JERUSALEM (Jun. 25)
Avraham Shalom, head of Israel’s internal security services, Shabak, or Shin Bet, resigned Wednesday and was granted a pardon by President Chaim Herzog for any acts on his part or failure to act in connection with a bus hijack incident in the Gaza Strip in April, 1984.
The Presidential pardon immediately raised questions in legal circles and drew strong criticism from some political quarters inasmuch as Shalom was never tried or convicted of any offense.
Herzog went on television Wednesday night to explain that his decision was made in “the national interest” and “to protect Shin Bet from further damage.” He acknowledged that it was controversial but stressed he had to weigh all of the ramifications. He cited judicial and legal opinions to the effect that the President’s exercise of pardon was not merely an act of mercy but could in some circumstances be an exercise of supreme national interest.
Herzog noted pointedly that he made the decision after hearing from the Inner Cabinet which had convened with the Attorney General.
The pardon would seem to preclude any investigation of charges that Shalom engaged in an elaborate cover-up amounting to obstruction of justice with respect to the unexplained deaths of two captured Arab bus hijackers while in custody of security agents. Three of Shalom’s aides accused with him were also pardoned.
The announcement that Shalom resigned came from the Cabinet at noon local time after 12 hours of high-level meetings and consultations involving the Inner Cabinet, President Herzog, Attorney General Yosef Harish and top private attorneys.
Harish, who had promised to announce Tuesday night his decision on whether to proceed with an investigation of Shalom, told reporters that in light of the Presidential pardon there was no point in pursuing the investigation. He said he had not been aware of the approach to the President for a pardon until after it was made.
COMMISSION WILL SET RULES OF CONDUCT FOR SHIN BET
The official announcement said Shalom resigned because the affair resulted in his being identified publicly as the head of Shin Bet, which made it impossible to continue in his post. The identity of the Shin Bet chief has always been a State secret.
The Cabinet’s announcement of Shalom’s resignation also stated that there would be no further police or judicial inquiry into the allegations against him and his aides. It announced that the Prime Minister would create a special commission to recommend regulations and norms for the conduct of Shin Bet in the future.
Some legal circles predicted Wednesday that the Presidential pardon would be challenged in the Supreme Court, though it was not clear who would initiate the challenge or whether the court would recognize the challenger’s standing in the case.
One critic of the pardon, Energy Minister Moshe Shahal, a Laborite and a lawyer by profession, questioned its validity. He noted that the relevant law empowered the President to pardon only convicted criminals. Shahal told reporters that the Inner Cabinet’s decision did not follow “The King’s Highway” but sought a solution through twisted byways. Communications Minister Amnon Rubinstein, of the leftist Shinui Party, thought the pardon is legal but “set a thoroughly negative and undesirable precedent.”
Elazar Granot of Mapam, charged that the President and Attorney General were both “dragged by the politicians” into an elaborate package designed to avoid any inquiry into the policy-making level.
But if leftist politicians deplored the way the government resolved what had become known as the Shin Bet scandal, those on the political right hailed it as a wise move that enabled the nation to set aside an affair that preoccupied and embarrassed the authorities for months.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ronni Milo, a Likud MK, called the Cabinet’s decision “good and brave.” Milo is a close aide to Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir. The Likud leader had vehemently opposed any sort of investigation of the allegations against Shalom on national security grounds.
Peres, though also opposed, was prepared to accept a judicial inquiry conducted under strictest secrecy. But the Inner Cabinet (five Labor and five Likud ministers) agreed to the course unfolded Wednesday. Only Ezer Weizman, of the Labor-allied Yahad Party reportedly was opposed. According to unconfirmed reports, one other senior minister abstained. He is believed to be Education Minister Yitzhak Navon, a Laborite and Herzog’s immediate predecessor as President of Israel.
HARISH SAYS HE WOULD HAVE LAUNCHED PROBE
Peres reportedly was preparing to address the Labor Party’s Knesset faction to win their support for the Inner Cabinet’s decision. There have been demands from the Labor rank-and-file to know why Peres felt it necessary to stand with Shamir against a full scale inquiry into the case.
Both Peres and Shamir had objected strongly to former Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir’s order of a police probe of the allegations against Shalom last month. Many observers believe Zamir’s zeal to prosecute led to his replacement by Harish on June I, though Zamir had announced months ago that he intended to resign.
Harish told reporters Wednesday that, after studying the case, his decision had been to follow in the footsteps of Zamir to proceed with the police inquiry without delay. It was not clear Wednesday whether Harish’s advice had been sought by Herzog on the legal validity of the pardon.