"The chances for a true reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas in the next two-three years are slim," outgoing Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin said Wednesday.
Diskin, who will officially turn over the organization to successor Yoram Cohen next week, said that the newfound alliance between the Palestinian factions is far from perfect: "These kinds of attempts have been around for a long time. Hamas is still conflicted… and has opted for a tactical move rather than a strategic one," he said.
A Shin Bet veteran of 33 years, Diskin believes the Palestinian unity deal has been struck "mostly for the sake of appearances, in an attempt to show unity. From here on, there are many things both sides don't know how to apply in theory, let alone on the ground."
A Palestinian unity government, he added, would have to meet many complex issues, and each side is likely to try and pull in a different direction.
However, as long as the Palestinian policies remain the same on the ground, Israel's security collaboration with the Palestinian forces must continue, as should the funneling of funds collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, said Diskin; warning that should Israel continue to suspend the transfers, the Palestinian Authority may crumble, leaving Israel to carry the burden.
'I failed Gilad'
Turning his attention to kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, Diskin said he felt responsible for the thus-far failed attempts to secure his safe return: "I haven’t been able to get him back, be it through an operation or negotiations. This failure is my responsibility. I am saddened that Gilad is not with us."
The Shin Bet, he added, "Has been heading (the case) since the abduction. We put a special task force in place, invested resources and means but at the end of the day we failed – and that's my responsibility.
"It is true that we have some abilities in the Gaza Strip, but we still came up short, which suggests a certain gap," he said, speaking of the complexities of abductions in general and the Shalit case in particular.
Diskin added that he disagrees with former Shin Bet chiefs and other defense establishment officials who believe Israel should give in to Hamas' demands and release terrorists incarcerated in Israel. "I know the data and they don't, which is why I disagree with them," he said.
As for the possibility that a Palestinian state will be unilaterally declared in September, Diskin does not believe such a step – if it indeed happens – would prove revolutionary.
"Israel has to decide on a course of action, otherwise we will find ourselves in a bind when in comes to our relationship and standing within the international community.
"In the long run," he added, "Any stalemate may turn into frustration that could eventually manifest on the ground."
And what of the regional unrest sweeping through the Middle East? "This is only the beginning." he said. "It is too early to tell where opportunities lie and threats lurk. One thing is clear though – both the media and technology are promoting processes that used to take years. This poses a dramatic challenge for intelligence services… The challenge we face now is trying to interpret these processes and their possible results on the ground."
Diskin believes that while the Iranian threat is substantial, Israel should not downplay the tensions vis-à-vis the Israeli-Arab community: "You cannot escape what happens in your own back yard. Even if you can't solve everything, you have to learn to navigate properly. Internal issues can take a toll on the country if they are not dealt with properly."
The state, he continued, "Must find a way to better integrate Israeli-Arabs in society, in order to prevent a national issue that could translate into a security one."
'Radical currents evident'Diskin's six-year term as head of the Israel Security Agency noted a dramatic drop in terror events, and most notably in suicide attacks. "Since 2005, over 160 civilians were killed and 2,000 were injured. As far as I'm concerned, I couldn’t thwart every event and that too is my responsibly."
Still, Diskin accepts that compared to the early 2000s – years that saw dozens of deadly terror attacks each year – the general sense of public safety now is stronger. "I can't accept even one terror attack, but I think we made a significant contribution to the current situation.
"Do not mistake that for lack of motivation – there have been hundreds of terror attacks that never materialized, including dozens of foiled abductions just this year."
Turning his attention to the Shin Bet's own security array and particularly to the evolution of home-grown Jewish terror, Diskin said that the radical Right in Israel is showing "dangerous, anti-government and delusional" tendencies: "There is a tendency for violence there. Our ability to detect problematic elements has improved, but our ability to incarcerate them is still lacking. I hope that improves."
One of the major challenges the organization faces, he said, is the personal security of the prime minister – especially against the possibility of an assassination by a Jewish extremist.
"Currently, the threat level is low, but this is certainly a subject that gets our full attention. Another assassination of a prime minister would plunge society into the kind of destruction we would be hard-pressed to recover from."
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