JERUSALEM (Feb. 24)
The head of Israel’s foreign intelligence service resigned this week after a government inquiry held him responsible for the failed assassination attempt last September on a Hamas leader in Jordan.
Danny Yatom agreed, at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request, to stay on until a new director of the Mossad was appointed.
Though Netanyahu had approved the plan to assassinate Khaled Mashaal, the government-appointed commission probing the affair last week cleared him of any blame.
The commission, headed by a former Defense Ministry director general, Yosef Chekhanover, reserved its criticism for Yatom, saying he bore “a heavy responsibility” for the flawed mission.
The failed Mossad operation seriously strained relations between Israel and Jordan, which reportedly refused to reinstate security cooperation with the agency unless Yatom left.
Pressure for him to step down reportedly also came from within the agency.
In his letter of resignation, Yatom said he categorically disagreed with the conclusions of the Chekhanover Commission, but “as someone who bears overall responsibility for Mossad activities, I have no intention of ignoring the report and therefore I decided to submit my resignation.”
Yatom had been appointed Mossad chief in May 1996 by former Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Yatom had served as military adviser to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Prior to that, he had served in a number of senior positions within the Israel Defense Force, including a stint as the head of army intelligence.
Jordan’s foreign minister, Jawad Anani, told Israel Radio’s Arabic service that while Yatom’s resignation was purely an internal Israeli matter, Jordan viewed it as a “step in the right direction.”
Observers said Yatom’s departure would bring a serious reorganization within the agency, which has sustained serious blows to its prestige and functioning in light of the Mashaal affair.
Possible successors being named include officials with strong intelligence backgrounds.
These included former Mossad head Shabtai Shavit; a former deputy head, Ephraim Halevy, who is currently Israel’s representative to the European Union; and Uri Saguy, a former head of the IDF intelligence branch.
Israeli media noted that Halevy, who helped lay the groundwork for the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, had good relations with Jordan and could help rebuild those ties.
The Prime Minister’s Office would not comment on any of the suggested names.