Opinion: Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination 25 years ago was an intelligence failure

Rabin Arafat

THE ASSASSINATION OF YITZHAK Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, on the evening of November 4, 1995, by an extreme right-wing Jew was one of the most traumatic events in the history of the State of Israel. Contrary to the public perception that the assassination happened as a result of a security failure and poor management of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), I argue that the murder was mainly due to an ISA intelligence failure.

“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 opinion, its findings were seriously wrong, as it avoided diving into the major intelligence failure that led to this tragic incident.

On the evening of November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was killed by Yigal Amir, a 27-year-old student who was known as an extreme rightwing 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 Rabin’s bodyguards were surrounding the prime minister. Amir claimed to have done it “for Israel, for the people of Israel and the State of Israel”. He was found guilty and was sent to serve a life sentence in prison.

The progress in the peace process with the Palestinians, known as the Oslo Accords of 1993, 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 rightwing Israelis often blamed Rabin for Jewish deaths in Palestinian terrorist attacks, attributing them to the Oslo agreements. There was wild incitement by rabbis and politicians from the right (including Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu), disobedience by far-right organizations to the police and the rule of law, and rabbinical rulings that saw Prime Minister Rabin as a traitor because he approved to the two-state solution with the Palestinians.

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. Yet, Rabin’s policy was to continue the peace process as if there were no terrorism, and to fight terrorism as if there were no peace process.

It was evident that Prime Minister Rabin was becoming the sole target of the extreme right wing in Israel. In a rally in Ra’anana in 1994, Netanyahu, head of the opposition, marched next to a coffin that read: “Rabin is killing Zionism”, which many thought was crossing a red line. The incitement did not stop; it intensified. At one stage, two weeks before the assassination, the attorney general summarized a meeting by saying: “I’m 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”.

The ISA had two opportunities to stop the assassin, Yigal Amir, prior to the murder of Rabin.  Five months before the assassination, the ISA received good intelligence about the intention of a young Jewish terrorist while only a general description was given. But the ISA failed to identify him. Also, the ISA had a valuable agent, in that extreme political group where the killer was active, but this agent was not questioned it that direction. The ISA did not believe that a political murder could happen in Israel, 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, if the intelligence were to fail.

The intelligence 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 Rabin —an option that 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.

Eventually, this assassination changed forever the history of the state of Israel and the Middle East.

Dr. Avner Barnea is research fellow at the National Security Studies Center of the University of Haifa in Israel. He served as a senior officer in the Israel Security Agency (ISA).

Author: Avner Barnea | Date: 04 November 2020 | Permalink

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One Response to Opinion: Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination 25 years ago was an intelligence failure

  1. Iconoclast XIII says:

    “Also, the ISA had a valuable agent, in that extreme political group where the killer was active, but this agent was not questioned it that direction.”

    Aside from the apparent typo, I am baffled that “a valuable agent” could fail to understand the importance of a serious assasination intent by a militant extremist. And fail to report thereon, even though outside his usual field of endeavors.

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