MOSSAD: AN AGENCY WITH A LICENSE TO KILL; Bungled Amman Assassination Plot Exposes Rift within Israeli Government over Peace Negotiations

By Ostrovsky, Victor | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 1997 | Go to article overview

MOSSAD: AN AGENCY WITH A LICENSE TO KILL; Bungled Amman Assassination Plot Exposes Rift within Israeli Government over Peace Negotiations


Ostrovsky, Victor, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


MOSSAD: AN AGENCY WITH A LICENSE TO KILL; Bungled Amman Assassination Plot Exposes Rift Israeli Government Over Peace Negotiations

There is only one thing more dangerous than an intelligence agency with a license to kill, and that is such an organization in the hands of a prime minister like Binyamin Netanyahu. The latest fiasco in Jordan can attest to that.

The decision-making process used by Netanyahu can be compared to that of a drunk driver trying to maneuver a truckload of volatile explosives in an unmarked mine field. His lack of personal integrity and common sense complicate the matter. His adversaries are unaware (as he is himself) of what it is he really wants. This makes it impossible for them to compromise, even if they want to.

Netanyahu promised the Israeli public peace and security while campaigning for the May 1996 election after spending much of 1995 calling then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a traitor and standing by without protest while his own right-wing followers carried a mock coffin with Rabin's name on it. Whether or not it was deliberate incitement to murder, Rabin's assassination took place, opening the way to Netanyahu's election.

This year, after his election pledge of peace with security backfired, Netanyahu began scraping the bottom of his excuse barrel for reasons why he had not fulfilled his promise. Then, after the July 30 suicide bombing in West Jerusalem's Mehane Yehuda market, there was no doubt in Netanyahu's mind that he had to do something to bring an end to the wave of terror his miscalculations had brought on the people of Israel. He refused, however, to even consider allowing the peace process to move forward.

Although by doing so he would bring Arafat on board in the battle against terror, as was pointed out by the leadership of Israel's intelligence community, instead Netanyahu chose to plunge into the perpetual motion cycle of terror and counter-terror.

On July 30, Israel's security cabinet unanimously authorized the prime minister to take extreme measures in combatting Hamas, leaving the final details to his discretion.

Netanyahu then held a preliminary meeting with the heads of the intelligence community. These included Ami Ailon, head of the Shabak; Danny Yatom, head of the Mossad; Amnon Lifkin Shahak, commander-in-chief of the Israel Defense Forces; Gen. Moshe Lalon and Gen. Amos Gilad, head and deputy head of Aman,1 the national intelligence evaluation section; and Uzi Arad, the prime minister's personal intelligence adviser, a Mossad officer until six months ago in charge of analysis.

With the exception of the prime minister and Arad, the entire group opposed an assassination campaign. Ami Ailon pointed out that Shabak was barely capable of handling the situation as it was. Any further agitation of the Palestinians in the occupied territories would cause a rapid acceleration of terror and could ignite a total rebellion.

Amnon Shahak agreed, saying that the IDF would pay a high price if it had to fight a guerrilla war on two fronts, against Hamas in the occupied territories and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The Aman representative said that such a campaign without a move on the peace front would increase the influence of Hamas in the territories and weaken Arafat. Mossad's Yatom, one of the architects of the Oslo accords, refrained from commenting, as his opinions already were known.

The meeting ended with no conclusions reached, but the prime minister said that he would consider the opinions offered. To understand what followed, it is important to note that most of Mossad's presently serving department heads were appointed by Yatom's predecessor, Shabtai Shavit, and are right-wing in their political opinions. Yatom therefore finds himself isolated in his own agency. As a mid-level officer in the agency told me recently, "He is in control, but unaware of what is going on." Said another, "Yatom is as isolated in the new pentagon-shaped headquarters [of the Mossad] as is his private elevator.

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