The Gatekeepers

Title:                      The Gatekeepers

Author:                 Dror Moreh

Moreh, Dror (2015). The Gatekeepers: Inside Israel’s Internal Security Agency. New York: Skyhorse Publishing

LCCN:    2015015661

UB251 .I75 M6713 2015

Summary

  • “The companion to the Oscar-nominated documentary, an unparalleled look inside Israel’s security establishment. Imagine the following situation: You have just received a tip that six suicide bombers are making their way into the heart of Israel’s major cities, each one to a different city, to set off an explosion in the most crowded centers of population. How far would you go to stop the attack? How would you sleep at night if you failed and one of the six terrorists reached his target and murdered dozens of innocent people? What would you do the next morning to extract your country from this murderous vicious cycle? For six former heads of the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service), these were not hypothetical questions, but the realities and tormenting way of life for decades. In The Gatekeepers, which is based on extensive and lengthy interviews conducted to produce the award-winning film of the same name, six former heads of the Shin Bet speak with unprecedented candor on how they handled the toughest and tensest moments of their lives; on matters of life and death; on the missions they were involved in; on the historic opportunities for a better future that were missed by the leaders under whom they served, and the scars each of them bears until this very day. The Gatekeepers is a piercing and cruel self-examination of Israel’s security establishment and of a nation that has lived by its sword for so many years but has lost its faith in its ability to lay it down. “– Provided by publisher.

Subjects

Date Posted:      March 9, 2017

Complied and Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

The Israeli internal security service Shin Bet—also known as Shabak—was established in 1949. Since then its primary focus has been the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that, in retrospect, “doomed [Israel] to live by the sword for the foreseeable future.” (p. xi) Seeking to learn how and why this was so, author and documentary filmmaker Dror Moreh decided to tape interviews with the then-current Shin Bet director and his five predecessors. The result was the Academy Award-nominated documentary film, Gatekeepers. The book version presents the original interviews with unique insights and additional material about each of the directors. Since all six served together at various times in their careers, Moreh includes as part of the narrative their comments when their paths crossed on cases.

Some of the directors express surprising views. For example, Avraham Shalom (1980-1986), commenting on the idea of an Arab state said, “The Arabs didn’t come up with the idea; it was us” (p. 13)—and he suggests the idea contributed to the creation of Hamas. Other directors mention the moral and practical conflicts associated with interrogation to prevent suicide attacks. Director Carmi Gillon (1994-1996) discusses a practical example of the ticking bomb dilemma. (p. 147) He also comments on the reasoning associated with “shaking”—their euphemism for enhanced interrogation. Most directors mentioned “very intense discussions” (p. 339) concerning assassination operations like the one that preceded the assassination of a Hamas bomb maker with an exploding cellphone. (p. 183) Several stressed that it was important to have empathy for and understanding of the enemy. (p. 239)

Each director comments on the political circumstances accounting for his selection, his length of service, and his eventual resignation. Not all were fond of their prime ministers. Reasons varied, from personal incompatibility to policy differences, as, for example, the building of new settlements on the West Bank. Yitzhak Rabin was generally admired, though not all agreed with his policies and the Oslo Accords. His inexplicable assassination was considered a Shin Bet failure. Moreh records the director’s impressions on these and many other related issues.

The Gatekeepers was not received favorably by all in the Israeli press. Columnist Dror Eydar called it “sycophantic.”[2] But most are likely to agree with former US Ambassador Dennis Ross, who wrote in the Preface that the work has “great meaning intellectually and emotionally.” (p. ix) Firsthand views on the topics of security and anti-terrorism offer valuable lessons.

[1] Hayden Peake in The Intelligencer (22, 2, Fall 2016, pp. 118-119 ).  Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. Other reviews and articles may be found online at  www.cia.gov.

[2] Dror Eydar, “The banality of Dror Moreh,” Israel Hayson Newsletter, (21 February 2015).

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