Rabin's chief of security quits over lapses

Israel's anguish: As wave of recrimination continues, police arrest third suspect and head of PM's bodyguard is suspended
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The Independent Online



The head of Israel's secret police unit in charge of guarding the country's leaders resigned yesterday as a government inquiry revealed serious failures in security which allowed an assassin to kill Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister, last Saturday.

Police arrested but did not name a third man suspected of involvement in the assassination. Yigal Amir, who has confessed to the killing, said he acted alone, but police have also detained his brother, Hagai, who admits to making the dum-dum bullets that killed Rabin.

The chief of Rabin's bodyguard has been suspended and two other officials of the Shin Bet security agency have been transferred. A preliminary inquiry said the bodyguards may have been indoctrinated to look for an attack from an Arab and not a Jew, and that Shin Bet's database of possible assailants was too small.

Shimon Peres, the acting Prime Minister, ordered an inquiry into the assassination yesterday after hearing a report by the head of the Shin Bet, who is codenamed Kaf. It focuses on the enormous breach of security that enabled Amir to fire at Rabin from less than five feet, despite the Prime Minister's 20 bodyguards.

Further assassinations are possible, a senior government official warned yesterday. "There is a serious danger of a grave disruption of the rule of order, up to the point of another political murder," said Michael Ben- Yair, the Attorney-General. He is reported to be examining whether Jewish extremists can be disarmed, detained without charge, tried in military courts and have their movements restricted, as has happened to Palestinian suspects.

So far there is little sign of a clampdown on groups like the outlawed and strongly racist Kahane Chai. In its stronghold of Kfar Tapuah, near Hebron, pictures show Rabin and Mr Peres dangling from a gallows beneath the inscription: "Yigal Amir lives." According to reports, police went to the homes of Kahane Chai members only to find they had slipped away. David Libai, the Justice Minister, stormed out of a cabinet meeting yesterday when a colleague criticised him for failing to act against extremists.

Israeli commentators point out that Rabin's assassination is only the latest in a series of political killings by the radical right, which started with bomb attacks on Palestinian mayors in the 1970s. "They are failing to act now, just as they did after Baruch Goldstein killed 29 people in Hebron last year," one observer said. He added that the government had done nothing this summer when rabbis at religious colleges called on soldiers studying there to disobey orders to evacuate positions on the West Bank "on the grounds that this would be against God's law". The government does not want a confrontation with the religious parties, some of which it hopes to attract into the government.

Although Israeli law bars a reshuffle during a caretaker government, ministers are jockeying for the vacant defence and foreign affairs portfolios. Competition will come into the open once the period of mourning for Rabin ends on Monday. President Ezer Weizman is expected to invite Mr Peres to form a government next week.

Ehud Barak, a former armed forces commander who joined Rabin's cabinet as Interior Minister in July, has emerged as the leading candidate for defence, a portfolio also held by Rabin. Mr Peres has already asked him to keep an unofficial eye on the Defence Ministry.

Despite his lack of political experience, the 53-year-old former general is a logical choice. Within the Labour, pro-peace spectrum, he is seen as a hawk. He registered reservations in September when the cabinet debated the terms for Israel's second-stage withdrawal from West Bank Arab towns.

Like Rabin, Mr Peres needs to satisfy centrist opinion that he is not asking Israelis to take undue risks for peace with the Palestinians. Mr Barak, Israel's most decorated soldier, would fill the Rabin role of a cautious old army man reining in the impatient, visionary Mr Peres and his young diplomats.

Officials emphasise, however, that the new leader's options remain open. The Defence Ministry holds the key to continuation of the peace process, because it is the army which is implementing the redeployment and tending to the security of more than 100,000 Jewish settlers living alongside self-governing Palestinians. Some commentators suggest that Mr Peres may, therefore, keep the defence portfolio.

Mr Peres has to weigh similar considerations in choosing his successor as foreign minister. His natural choice would be his protege, the Economics Minister, Yossi Beilin, who as Deputy Foreign Minister was an architect of the Oslo breakthrough with the PLO two years ago. Another possible candidate is a former health minister, Haim Ramon, 45.