Introduction – Who, or what, is Shin Bet?
Known at different times by various names (the General Security Service [GSS], the Israeli Security Agency [ISA], Shabak], Shin Bet is Israel's internal security and counter-intelligence service. Its role includes the interrogation of "suspects"; exposing "terrorist" rings; counter-espionage; the protection of the state president and so on. It is one of three branches of the Israeli intelligence community.
1- Shin Bet: Primarily internal security
2- Mossad: Primarily external security, overseas intelligence
3- Aman: Military intelligence
With its motto "the defender that shall not be seen" or "the unseen shield", Shin Bet has remained a relatively clandestine organisation operating for the most part in obscurity. It has only really come to the public's attention when missions have been bungled and, even then, only occasionally.
There are several operational departments within Shin Bet, including the Department for Arab Affairs (relating to the investigation of terrorist organisations etc.); the Department for Non-Arab Affairs (relating to all other countries – in the past divided into Communist and non-Communist countries); and the Protective Security Department (responsible for the protection of Israeli embassies, buildings, El Al airlines and so on). The Prime Minister of Israel is ultimately responsible for the activities of the agency.
Shin Bet is the eyes and ears of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. It specialises in training undercover operatives to infiltrate Palestinian communities to the extent, it is claimed, that when they are undercover they immerse themselves in their false identities in every way, praying in mosques side by side with Palestinian Muslims (concealing their Jewish identity) ; socialising with them and so on. This is how they gather information on Palestinian activities from the inside and applies to the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank.
The notorious origins of Shin Bet
When looking into the origins of Shin Bet most reports simply state that the Israeli Secret Service was established in 1948 coinciding with the birth of the new state of Israel. Rarely is any in-depth background information provided. If you scratch the surface, however, you will find that the modern Israeli Secret Service actually, disturbingly, emerged from infamous Jewish terrorist organisations such as the Haganah and Irgun. A host of notorious Jewish "defence" forces merged together in the nascent state of Israel and have evolved ever since into the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). It was the intelligence wing of the Haganah which evolved into today's Shin Bet.
Haganah and Irgun were notorious for their use of terrorism and committing violent acts, particularly against the British Mandate authorities and Palestinian citizens. Some of their more well-known terrorist actions include the 22nd July 1946 bombing of Jerusalem's King David Hotel in which 92 people were killed and dozens were injured. The leader of the bombers was Menachim Begin who went on to become the Prime Minister of Israel. Another example is the Deir Yassin massacre (1948) in which hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children were murdered.
According to author Richard Deacon, "During the last few years of the struggle against the British prior to the granting [sic] of independence to Israel, the nucleus of the secret service had already been forged for the nation to be… in the main it comprised the intelligence-gathering organisations of Haganah and Irgun Zvai Leumi."
Deacon also explains how;
"[David] Ben Gurion's plan to recruit most of the personnel for the creation of Shin Bet from Haganah was intended to ensure Haganah men were put into key positions. At the same time he was enough of a realist to know that there was an enormous amount of talent inside Irgun and even Lechi [the Stern Gang, another terrorist group] which needed to be harnessed in the cause of the new state. He was determined not to lose the services of such people. So he set in motion a systematic screening of members of both Irgun and Lechi with a view to recruiting their best and most reliable and disciplined agents, some in Shin Beth, others in the various branches of the Secret Service. As a result it could be said that within a year or two of its inception Shin Beth in particular and the Israeli Secret Service as a whole comprised the most brilliant team of spies and Intelligence organisers from the ranks of Haganah, Irgun and Lechi, including a diverse range of talent from saboteurs, passport and document forgers to communications experts and code-breakers."
The origins of Shin Bet, seeped as it was in violence, brutality and ruthlessness may go some way to explain where many of Shin Bet's modern day practices of violence and torture originated.