New Man in Charge of Israel’s Domestic Security — Who’s the New Shin Bet Chief?

[This item is based on an article originally written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and the best seller Every Spy a Prince, for The Jerusalem Post.]

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Nadav Argaman on Thursday as the next head of the Shin Bet (the Israel Security Agency).

“Nadav Argaman has a rich track record of commanding and operative experience in the Shin Bet,” Netanyahu said. “I am certain that under his leadership the Shin Bet will continue to strengthen its operational and technological domains and continue to ensure Israel’s security.”

Nadav Argaman (courtesy Israel Security Agency)

Nadav Argaman (courtesy Israel Security Agency)

Argaman, 55, will become the 13th head of the internal security service, succeeding the outgoing Yoram Cohen (not to be confused with Yossi Cohen, who took the job of Mossad director just last month).

Argaman served in Shin Bet for 33 years and is a product of the agency’s operations department, which increasingly — in recent years — depends on signals intelligence (SIGINT): the use of intercepted communications for operations.

A native of a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley, he joined the agency in 1983, after serving as an officer in the IDF General Staff Reconnaissance Unit.

At Shin Bet, he rose through the ranks of the operations unit until he became chief of operations in 2003, a position he held for four years.  In 2007, he became the organization’s representative in the United States — so he surely knows a lot about America and how to cooperate with the FBI.

Afterward, he was appointed deputy head of the Shin Bet, and three years later, in September 2014, he was loaned to the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. (He is likely to have been involved in counterintelligence programs aimed at preventing foreign spies from closely examining Israel’s nuclear potential.)

Outgoing chief Cohen welcomed the prime minister’s decision, saying, “I’m convinced that Nadav’s wealth and range of experience gathered during his years of service in the security services, combined with his personal and professional abilities, will enable him to lead the organization successfully in the face of present and future challenges.”

President Reuven Rivlin congratulated Argaman on his appointment Thursday evening and said he is “standing behind him, right from this very moment.”

“You’re the right man in the right place,” Rivlin continued. “I am confident that your years of experience and your professional capabilities will allow Israeli citizens to continue to live life as normal as possible in these difficult times.”

Argaman has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Haifa, a master’s degree in political science and another master’s degree in security and strategy from the same university, from which he graduated summa cum laude.

His appointment indicates the sea change the agency has been undergoing in the recent years.  Since the 1967 Six Day War, the Shin Bet has occupied itself primarily with the struggle against Palestinian terrorism.  Accordingly, the three chiefs over the past 16 years have emerged from the field of operations aimed at combating that threat to Israeli security.

While Shin Bet has learned to utilize more electronically intercepted communications, the agency has still remained focused on human intelligence – running agents on the ground.

Argaman has to fine tune the Shin Bet for the current wave of Palestinian terrorism – which is characterized by young “lone wolf” kind of perpetrators, with no organizational affiliation or signature. This makes the mission to collect information about their plans almost impossible.

During his term in the next five years, the Palestinian Authority may disintegrate or at least stop its cooperation in the security field with Shin Bet and the IDF.  Such a decision may lead the West Bank to complete chaos and anarchy and force the Shin Bet to become an even more repressive security service.

No less challenging is the danger that more Israeli Arabs will join Islamic State. In all these challenges, Argaman’s Shin Bet will have to walk the tightrope of balancing between Israel’s security needs and its democratic values.

Shin Bet also devotes time, energy, and planted agents to detect and undermine Jewish terrorism — including actual cells plotting attacks against Palestinians in order to intimidate them, or in the name of “revenge.”

February 14, 2016

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