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The International Journal of Intelligence, Security, and

Public Affairs

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The Assassination of a Prime MinisterThe


Intelligence Failure that Failed to Prevent the
Murder of Yitzhak Rabin

Avner Barnea

To cite this article: Avner Barnea (2017) The Assassination of a Prime MinisterThe Intelligence
Failure that Failed to Prevent the Murder of Yitzhak Rabin, The International Journal of Intelligence,
Security, and Public Affairs, 19:1, 23-43

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23800992.2017.1289763

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THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE, SECURITY, AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS
2017, VOL. 19, NO. 1, 2343
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23800992.2017.1289763

The Assassination of a Prime MinisterThe Intelligence


Failure that Failed to Prevent the Murder of Yitzhak Rabin
Avner Barnea
National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel

ABSTRACT ARTICLE HISTORY


The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, on Received 9 July 2016
Revised 12 December 2016
the evening of November 4, 1995, by an extreme right-wing Accepted 11 January 2017
Jew was one of the most traumatic events in the history of the
State of Israel. The question is: Was it preventable? Contrary to KEYWORDS
the public perception that the assassination happened as a counter-intelligence; Israel;
result of a security failure and poor management of the Israel Israeli Security Agency (ISA);
Security Agency (ISA), I argue that the murder was mainly due political assassinations;
to an ISA intelligence failure. Based on information that was in Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin
the hands of the ISA (also known as Shabak or Shin Bet), this
event was not a complete surprise, and the ISA possibly could
have prevented this political assassination by stopping the
killer in advance. However, intelligence failures in counter-
intelligence are much less researched than strategic intelli-
gence failures such as Pearl Harbor, Barbarossa, the Yom
Kippur War, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq (2003).

Introduction
On the evening of November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister (PM) Yitzhak Rabin
was killed by Yigal Amir, a 27-year-old student who was known as a right-wing
activist. Amir was waiting for the prime minister next to his car and shot Rabin
three times from a close distance, in spite of the fact that four of Rabins body-
guards were surrounding the prime minister. Amir claimed to have done it for
Israel, for the people of Israel and the State of Israel (Supreme Court of Israel,
1996, p. 7). He was found guilty and was sent to serve a life sentence in prison.
Since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, there had been only one
assassination attempt of a key government official. In 1952, there was a failed
attempt against the minister of transportation, David Pinkas; its motives are still
considered a mystery (Ilani, 2004). However, during the years of the British
Mandate in Palestine, two leading figures were killed. In 1924, Jacob De Haan, a
prominent political leader of the Jewish extreme Orthodox community as well as a
literary writer and journalist, who was acting against the Jewish efforts to encou-
rage Jewish immigration to Palestine, was killed in Jerusalem apparently by
members of the Hagana (the Jewish defense organization). Nine years later, in

CONTACT Avner Barnea avnerpro@netvision.net.il National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa,
Terrace Building 4th Floor, 199 Boulevard, Mount Carmel, Haifa 3498838, Israel.
2017 Taylor & Francis
24 A. BARNEA

1933, Haim Arlozorov, one of the leading political leaders of the Jewish establish-
ment, was assassinated in Tel Aviv; the identity of the killers remains unknown.
Since the founding of the State of Israel, it had been almost axiomatic that
internal political disputes would not be determined by pulling triggers. After
the murder of Prime Minister Rabin, Israel was never again what it was
before that traumatic event, and the major political initiative that Rabin led,
the peace process with the Palestinians, ceased.
The Israeli government decided on November 8, 1995 to establish an
Inquiry Commission to learn more about Rabins assassination. It goals
were: to investigate and to determine findings and conclusions as to the
security and intelligence deployment and the security of the VIP generally
and especially in the event of the murder (Shamgar Inquiry Commission,
1996). The Shamgar Inquiry Commission, as it was known because it was
chaired by Meir Shamgar, former president of the Supreme Court, submitted
its report in March 1996. This commission found significant failures in the
security measures taken by the ISA to protect the late Prime Minister, but
in my opinionwas seriously wrong, as it avoided diving into the major
intelligence failure that led to this tragic incident.1

The conclusions of the Shamgar Inquiry Commission report


The major conclusion of the Shamgar Inquiry Commission report was that
the methods used for providing security to PM Rabin after the crowded
public event in the heart of Tel Aviv, in support of the peace process with the
Palestinians on the November 4, 1995, were not adequate to the specific
conditions at the location (Shamgar Inquiry Commission, 1996, p. 129). The
inadequacy of the security significantly contributed to the creation of cir-
cumstances which enabled the killer to act freely without obstacles (Shamgar
Inquiry Commission, 1996, p. 129).
Later in its report, the Shamgar Inquiry Commission discussed the posi-
tion of senior ISA officials who had been directly responsible for the security
of the prime minister, starting with Carmi Gillon, the managing director, on
to the director of the Security Division, continuing with the head of the
VIP Security Department, as well as other ISA agents who were responsible
for the security of the PM that evening.
The head of the ISAs Intelligence Division, who had been in charge of
covering the extreme Jewish militantsthe killers milieuwas found not
responsible for the assassination and the Inquiry Commission concluded that
he personally, and his division, had acted according to their responsibility
(Shamgar Inquiry Commission, 1996, pp. 187191). The Inquiry Commission
explained its position as the following: We came to the conclusion that there
was mainly a systematic failure and not personal failure, we believe that our
conclusions (regarding this matter) are enough (Shamgar Inquiry Commission,
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE, SECURITY, AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS 25

1996, p. 200). So it appears that while the Commission considered the possibility
of an intelligence failure, it concluded that this was not the case.
There was a chapter entitled systematic conclusions (Shamgar Inquiry
Commission, 1996, p. 192) which referred to the ISA performance (Shamgar
Inquiry Commission, 1996, p. 192), the functioning of the VIP department
(Shamgar Inquiry Commission, 1996, p. 194), coordination between the ISA
and the Israeli police (Shamgar Inquiry Commission, 1996, p. 194), sharing
intelligence (Shamgar Inquiry Commission, 1996, p. 195), and other security
issues (Shamgar Inquiry Commission, 1996, pp. 196198).
Only towards the end of the chapter there was a short memorandum titled
Running agents (Shamgar Inquiry Commission, 1996, p. 198), which men-
tioned some general conclusions regarding this matter, but its details were
kept as a confidential appendix of the Inquiry Commission Report and have
not been published yet. Still, regarding this matter of running agents: a
department running an agent must have tight control over him, preventing
him from breaching the law on his own initiative, as the agent often believes
that his status gives him guaranteed immunity in advance (Shamgar Inquiry
Commission, 1996, p. 198). It is also mentioned that the tight control over
the agent has to eliminate any initiated criminal activities (by the agent) and
dismiss executing provocations, as they often act as a boomerang and harm
the normative fabric of the organization that runs (the agent) and its relia-
bility (Shamgar Inquiry Commission, 1996, p. 198).
This half a page of conclusions in Chapter 9 of the Inquiry Commission
Report, without further details and without having access to the confidential
appendix of the Shamgar Inquiry Commission Report, indicated that de facto,
something of major importance went wrong in the immediate time before
Prime Minister Rabin was killed. The question of whether it was possible to
stop the killer in advance was not asked by the Shamgar Inquiry Commission.
Perhaps, the special emphasis given by this Commission Report to the various
aspects of the physical security, rather than to the intelligence failures, was
wrong. Regarding the matter of running agents, the Commission decided that
there was no conspiracy (Tal, 1995),2 but this conclusion was almost irrele-
vant compared to the need to investigate the failure of halting the killer.

The intelligence failure


There are many reasons for intelligence failures. But usually they are related to a
strategic surprise due to inaccurate information, a lack of information, and
ignoring relevant information or inadequate assumptions (Gentry, 2008;
Johnston, 2005; Levite, 1987; Lowenthal, 2009; Sims & Gerber, 2005, p. 17).
Intelligence that fails to correctly read and understand the intentions and cap-
abilities of the adversary (Handel, 2003) causes governments and armed forces to
act erroneously, often against their own interests (Shulsky & Schmitt, 2002).
26 A. BARNEA

Only a few cases of intelligence failure were a result of a lack of intelligence


(Wilensky, 1967). Shulsky and Schmitt (2002) suggested a typology of intelli-
gence failures, but they referred to events between rival countries.
There is no specific reference to intelligence failures in counter intelli-
gence, which is usually a domestic issue. Intelligence failures in counter
intelligence can be in the event of late discovery of espionage activity, terror
attacks which were not stopped in advance,3 and extreme political subver-
sion, which seeks to destabilize the governmental system by illegal means.
Intelligence failure in counter-intelligence has to be indicated, as such in rare
cases when the damage caused is significant. In most democracies, the
prevention is usually under the responsibility of the domestic security agency,
which is part of the intelligence community and not the ordinary law
enforcement organizations. The inability to prevent the assassination of the
most senior member of the government (symbols of state) is a clear
intelligence failure. In Israel, unlike many other Western democratic coun-
tries, both the security of figures defined as symbols of state and the
internal intelligence, are under the sole responsibility of the same organiza-
tion, the ISA.
In modern times, political assassinations of symbols of a state in democ-
racies have been rare, as their security has become tighter. But they still
happen. To enumerate a few: President John Kennedy, United States, 1963;
Prime Minister Aldo Moro, Italy, 1978; and Prime Minister Olof Palme,
Sweden, 1986. There also have been many unsuccessful attempts, including:
President Charles De Gaulle, France, 1962; President Gerald Ford, United
States, 1975; President Ronald Reagan, United States, 1982; President Chun
Doo-hwan, South Korea, 1983; Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, United
Kingdom, 1984; President, Turgut Ozal, Turkey, 1987; Prime Minister John
Major, United Kingdom, 1991; Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Canada, 1995;
President Jacques Chirac, France, 2002; and Pope John Paul II, 1981. Prime
Minister Rabins assassination can be viewed as a result of a systematic failure
both in intelligence and in security, two fields which were under the sole
responsibility of one intelligence organizationthe ISA.
It is relevant to look at two other catastrophic events in the history of the
ISA, which happened before the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, in
order to see whether drawing conclusions after these events could have
possibly helped to prevent this incident.

The murder of the Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympic Games


On September 6, 1972, 11 Israeli athletes who were taking part in the
Olympic Games were kidnapped and killed by Palestinian terrorists from
the Black September organization. The Israeli government appointed the
Koppel Inquiry Commission led by Pinchas Koppel, the former chief on
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE, SECURITY, AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS 27

the Israeli Police, to investigate this tragic incident. None of the commissions
members had a strong intelligence and defense background. The Koppel
Inquiry Report (Alroy, 2012, The Israel National Archives, 2012), which
was published on September 29, 1972, blamed the Security Division of the
ISA for failing to protect the Israeli athletes. Three of its senior officials were
forced to resign. Simultaneously, the Israeli government blamed the German
authorities for failing to protect the Israeli delegation and for the flopped
operation at the Munich Airport to release the Israeli athletes captured by
Black September, the terrorist arm of the Palestinian Liberation Organization
(PLO). Although the Koppel Inquiry Report mentioned that a few days prior
to the opening of the Olympic Games, there was alarming information
regarding intentions by Black September to operate in Europe, the informa-
tion was ignored by the ISA and its officials decided not to strengthen the
protection of the Israeli athletes. The Koppel Inquiry Reportonly a mere
15 pages longdid not inquire deeply as to why the information was
ignored.
The tragic murder of the Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympic Games,
which is still a traumatic memory for the Israeli public, was actually deleted
from the ISAs organizational collective memory. It did not become part of
the training process to teach how to interrelate intelligence efforts with the
security and the protection of VIPs. Yet, 23 years later, this was exactly one of
the major reasons for the ISAs failure to protect Prime Minister Rabin.

The Commission of Inquiry into the massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs
in Hebron
On February 25, 1994, 29 Palestinians Muslims who had gathered to pray
inside the Ibrahim Mosque at the cave of the Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron
were killed by Jewish extremist, Baruch Goldstein. An additional 125 Muslim
were injured. Goldstein lived in the Jewish settlement of Kiriat Arba, next to
Hebron. He was a physician, a major in the reserves of the Israel Defense
Forces (IDF), who had a license to carry an automatic rifle. Goldstein broke
into the holy cave, early in the morning, while Muslims were praying, and
fired approximately 100 bullets. Goldstein himself was killed there, possibly
by Muslim survivors who had been not injured.
As a result of this shocking event, the Israeli government and the Prime
Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, decided to establish an Inquiry Commission headed
by Meir Shamgar, the former president of the Israeli Supreme Court, along
with four other members. Only one of the members of this Commission, the
former Chief of Staff, Moshe Levi, had significant experience in defense and
security matters. On June 1994, the Inquiry Commission submitted its final
report (The Commission of Inquiry into the Massacre at the Tomb of the
Patriarchs in Hebron, 1994).
28 A. BARNEA

The Inquiry Commission found that the killer, Goldstein, was a single
actor who had planned the murder act in advance and had done it without
any support from others. The Commission did not have any recommenda-
tions in relation to individual officials but did made recommendations
regarding the deployment of security forces in the cave of the Patriarchs,
the liturgy rules, and the engagement of forces in holy places in the Occupied
Territories, and it further gave recommendations concerning law enforce-
ment against Jewish settlers in the territories. Its recommendations were
aimed at expanding the activity of the Israeli police in the Occupied
Territories but had no impact on the intelligence activity of the ISA, which
had the responsibility, among other things, to prevent terrorism by
Jewish extremists.
This Inquiry Commission turned out to be more of a fact-finding body,
contrary as compared to many other inquiry commissions previously estab-
lished by Israeli governments, which usually had adopted a wider perspective
including recommendations regarding the responsibility of senior officials in
governmental positions (Blander, 2007). This Inquiry Commission Report
criticized the lack of Israeli law enforcement measures in the Occupied
Territories, particularly over illegal actions taken by Jewish settlers.
(The Commission of Inquiry into the Massacre at the Tomb of the
Patriarchs in Hebron, 1994, pp. 157200, 250251).
Regarding this massacre, Yuval Diskin, former director of the ISA, said
(Moreh, 2014, p. 147): What Goldstein did was a major terror attack. The
feelings in the ISA were that the organization has actually failed and we were
strongly disappointed with our failure to prevent it. And then we see the
story of the single performer and the question is alwaysis he operating on
his own?To what extent does a person who was killing by an immediate
impulse, not share his plans with others? The Goldstein massacre fed the
bloodshed cycle. The religious connotation of massacring people while they
are praying raised a strong willingness of revenge.
This Inquiry Commission focused mainly on the guarding procedures of
this holy site by the police and the IDF; it gave only minor attention to the
questions of how this kind of event could have been stopped in time, by
intelligence means, and whether the ISA had to reconsider its modus oper-
andi to avoid such events. The Inquiry Commission saw it as a single event
that was inevitable, because it was executed by a lone wolf.
At the time of the publication of this Inquiry Report in June 1994, the
political atmosphere in Israel had been changing as a result of a strong
opposition to the Oslo Accords,4 the agreement with the Palestinian
Authority, signed by Prime Minister Rabin on September 1993. This opposi-
tion came especially from the far right-wing parties and their supporters.
There were extreme opposition groups whichalready at this stagewere
beginning to point to Prime Minister Rabin as a traitor and a
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE, SECURITY, AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS 29

collaborator (Gillon, 2000, pp. 237264).5 In June 1995, The ISA had
prepared an internal report stating that an attack on Prime Minister Rabin
was highly probable but it could not give specifics as it lacked targeted
information (Kariv, 2015).6
Professor Menachem Yaari, a member of the Inquiry Commission, talked
about the report at a conference held in Tel Aviv University (Ziv, 2014):
We worked four months, we heard many testimonies, we held discussions and
submitted a reportbut the report is accumulating dust and I doubt anyone even
read it, let alone will implement it. This report has an entire chapter on the subject
of the law enforcement in the territories; we realized that the situation of wild
west had direct links to the investigation of the massacre. I agree with the
arguments, and unfortunately the result was a weak report that did not lead to a
change in policy.

During the conference, Carmi Gillon, former managing director of the ISA
said (Ziv, 2014):
Terrorism of this kind has two facets, one aspect that aims to stop the peace
processes, characterized by a messianic manner and the second oneactivities like
the one committed by Goldstein. Things were done just like that, without ideology,
out of racism and a desire to kill Arabs for the sake of killing Arabs. The problem
is the forgiveness and the legitimacy in the Israeli public regarding cases of
violence against Arabs and towards the left, and we see that this legitimacy
penetrated the legal system and the operational system.

At this stage, in mid-1994, the ISA had not imagined that the Hebron
massacre actually marked a major change in the Israeli society as to what
extremists might do to keep the Israeli authority in the Occupied Territories.
The ISA was relieved reading the Commission Inquiry Report into the
Massacre in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Officials from the
Division of Counter Intelligence testified in the Commission sessions and
presented a hypothesis that the organizations capabilities to prevent a lone
wolfs (a single terrorists) action are extremely limited, if they exist. The
Inquiry Commission was convinced, and did not raise doubts about the
intelligence coverage of the Jewish settlers in Hebron; there was a long
history of conflicts between Jewish settlers and the local Arab residents of
Hebron. Some of the settlers were members of a secret cell that had been
stopped, at the last minute, by the ISA, after they had conspired to bomb the
holy Temple Mount in 1984. This had been declared by the ISA as a major
success.
From the Inquiry Commission Report, it became clear that Avishai Raviv,
one of the prominent agents in the ISA who covered the far-right extremist
Jewish activities was himself already active among Jewish extremists in
Hebron at the time of the massacre (Protocol of discussion, 1999).7
However it is difficult to determine from the report if he had been asked
by his ISA case officers in the ISA whether he knew Goldstein or if he had
30 A. BARNEA

met him before the massacre. There was a strong atmosphere of violence
among the extreme Jewish groups before the massacre, as a result of violent
incidents between Jews and Arabs in Hebron. It seems that the Inquiry
Commission was unaware of agent Ravivs activity, including among Jewish
settlers in Kiriat Arba next to Hebron, prior to the massacre, and therefore it
was not in a position to deeply inquire into this matter and to investigate
whether it was possible to stop Goldstein in advance.
The Inquiry Report did not result in any major changes to the modus
operandi of the ISAs intelligence coverage of extreme Jewish activities
including intentions to commit terror attacks by a lone wolf.
Consequently, the report did not do anything to ensure higher probability
of the ISA receiving early alerts about intentions to commit terror attacks by
Jewish extremists.

The political moves and public atmosphere in Israel prior to the murder of
PM Rabin
June 23, 1992 was a turning point in the political history of Israel. After
15 years of Likud party dominance, the Labor party, led by Yitzhak Rabin,
won the elections and formed a new government, leaving the Likud party in
the opposition. This was the most important victory in the political life of
Rabin, a former lieutenant general and chief of staff, the hero of the Six-Day
War in1967, considered to be the most successful war in the history of Israel.
Rabins political victory was a result of his solid reputation and wide experi-
ence in defense and security matters, but it was also a broad disappointment
to the Likud government.
The new Labor-dominated government decided to change national prio-
rities and to put education in the leading position, while decreasing the
budgets allocated to defense. Another priority of Rabins was to seek an
end to the seven years of Intifada (Palestinian uprising) violence by begin-
ning to negotiate with the Palestinians. The combination of the failure of the
Likud Iron Fist approach to the Occupied Territories, along with Israels
deteriorating international imageJordans cutting legal and administrative
ties with the West Bank and the United Statess recognition of the PLO as the
representative of the Palestinians peopleconvinced Rabin to seek an end to
the violence through negotiations and dialogue with the PLO (Shlaim, 2000;
Sicherman, 2011). As a result, one of the first decisions taken by the new
Rabin administration was to freeze the building of Jewish settlements in the
Occupied Territories. With that, the new government was signaling to the
Palestinians that it was different than the previous Likud regime, and that it
was looking to open up new channels of communication. Until then, the PLO
had been officially declared a terrorist organization and Israelis were prohib-
ited from having any contact with the PLO.
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE, SECURITY, AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS 31

These steps, enormous shifts in policy, received firm criticism from the
opposition, and the criticism only grew in 1993, as the first bits of
information concerning a possible agreement with the Palestinians
started to flow. After the formal announcement of the Oslo Accords in
mid-1993, the agreements between the government of Israel and the
PLO,8 there were many protest demonstrations in Israel objecting to
them (Gillon, 2000, pp. 237264; Moreh, 2014, pp. 108119).9 The pro-
tests continued, but Rabin insisted that as long as he had a majority in
the Knesset, he would ignore the protests and the protesters. Rabins
parliamentary majority rested on the support of the non-coalition mem-
bers of the Arab political parties.
Progress in the peace process with the Palestinians allowed the political
breakthrough of a peace agreement with Jordan in October 1994. Rabin was
awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yasser Arafat and Shimon
Peres, for their role in the creation of the Oslo Accords.
The Accords greatly divided the Israeli society, with some seeing Rabin as
a hero for promoting the cause of peace and some seeing him as a traitor for
giving away land viewed as rightfully belonging to Israel. Many right-wing
Israelis often blamed Rabin for Jewish deaths in Palestinian terror attacks,
attributing them to the Oslo agreements. Nevertheless, parallel diplomatic
efforts continued, with the Israeli government negotiating with Syria. Yitzhak
Rabin was willing to give up landthe Golan Heightsfor an agreement
with Syria but only for a peace agreement accepted by the Israeli public. To
do so, he planned to hold a referendum regarding the withdrawal from the
Golan Heights.
The protests against the government and especially against Prime Minister
Rabin, himself, intensified in 1995, as a result of the violence that accompanied
the beginning of the implementation of the Oslo Accords. Hamas and the
Islamic Jihad objected to the Accords and targeted Israeli citizens with severe
suicide attacks. Terror attacks were not prevented, in spite of strong ties and
cooperation between the Israel Security Agency and the Palestinian counter-
intelligence organizations. As Gillon, the general director of the ISA, stated
(Moreh, 2014, p. 155), the ISAs main attention and efforts went into prevent-
ing Palestinian terror attacks, as these suicide attacks in the center of the major
cities caused the death of many Israelis. It was hard for Israelis, including
strong supporters of the peace process, to stay indifferent and questions arose
whether the agreement with the Palestinian Authority was right. Major sec-
tions of the Israeli public including the extreme religious right-wing and Likud
party members opposed the peace process with the PLO; the Jewish settlers
especially feared that it would lead to losing their homes.
Yet, Rabins policy was to continue the peace process as if there were no
terrorism and to fight terrorism as if there were no peace process. Rabin showed
a strong standing against the expanding protests from the right -wing parties by
32 A. BARNEA

saying: they (the protesters) can spin around and around like propellers, but he
would continue along the path of the Oslo Accords (Mann, 1998).
While Yitzhak Rabins peace policy won broad support from many Israelis,
there were strong efforts from some sectors within the society to personally
delegitimize Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, the Foreign Minister, with
most of the attacks directed against the prime minister and aimed to present
him as a traitor.
On May 4, 1994, Yitzhak Rabin signed the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, enabling
the realization of the first phase of the agreement on principles, namely the
establishment of a Palestinian autonomy in Gaza and Jericho. The IDF left the
Gaza Strip but continued to protect the Jewish settlements inside that region. On
September 28, 1995, the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO10 was
signed and led to autonomy of certain areas in the West Bank. These events
boosted public attacks against PM Rabin (Gillon, 2000, p. 238242).

The security of PM Rabin


Hostility continued to mount personally against Prime Minister Rabin. National
religious groups and Likud party leaders believed that withdrawing from any
Jewish land in the Occupied Territories was deeply wrong. Rallies, organized
partially by the Likud, became increasingly extreme in tone. The Likud leader
(and future Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu accused Rabins government
of being detached from the Jewish tradition and Jewish values and Rabin
himself neglecting the security of Israel (Gillon, 2000, p. 239). Netanyahu
addressed protesters of the Oslo Accords at rallies where posters portrayed
Rabin in a Nazi SS uniform or as the target in the cross-hairs of a sniper
(Robinstein, 2009). Rabin accused Netanyahu for provoking violence, a charge
which Netanyahu strenuously denied.
It was evident that Prime Minister Rabin was becoming the sole target. In
a rally in Raanana in 1994 (Avineri, 2011), Netanyahu carried a coffin that
read \Rabin is killing Zionism, which many thought was crossing a red
line. The incitement did not stop; it intensified (Karpin & Friedman, 1998).11
Gillon, director of the ISA, admitted (Gillon, 2000, pp. 313320) that his
main concern was a violent act against the prime minister but not an attempt
to assassinate him (Moreh, 2014, p. 159). This assessment did not change
even after a violent demonstration against the Peace Accords and personally
against Rabin, where shouts such as traitor and death to Rabin were
heard, on October 5, 1995a month before the murder. This demonstration
was organized by the opposition (Azoulai, 2015). On October 10, Rabins
public speech at the Wingate Institute was interrupted by right-wing pro-
testers. One protestor attempted to approach the prime minister but was
stopped by his bodyguards. This was the first time that the prime minister
had been under a direct threat (Yahav, 2015).
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE, SECURITY, AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS 33

Gillon did not change the scope of the prime ministers security, saying later
that Rabin had objected, as (Moreh, 2014, p. 156) he did not want to look like
leaders in dictatorships. Although Gillon, admitted (Oren, 2014), two months
before Rabins assassination, in a closed meeting that there was a possibility
that the prime minister might be killed, there was no change in the state of
mind of those directly responsible for the safety and security of the prime,
inister. As Gillon said: In the guards mind, the potential attacker of the Prime
Minister was a member of Hamas, he was not Jewish (Moreh, 2014, p. 159).
Although the director of the ISA admitted that strong incitement against the
prime minister was reaching unprecedented levels and was coming from
Jewish voices, no new assessment regarding the threats on the prime minister
was made. In fact, nothing regarding Rabins security was changed.
However, the director of the ISA met personally with the opposition
parties in an attempt to calm them, as he also did with the heads of the
Jewish Settlement Movement in the Occupied Territories. But the outcome of
these meetings did not change anything.

The ISAs approach towards a possible attack against PM Rabin


The Intelligence Division of the ISA was covering the extreme right-wing
circles, mainly those who had been against any compromise in the Israeli
presence in the Occupied Territories (Gillon, 2000, pp. 100104), since the
1967 Six-Day War. Intelligence efforts intensified after the signing of the
Joint Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DPO) in September 1993,
in which Arafat recognized Israels right to exist in peace and security and
Israel recognized the PLO.
A lot of this information was received from open sources, which enabled the
ISA to monitor the growing threat on Prime Minister Rabin. The ISA was
warning the attorney general that the recommendations of the Inquiry
Commission Report Regarding the Massacre in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in
Hebron had not been implemented (Gillon, 2000, pp. 317320) and that this
situation was causing an escalation in the public atmosphere, which could result
in physical violence against Israeli political leaders, including Prime Minister
Rabin. At one stage, during a meeting with the attorney general on October 22,
1995, one of the heads of the ISA warned12: there is a possibility of assassins that
we do not know about (Gillon, 2000, pp. 320321). The attorney general
summarized that meeting by saying: Im worried about a crazy person who
will be influenced by the public atmosphere of violence and the de-legitimating
of the government and the law enforcement authorities (Gillon, 2000, p. 321).
The information regarding the gradually growing risk to Prime Minister
Rabin came from open sources, while the information from covered sources
was solely lacking or, as we will see later on, was not evaluated correctly. The
Conclusions paragraph in the Shamgar Commission Report (Shamgar
34 A. BARNEA

Inquiry Commission, 1996, pp. 129133) focused on the security failure and
did not mention the lack of intelligence of the potential assassin. Its final
statement was that, in the absence of specific pinpointed information regard-
ing the security of Prime Minister Rabin, the security at the event where
Rabin was killed had failed and should have been stronger. This accusation
was aimed primarily at the ISA security (Shamgar Inquiry Commission,
1996, p. 129) while the lack of intelligence was not acknowledged.

The golden pieces of information that could have saved PM Rabin


The ISA had had two opportunities to stop the assassin, Yigal Amir. The
following two sections explore the two major events, prior to the murder of
Rabin, to help explain how intelligence opportunities had been missed.

The case of Shlomi HalevyHow the ISA missed critical information


Shlomi Halevy was a young student and reservist in the intelligence unit of
the Central Command in the IDF. He called his commander in the intelli-
gence unit in June of 1995 and reported that there was a man who intended
to kill the prime minister (A. Sofrin, personal communication, November 4,
2013). According to his report, he had overheard, by chance, in the restroom
at the central bus station in Tel Aviv, two people whom he did not recognize,
talking about a short young Yemenite Jew with curly hair who intended to
shoot the prime minister the first chance that he got. Halevy added that he
heard the two saying that the suspect was religious and usually went to the
synagogue. He also added that the information sounded serious and that he
understood that these two people were not going to stop the attempt
(Shamgar Inquiry Commission, 1996, p. 125).
The senior military intelligence officer who received the information from
Halevy immediately reported it to the head of the relevant intelligence
department in the ISA. The ISA passed this information on to the
Jerusalem Police, who then interviewed Halevy. Halevy gave them the same
information but added that he also had heard the sources saying: Look at
this small Yemenite, he is a bastard and intends to shoot Rabin (Shamgar
Inquiry Commission, 1996, p. 126). According to Halevy, one of the two
people had said that the killer already had gotten a gun. The policeman who
had interviewed Halevy wrote: Halevy is a serious guy; he served in the
intelligence until recently, a student and a person with a head on his
shoulders (Shamgar Inquiry Commission, 1996, p. 127).
This information was disseminated to the ISAs counter-intelligence
department and also to its VIP security department. No other measures
were taken in order to identify the potential killer or to verify this report.
No early-warning report was released.
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE, SECURITY, AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS 35

Only after the assassination of Rabin did Halevy admit that he had lied, saying
that he had known the name of the killer and that the source of his information
was his former girlfriend who had known the killer Yigal Amir while they were
studying together at Bar-Ilan University. She added that she, along with Halevy,
decided to pass the information that way without mentioning Amirs name, in
order to quiet their consciences (Shamgar Inquiry Commission, 1996, p. 126).
Halevy said he knew Yigal Amir personally and explained that he wanted
to warn about him without harming his friend, as he was not sure if Amir
really intended to kill Prime Minister Rabin. Halevy was not brought to trial
for withholding critical information. He was only dismissed from his IDF
intelligence unit.
Carmi Gillon, former managing director of ISA, admitted13 (Gillon,
2016) in an interview with me that the intelligence failure was obvious.
In his view, preventing the assassination of the prime minister had been
possible, as there had been information received in advance that had not
been treated properly. Gillon added that in his position he had not been
aware of all relevant warnings of intentions to harm Rabin. Gillon claimed
that the Inquiry Commission had made a major mistake by focusing too
much on the security errors and almost entirely neglecting the intelligence
failure and the explanations for it. Gillon emphasized that although ISA
had correctly assessed the public atmosphere that had influenced the kill-
ers motives, his organization failed to fulfill its mission by not halting the
killer in advance.
It was a standing procedure of the ISA that this kind of information was to
be dealt with solely by its officer, who must investigate it; the ISA should not
have allowed the police to conduct that interview with Halevy. The reason is
that ISA officers are much better trained to handle these events and are better
able to raise doubts and ask the right questions. By permitting such a key
source to be interviewed by the police, especially given the charged public
atmosphere that had targeted itself towards Prime Minister Rabin, the ISA
showed that it did not believe that the possibility of the killing of the prime
minister had even existed.
It is clear that the ISA did not assess the threats correctly, threats by the
religious right and the religious leaders of the settlers in the Occupied
Territories who saw Rabin as evil. The information from Shlomi Halevy
was so specificand at the time there had been few clues with such details
that it is clear that the ISA was biased by the fact that Halevy served in the
IDF intelligence, and thus perceived him as a reliable source and did not
further question his testimony.
The Inquiry Commission Report concludes weakly that if Halevy had been
interrogated differently by the ISA, the organization could have found out
about Amirs intentions (Shamgar Inquiry Commission, 1996, p. 127). It
avoided indicating firmly that the decision to transfer the interrogation of
36 A. BARNEA

Halevy to the police had been a fatal mistake by the Intelligence Division of
the ISA. Gideon Ezra, former deputy director of the ISA, said immediately
after the murder that Halevy should be interrogated directly by the ISA on
the spot as the information he passed did not make sense (Gillon, 2000,
p. 256).
It is also quite strange that Halevys original story was not questioned by anyone
in the relevant department of the ISA that was responsible for covering the
extreme Jewish activities. It is important to mention that according to the former
Director of the ISA, Yaakov Perry, the ISA acted entirely differently 10 years
earlier, when it had the first indication of extreme right religious Jewish activists
planning on bombing the holy site of the Temple Mount. The ISA had successfully
prevented the bombing in advance by targeted intelligence (Moreh, 2014, p. 133).
From the perspective of the theory of strategic surprise, it looks as if this early-
warning information was accidentally treated by the ISA more as a noise than as
a signal. If the ISA had collected further information, it could have become a
strategic warning.14

The case of ISA agent Avishai RavivHow the ISA missed critical
information
Contrary to the case of Shlomi Halevy, the information about Avishai Raviv,
who was an ISA agent covering extreme-right activities, was not recorded in
the Inquiry Commission Report. The Inquiry Commission decided to con-
ceal the information about Ravivs involvement by including it only in the
confidential appendix of its report, but information from the appendix did
reach the local media. However, legal proceedings against Raviv later
revealed what had happened before the assassination.
Two weeks after Rabins assassination (November 17, 1995), Israeli jour-
nalist Amnon Abramovich revealed to the public the fact that at the critical
time of the threats against Prime Minister Rabin, Raviv was acting as an ISA
agent. Abramovich also reported that Ravivs code name was Champagne
(Levinson, 2011).
Raviv had been recruited by the ISA in 1987 and was considered a key field
agent in the coverage of the extreme right activities (Gillon, 2000, pp. 246247;
Protocol of discussion, 1999). Raviv was considered a problematic agent, even
though his handlers decided to move forward with him. During his undercover
operation for the ISA, which was assessed by them as useful, Raviv performed
many illegal activities, including acts of violence. Despite warnings and alerts
from his handlers in the ISA, the contacts with him were not severed. Ravivs
handlers told him that his activities have significant meaning, but he was also
criticized mainly for a lack of proper reporting.
Raviv initiated activities that raised his profile as one of the chief activists
in the extreme right, and he was leading others who shared similar ideas.
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE, SECURITY, AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS 37

When opposition first began against the peace process, Raviv became a key
voice against the process and especially against Prime Minister Rabin. He was
personally involved with the creation of the photomontage showing Prime
Minister Rabin in SS uniform, and he mentioned a few times in front of
others that according to the Jewish law, it was permissible to kill the prime
minister. At the same time, Raviv provided the ISA with valuable informa-
tion on the extreme activities. Although the ISA was aware of Ravivs
problematic character and undisciplined behavior, the decision was to con-
tinue running him as a valuable agent.
Raviv had a close relationship with Yigal Amir, and Amir was involved in many
of Ravivs activities against the peace process and the prime minister. Although
Amir was talking about the need to kill Prime Minister Rabin, in his reports to his
handlers, Raviv systematically avoided mentioning Amir, except for once (Kaner,
1995). A former ISA official told the Israeli journalist Ben Caspit (Caspit, 2015)15
that after the first piece of information about Yigal Amir appeared, in June 1995
from Halevy, a second bit about Amir came in August, this time from Raviv
himself. While Amir and Raviv were active in the same militant opposition
groups, this information was broadly referring to Amirs extreme political activity
against the Oslo Accords. It was given low priority by the ISA. It is highly
suspicious that no further information came from Raviv later, especially in the
immediate period before the assassination, when Amir talked to those in his close
circles about his intentions to kill Prime Minister Rabin.
The Shamgar Inquiry Commission criticized the provocative behavior of
agent Raviv, which had not been properly controlled by his handlers;
Ravivs superiors in the ISA also confirmed Ravivs involvement in some
of the extreme activities that had been designed to increase his credibility
in the eyes of his close friends. The Commission Report also mentioned
that A lack of control over the agent and the total backup given him by
his handlers, created a misleading picture of the identity of interests
between him and his handlers, which are impaired and damaged trust of
the ISA (Protocol of discussion, 1999).
Raviv was charged with failing to prevent a crime on the grounds of his
knowing about Amirs intentions but not reporting them to his handlers in
the ISA. The court ruled that Raviv did not know of Yigal Amirs intentions
to assassinate Prime Minister Rabin. The courts decision is contrary to the
findings of the Inquiry Commission Report, which questioned why Raviv did
not report Amirs intention to kill the Prime Minister (Protocol of discus-
sion, 1999).
It is likely that agent Raviv was not managed by his superiors in the best
way possible, as the Inquiry Commission Report clearly said. It is also
probable that a better handling of Raviv would have brought him to confess
the names of all persons involved with his provocative activities, including
Yigal Amir, as his group was small, only around 1520 people. Each person
38 A. BARNEA

surrounded Raviv should have been closely monitored by the ISA, as Raviv
and all members of his group were talking about killing Prime Minister
Rabin. In a discussion at the Office of the Attorney General, a few months
after Rabins assassination, the head of the Intelligence Division responsible
for counter-Jewish terrorist activities admitted that Raviv has not been run
properly and concluded (Protocol of discussion, 1999):
We have set up new rules regarding the running of agents, terminating connection
with them and conducting psychological tests. We have made it clear to him
(Raviv) that we will not give him immunity on crimes. We understand now that
if we had cut our relations with him, perhaps he would have given us the
information about the killer.

He added: Most of the time his (Raviv) balance of reporting was useful
except the last year.
After the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, the ISA was not ready to sever
its relationship with Raviv and was opposing any attempt to bring him to trial for
his failure. It seemed as if ISAs main concern was avoiding the possible embarrass-
ment of the organization, which might have resulted if Raviv had been sentenced.
As the information about the small Yemenite with curly hair who intends to
kill the prime mininster was received from Halevy a full five months before the
assassination, it is unclear why the ISA did not ask their top agent, Raviv, whose
main responsibility was to cover the extreme right activists, if he knew anyone
who fit this very specific description. This was a standing procedure of running an
agent who covered a secret gathering of people acting against the government. It is
quite probable that such a question would have brought up the name of Yigal
Amir and would have identified him as the potential assassin. Once Yigal Amir
had been identified and exposed, the ISA might well have questioned Halevy,
again, and might have saved Prime Minister Rabins life; this could have changed
the course of the history of Israel.
Therefore, we are faced with a major disturbing question: How did the ISA miss
these two significant opportunities? Perhaps it was a result of a lack of experience
among the Commission members regarding the work of counter intelligence. In
any event, the Shamgar Inquiry Commission Report did not answer these ques-
tions and unfortunately seems to have chosen not to go into these details.

Conclusions
The terms of reference of the Commission
As we can see from the Inquiry Commission Report, the Commission had
discussed the failure to protect and to provide security for Prime Minister
Rabin on the evening of November 4, 1995. It seems that in the inquiry of
Rabins killing, the Chairman of the Commission, Shamgar, actually followed
his own findings from the Inquiry Commission regarding the Massacre in
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE, SECURITY, AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS 39

the Tomb of the Patriarchs (in Hebron) a year earlier, looking mainly into
the protection and the security aspects (Shamgar, 2015)16 and almost
neglected the intelligence aspects.
The Inquiry Commission Report did not discuss the heavy incitement
aimed personally at Rabin, which played a significant role in the killers
decision to realize his plan, as he later confessed to his ISA interrogators.
Amir admitted that he had been influenced by rabbis declarations, saying
that, Rabin was a traitor. Amir apparently asked the rabbis whether he
should kill Rabin, and not only did the rabbis not stop him, but they also did
not report him to the authorities. If the Commission would have examined
that issue deeply, it would have had noted the lack of coverage of the extreme
right-wing political activities. Still, taking advantage of the Commission
heads reputation as former president of the Supreme Court, Meir Shamgar
could have decided to expand his inquiry but chose to follow the directions
he received. The Director General of the ISA, Carmi Gillon, who was found
responsible by the Inquiry Commission, criticized heavily Chairman
Shamgar for not looking into this matter and ignoring the incitement and
the atmosphere which had a strong impact on Amirs decision to kill Prime
Minister Rabin (Moreh, 2014, p. 169).

The theory of the lone wolf


On May 26, 2013, former deputy in the ISA, Yitzhak Ilan, publicly spoke
(Bochbot, 2013) about the activities of the ISA in countering terrorism. He
also referred to the theory of the lone wolf (single terrorist), claiming that
in this case it was almost impossible to stop the terrorist in advance. But this
theory is not relevant to the case of Rabins assassination. We see that at least
three different people (Halevy, his former girlfriend, and Avishai Raviv)
knew about Amirs intentions, and this information was not delivered to
the ISA timely.

Two golden pieces of information


Going against its best-practice procedures, the ISA did not question
Halevy, the former member of the military intelligence, who provided
the initial information about the young (Jewish) Yemenite with curly
hair; instead the ISA let the police interview him. It is reasonable to
believe that professional intelligence officials from the ISA could have
found out the name of the killer Amir from Halevy had they questioned
Halevy at the time.
The second piece of relevant information was in the hands of the senior
ISA agent, Raviv, who was covering the extreme right-wing activities aimed
directly at Prime Minister Rabin. Raviv did not pass the critical piece of
40 A. BARNEA

information to his handlers for reasons that still need to be fully investigated.
On one occasion, Raviv said (Hatoni & Keshet, 1995) that he did not report
Amir since no one took Amirs words seriously.

The structure of the Inquiry Commission


In addition to Chairman Shamgar, the other two members of the Inquiry
Commission were Professor Ariel Rosen-Zvi, from the Faculty of Law at Tel
Aviv University, and Zvi Zamir, former director of the Mossad who left his
position in 1974 and since then has had no involvement with intelligence
matters. The Inquiry Commission was lacking an intimate understanding of
security and intelligence matters, and decided to look into security issues
which seemed to be less complicated. The Commission thus avoided going
deeply into the whole matter of counter intelligence and the delicate issue of
covering Jewish extreme activities, led by religious leaders and backed by
prominent political leaders from the right-wing parties.17

The bias that reduced the sense of threat


Although there was critical information that a Jewish terrorist intended to
kill Prime Minister Rabin, the ISA did not believe it could happen, mainly
because it had never occurred before and also because there was a strong
belief in the quality of the security around the prime minister. The failure of
the ISA was not just in not tracing the killer beforehand but also in not
properly assessing the high probability of an attempt to kill Prime Minister
Rabinan option which was reflected by the public atmosphere and by the
strong opposition to the peace process to an extent that had never been seen
before. The ISA was fixated on its main concern with Palestinian terrorism,
which possibly blocked its capability to see beyond the obvious.

Notes
1. Although I faced major hurdles to interview key people both from the ISA and the
Inquiry Commission, due to security considerations and restrictions, I interviewed a
few who enlightened on this catastrophic event.
2. In this article, the historian Professor Michael Harsagor was referring to a right-wing
claim to conspiracy among the security forces to cover up the murder of Rabin.
3. The terrorist attack on the 2013 Boston Marathon was considered an intelligence
failure by the U.S. Congress, (Mathes, 2013; Storm, 2013; Werner, 2013).
4. The Oslo Accords were bilateral agreements signed in Washington in September 1993
following negotiations, part of which were clandestine, between Israel and the PLO, see
Oslo Accords, Retrieved from https://www.knesset.gov.il/lexicon/eng/oslo_eng.htm and
also http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/foreignpolicy/peace/guide/pages/declaration%20of%
20principles.aspx
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE, SECURITY, AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS 41

5. In his book, Gillon described in detail the nature of public attacks, which were targeted
personally against Prime Minister Rabin not just by the extreme opposition but also by
the heads of the largest opposition party, the Likud.
6. Dvir Kariv, former ISA officer responsible for these issues at the time of the assassina-
tion, approved this information during an interview with me. (July 7, 2016).
7. This is part of the confidential appendix of the Shamgar Inquiry Commission Report
that was leaked to Globes newspaper.
8. Declaration of Principles on Interim SelfGovernment Arrangement, September 13
1993. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20021115183950/http://knesset.gov.
il/process/docs/oslo_eng.htm
9. Based on the firm incitement against Rabin, the former head of the Israeli Military
Intelligence (19551959), Professor Yehoshaphat Harkabi predicted in January 1994
that Rabin will not die naturally (Genosar & Shalom, 2015, pp. 6465).
10. 1996 Oslo Interim Agreement, the second phase of the process that had begun with the
establishment of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and Jericho in May 1994, and which
set the stage for the final status talks to begin by May 1996, http://israelipalestinian.
procon.org/view.background-resource.php?resourceID=000921
11. Karpin and Friedman offered a very comprehensive sequence of the incitement until
the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin.
12. He was not recognized in the protocol of that meeting.
13. I interviewed Carmi Gillon, May 30, 2016, in Tel Aviv (Gillon, 2016).
14. Roberta Wohlstetter 1962) composed the distinction between noise and signal in
national intelligence based on the analysis of the intelligence gathered by the
U.S. intelligence prior to the Pearl Harbor attack (1941). Usually, the analytical
problem does not stem from lack of data but from the inability to extract relevant
information from mere data.
15. This information was confirmed by Dvir Kariv, former officer in the ISA during an
interview with me on June 7, 2016.
16. In his new autobiography, Judge Shamgar wrote only shortly about the Inquiry
Commission regarding Rabins assassination referring only to the security failure
(Shamgar, 2015, pp. 228230).
17. According to the Israeli law of inquiry commissions (https://www.knesset.gov.il/
review/data/heb/law/kns6_inquiry.pdf), the chairman is entitled to extend the scope
of the inquiry as he deems necessary, according to his understanding. In his book,
Gillon (2000, pp. 237245) described in details the nature of public attacks, which were
targeted personally against Prime Minister Rabin not just by the extreme opposition
but also by the heads of the largest opposition party, the Likud.

Notes on contributor
Avner Barnea, Ph.D., is a research fellow at the National Security Studies Center at the
University of Haifa, and lecturer on Counter Intelligence in Democratic Societies at the
Department of Political Science, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the head of a
special program on competitive intelligence, corporate security, competitive intelligence, and
crisis management in the MBA program at the Netanya Academic College, Israel. He is also a
former senior officer with the Israeli Intelligence Community.
42 A. BARNEA

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