Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir / TPS
Knesset Member Ofer Shelah

by Ilana Messika

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation began deliberations Tuesday on the Secret Services Bill, authored by Yesh Atid Knesset members Ofer Shelah and Yaakov Peri. The measure calls for restructuring the constitutional and ministerial oversight of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and the Mossad by morphing a Ministry of Intelligence Affairs into a full-fledged statutory ministry with proper, clearly-defined jurisdiction.

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In announcing the measure, Shelah explained that the State Comptroller’s report on Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 counter terror war with Hamas in Gaza, provided all necessary proof of the need to restructure oversight of the intelligence services.

“The ‘Secret Services bill’ corrects the deficiencies indicated by the State Comptroller, [for instance] of soldiers being led into [Hamas] tunnels without sufficient intelligence,” Shelah said.

Since Israel’s founding, intelligence-gathering services such as the Mossad and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) have played an essential role of Israel’s security since the establishment of the state. However, unlike the IDF they have always been under the direct authority of the prime minister, rather than the defense ministry. The lack of ministerial oversight, said Shelach, has led to severe deficiencies in the decision- making process and improper supervision of critical security bodies that play an important part in affairs of state.

In order to correct that situation, the bill calls for appointing a Minister of Intelligence to oversee a formal intelligence ministry. While the prime minister will retain responsibility for the activities of the intelligence-gathering bodies, the new ministry will take responsibility for budget authorizations, action plans, structural development setting priorities and making appointments.

The proposal calls for making the Intelligence Minister a permanent member of the Security Cabinet and tasking him or her with responsibility for preparing the National Intelligence Estimate. At present, the estimate is prepared by the IDF intelligence corps.

The second part of the bill deals with amending the 2002 “Shin Bet Law” regulating the legal framework for operation of the body in order to incorporate the new hierarchy with the Intelligence Affairs Ministry. According to Shelah, the 2002 law, civil-legal restructuring of the Shin Bet, made a decisive contribution to the organization’s effectiveness and its legitimacy in the eyes of both the public and the Israeli legal system.

The last part reiterates the need for legislative regulation of the Mossad and sets the deadline for its presentation for a year after the Secret Services Bill is enacted.

Shelah added that the coalition has overturned the bill in the past for political reasons, despite the fact that many cabinet members are convinced of its necessity.

“I hope that this time, when the auditor’s report before us and the public demanding the correction of deficiencies, security will win over politics,” he said.

Shelah also cited the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and the French General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) to support his proposal for restructuring the services.

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