In a shakeup of Israel’s security establishment in the wake of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the head of the Shin Bet resigned this week.
Prime Minister Shimon Peres accepted the resignation of the head of Israel’s domestic security service on Monday after asking him a day earlier to reconsider his request to step down.
The move came against a backdrop of severe criticism directed at the Shin Bet for allowing a series of security lapses that contributed to the Nov. 4 assassination of Rabin after a peace rally in Tel Aviv.
The decision of the Shin Bet head – who for security reasons is identified only as “Kaf,” the first Hebrew letter of his name – was dramatic, but not unexpected.
Along with five other Shin Bet officials, he had recently received a warning letter from the state commission of inquiry investigating the assassination that any testimony he gave before the panel could be used against him.
Immediately after Rabin’s assassination, the Shin Bet head asked to resign. But at the time, Peres refused the request.
In the letter he submitted after the assassination, Kaf reportedly said he believed that the security service bore most of the weight for the failures that led to Rabin’s murder, adding that his resignation was therefore called for.
But Peres refused the request, saying that the security service still had a great many challenges before it, not the least of which was the ongoing battle against Islamic terror.
Peres also stressed the security service’s role in insuring that the political process move forward in the wake of the assassination.
The Shin Bet head raised the issue two more times before presenting another request Sunday to Peres to be released from his duties, according to Israel Radio.
Peres rejected the latest request, asking him to reconsider.
But on Monday, the Shin Bet head said his decision was final, and the prime minister accepted it.
Israel Radio quoted excerpts from the Shin Bet head’s letter of resignation, in which he said he felt that he was leaving the service at a time when the agency was “ready to take on all tasks it is assigned.”
In accepting the resignation, Peres praised the work the security service head had done since taking on the post last March.
“It is with much regret and a heavy heart that I received your letter” of resignation, the prime minister wrote.
Although Kaf’s decision to resign was directly connected to Rabin’s assassination, some commentators noted how it came at a time of recent successes in Israel’s battle against Islamic terror.
Israel has refused to comment on whether it was responsible for the death last Friday of Hamas terrorist Yehiya Ayash in the Gaza Strip – but the general assessment has been that Israeli security operatives had been involved.
It was also reported this week that the security service had arrested the Islamic Jihad terrorist who planned the January 1995 suicide bombing at the Beit Lid intersection near Netanya in which 21 people, most of them soldiers, were killed while waiting for buses.
Knesset members from across the political spectrum expressed regret over the resignation. But they said it was the right thing to do in light of the circumstances surrounding Rabin’s assassination.
“I must say in his praise, that with great courage, he took responsibility for all that happened,” Absorption Minister Yair Tsaban told Israel Radio.
Internal Security Minister Moshe Shahal said the security service was losing a talented and sensitive leader.
He called for the immediate appointment of a replacement and added the hope that the current head would remain in his post until one is found.
Israel Television reported that Peres would begin seeking a replacement immediately.
In the wake of Rabin’s assassination, and the security lapses that make it possible, a debate has already been raging over whether the next Shin Bet head should come from the within the ranks of the service.
One of the names recently floated was Ami Ayalon, who retired as commander of the navy last week.
Ayalon had previously turned down an offer to become the security service head.
Israel Television reported that there was the possibility of bringing back Kaf’s predecessor, Ya’acov Perry, who served in the post for seven years.
Kaf, 45, was born in Jerusalem to an established legal family. He is a fifth generation Israeli and a father of three.
He joined the security service in 1970.
He wrote a paper on the threat of Jewish extremism, and during his career uncovered the right-wing Jewish underground.
Ironically, the self-confessed assassin of Rabin, Yigal Amir, was a Jewish extremist of the sort that Kaf wrote about during his career with the Shin Bet.