Zvi Barel
Haaretz (Editorial)
February 27, 2013 - 1:00am


Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen didn't appear in the documentary "The Gatekeepers," a fact that gives us hope for next year's Oscars. Until he retires and is discovered by a filmmaker, he continues to serve as a gatekeeper. He's responsible for making sure that the decision-makers know about a danger in time, and he's responsible for preventing it.

His powers are very broad, though not unlimited. Even if he's not their superior, the political leaders, the Israel Defense Forces, the police, the judicial system – and even more so the entire military establishment – treat his requests and recommendations as instructions that are better not to question. But he's the man who has to decide carefully when his decisions themselves constitute a security threat.

Cohen is the man who decided whether to arrest Samer Issawi last August after he had been released as part of the Shalit exchange deal. He was also the man who decided whether and how to interrogate Arafat Jaradat, who died in Megiddo Prison last week. He's also the one who will have to handle the results of these decisions before they trigger an intifada. Cohen can no longer be satisfied with putting the mess he made on the government's doorstep and waiting for our non-government to find a solution.

After all, why should Ehud Barak, still the defense minister, care if he bequeaths a light intifada to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Why should Netanyahu care if he welcomes U.S. President Barack Obama with "Palestinian terror" in the guise of thousands of stone throwers?

And we can already hear Habayit Hayehudi chief Naftali Bennett saying there should be no prize for terror. We can hear his right-hand woman Ayelet Shaked explaining that "riots in the territories stem from the Shalit deal." We can hear Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid – oops, he can't be heard, nor can the woman in charge of negotiations, Tzipi Livni. She has nothing to say because there are no negotiations and perhaps there won't be if an intifada breaks out. Once again it turns out that the seventh gatekeeper, Cohen, is the one who has to make decisions for our political leaders as well.

It doesn't have to be a difficult decision, especially because Cohen has experience with a similar one. Last April, exactly a year after he took office, thousands of security prisoners declared a hunger strike to protest their prison conditions. Less than a month after the strike started, Israel signed an agreement with the prisoners – another agreement with "terror." The prisoners promised they wouldn't engage in terror from inside prison; in return their conditions were improved.

The strike ended with the help of intensive Egyptian mediation, and its end was accompanied by another interesting development. The number of administrative detainees plummeted. If before the strike there were 320 such detainees, within six months the number was 178.

No security miracle took place during those six months. The Shin Bet chief discovered that one could get by with fewer administrative detainees. Can't some of those 178 also be released? Of the thousands of security prisoners who remained behind even after the Shalit deal, aren't there a few hundred elderly or ill ones who should be released?

Cohen shouldn't be afraid of the wailing from the right or the sour looks from the center. There was shouting when the agreement was signed in May, and when a similar agreement was signed in 2000. It has happened with other prisoner deals too.

But Cohen is very familiar with the statistics; he knows that Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon's warning did not come true, that "releasing the prisoners will lead to the killing of dozens and maybe hundreds of civilians." He knows that the static number of security prisoners and the decline in the number of administrative detainees mean the prisoner release had no significant effect on the scope of terror.

Cohen can't wait until his retirement to tell the people what decision we need to stop the fire from becoming a conflagration. Right now he's the man who has to stick his finger in the dike. He has to be a gatekeeper.


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