Shin Bet under fire over murder of Rabin

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PATRICK COCKBURN

Jerusalem

Yitzhak Rabin's bodyguards believed the Israeli radical right was more likely to throw stones and tomatoes than to try to murder the prime minister, according to the official report on the assassination, which was published yesterday.

The three-man commission, headed by Meir Shamgar, a former president of the Supreme Court and which spent four months investigating security lapses which allowed Yigal Amir to kill Rabin so easily, decided there was no evidence of a conspiracy. Although Karmi Gillon, then head of the Shin Bet (GSS) security service, knew the danger of Rabin being attacked by a member of the far right was increasing, he did nothing to impress this on his subordinates or the prime minister's bodyguards.

The commission had a narrow brief in investigating the immediate security breakdown on 4 November, when Rabin was shot three times in the back as he left a "Yes to Peace, No to Violence" rally in Tel Aviv. Israelis were astonished last year to see on an amateur video that Amir was able to dawdle for 40 minutes as he waited for his victim without anybody asking what he was doing. There were only two bodyguards with Rabin as he was shot, neither standing directly behind him.

The report said: "The Shin Bet had abundant information about the intensification of threats against the lives of prominent persons, first and foremost the Prime Minister. The Shin Bet did not do enough, in terms of adjusting its protection method to the new risks, to cope with the worsening threat, and did not ensure that its bodyguards properly understood the severity of this threat."

The commission rejected the thesis that the need for politicians to have direct contact with the public made the task of protecting Rabin impossible. It said the failings were organisational: it mentioned a number of times the unwillingness of all the security services to direct efforts towards detecting and stopping a Jewish assassin.

The commission was not mandated to deal with the build-up of violent opposition to Rabin's policy of partial withdrawal from the West Bank. Its definition of a conspiracy to assassinate was narrowly defined.

There was no doubt Amir belonged to a circle of militant religious nationalists prepared to use violence to oppose the Oslo Accords. Some members of the group knew of his intentions to kill Rabin. Shlomi Halevy, a student, had told police, though in a convoluted form, of Amir's intention to commit murder, claiming he had overheard it in a lavatory in a Tel Aviv bus station. In reality, he had been told by his girlfriend.

The commission's 214-page report has a 118-page classified annexe. Judge Shamgar is very much an establishment figure and the conclusions of the report are for the most part bland.

Mr Gillon stepped down as head of the Shin Bet in January, though he said yesterday that he offered his resignation three days after the assassination. The head of VIP protection has also resigned. Other Shin Bet officials responsible for protecting Rabin were censured in the report.

Rabin's assassination has resulted in much tighter security for senior officials, including his successor, Shimon Peres, and his Cabinet ministers.

Ministers now say that their guards keep them away from the public at a time when they want to mingle with the crowds in the run-up to the election on 29 May.

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