might be. This leeway was
invaluable, given the extreme violence of the Second Intifada. Although
Israel suffered many casualties, it was spared many more because of
Dichter and the vast array of techniques he employed to combat
terrorists and stem terrorism.
Perhaps the most controversial of these was his policy of targeted
assassinations. Modeled largely after the successful attack on Yahya
Ayyash, these increased in number under Dichter, with the full support
of the Sharon government. At the same time Dichter expanded the role of
intelligence gathering to preempt attacks and was one of the initiators
of the Separation Wall, believing that it would hinder terrorists from
reaching their targets in Israel.
Yuval Diskin (2005 -
Yuval Diskin still has vivid memories of the 1967 Six Day
War, even though he was just a young boy at the time. As a
young man he served in the IDF's Shaked Reconnaissance Unit, rising to
the rank of Deputy Company Commander.
He joined the Shin Bet in May 1978 and was appointed Coordinator for
the Nablus District. There, in the alleys of the refugee camps, he
learned about the harsh realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
During Operation Peace for Galilee he served in Beirut (1982) and Sidon
(1983). In August 1990, he was appointed Director of the Department for
Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Espionage at the Arab and Iranian Affairs
Diskin's attitudes to the conflict changed even before the signing of
the Oslo Accords, as a result of his participation in security talks
with the Palestinians. From 1993 to 1997, he was deeply involved in
establishing clandestine links with the leaders of the Palestinian
security services, as well as with Jordanian and Egyptian
In May 1997, he was appointed Director of the Central Command of the
Shin Bet (Jerusalem and West Bank Region), a position he held until
June 2000. During these turbulent years, the military wing of Hamas
carried out a string of suicide attacks intended to foil the peace
process. Diskin headed the operation that destroyed Hamas military
infrastructures throughout Judea and Samaria. In July 2000, he was
appointed Deputy Director of the Shin Bet. He became Head of the Shin
Bet in May 2005.
While serving as Deputy Director of the Shin Bet, he worked with his
counterparts in the IDF to create an integrated counter-terrorism
doctrine to thwart terrorist attacks, particularly the suicide bombers
known as "ticking time bombs." He is believed to be the person who
initiated and perfected the doctrine of "targeted
Upon retiring from the Shin Bet in May 2011, he has drawn attention
from the Israeli and international media for his sharp critique of the
current government's policies toward the Palestinians.
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