The Gatekeepers: Inside Israel's Internal Security Agency

Skyhorse Publishing  2015


This is the companion volume to the 2012 documentary film of the same name In both versions, the interviewer is cinematographer Dror Moreh. The six interviewees are all former directors of Shin Bet, the agency responsible for preventing terror attacks within the Jewish state: Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Avi Ayalon, Avi Dichter, and Yuval Diskin.

Moreh focuses on intelligence gathering and operations from 1960 to 2011. As individuals and as a group, the Shin Bet directors probe the inevitable tension between the prized heritage of Jewish morality and threats to Israel's survival. Among topics discussed are the Eichmann kidnapping, the first and second Intifadas, the Yom Kippur War, and the Oslo peace accords. Important issues such as the relations between Shin Bet and the state's political and military elites, between Shin Bet and Arab leaders, and between Shin Bet and American administrations receive a thorough airing. The directors address frankly the dilemmas involved in confronting suicide bombers, human and organizational "ticking bombs," interrogations, and authorizations for questioning of suspects. In addition to having a front row seat to history, these men were able to observe the various prime ministers' interpretations of the agency's mission, and each leader's style.

According to Yaakov Peri, for example, Menachem Begin insisted on orderly processes and interrogations that would "preserve human dignity" as a means of “cleansing” himself of his reputation as a militant in Mandatory Palestine, and Yitzhak Shamir never entertained the possibility of an agreement with the Arabs. Carmi Gillon reveals that Yitzhak Rabin changed his mind over time and concluded that he would fight terrorism as if there were no negotiations or negotiate as if there was no terrorism.

None of the directors are hard-nosed men of war. Their responses are thoughtful and nuanced. A few have found relief from their psychic burdens in music, literature, and poetry. In a closing chapter they reveal their fears and hopes for Israel's future. They lament lost opportunities for peace and a change in the state's unique character as a democracy with Jewish roots. The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin haunts them.

This narrative will challenge readers. Those lacking knowledge of Israeli history and the contemporary scene may be overwhelmed. Chapters represent events occurring during each director's tenure; however, the views of other directors are often interspersed without clear attribution. Footnotes provide inadequate explanations of pivotal commissions. This work cries out for a timeline, glossary, and a bibliography of relevant materials.

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