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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 14:41 GMT
Profile: Israel's Shin Bet agency
The wreckage of the car in which an alleged Palestinian militant was killed
Shin Bet is at the forefront of Israel's assassination policy
Shin Bet, also known as the General Security Services or Shabak, is Israel's domestic security agency.

It is believed to be at the forefront of undercover operations against Palestinian militants.

The agency is said to run a network of Palestinian informers and to have a key role in the Israeli assassination policy against alleged militants.

Two Shin Bet agents injured in a suicide attack on Wednesday 30 December are believed to have been waiting for a Palestinian informer when they were attacked.

A statement from the prime minister's office, which is responsible for Shin Bet said that the two agents had been slightly injured during "an operational mission".

If this is the case, it may be a rare example of Shin Bet's network of informers working against the agency.

Agency structure

Shin Bet is believed to have three operational wings:

  • Arab affairs department: Responsible for anti-terrorist operations related to alleged Palestinian and Arab terrorists. This department is believed to have an undercover detachment, popularly known as the Mista'arvim (Marauders) who work to counter the intifada.

  • Non-Arab affairs department: Formerly divided into communist and non-communist sections. Concerned with all other countries, including penetrating foreign intelligence services and diplomatic missions in Israel.

  • Protective security department: Responsible for protecting Israeli Government buildings and embassies, defence industries, scientific installations, industrial plants, and the national airline.

Israeli security experts say that Shin Bet has a large number of fluent Arabic speakers, able to pass themselves off as Palestinians and go freely about the West Bank.

New recruits to these elite units are said to have to pass a test by going to a Palestinian market and talking to shoppers without raising any suspicions.

Tarnished reputation

Like Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence agency, Shin Bet's reputation has suffered in recent years.

In 1984, two detained Palestinian hijackers were beaten to death by agents in what became known as the Bus 300 Affair. A government report later revealed that the Shin Bet chief at the time, Avraham Shalom, had ordered the two Palestinians killed and them attempted to cover this up.

In 1987, Shin Bet was found to have lied in court and extracted a false confession of espionage from an Israeli army officer Izzat Nafsu, who had been in prison for 18 years.

Shin Bet's reputation was further compromised by its failure to prevent the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin in 1995 by a right-wing Israeli extremist. The agency's head, Karmi Gillon, resigned as a result of the assassination.

Interrogation methods

Shin Bet's interrogation methods, especially of Palestinians, have always been controversial and criticised by Israeli and international human rights groups.

Human rights groups have alleged that many prisoners died at the hands of Shin Bet or were left paralysed after a period of detention.

Shin Bet inquiry
An actor shows an Israeli inquiry how prisoners are allegedly bound and hooded during interrogation
In 1999, the Israeli high court ruled that there was no legal basis for violent shaking of prisoners, depriving them of sleep and forcing them into painful positions for long periods. The court ruled that Shin Bet's methods should not differ form the Israeli police.

One of the most severe interrogation methods, regularly practiced during the 1988-92 intifada, left handcuffed prisoners stretched backwards over stools, with sacks over their heads and loud music blasting into their ears.

Shin Bet denied that these interrogation methods constituted torture, and insisted that what was termed "moderate or increased physical pressure" could be employed, notably in so-called "ticking bomb" cases, where prisoners are thought to have information about imminent terrorist attacks.

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