This week's appointment of Tamir Pardo, 57, as Director of Mossad, Israel's external espionage service, coupled with Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi's assumption of the post of Director of Israeli military intelligence- IMI has put in place two important pieces of the sweeping reform which Israel's intelligence-espionage-clandestine system is quietly undergoing.
Israel's three cloak-and-dagger agencies are in the process of being reoriented on operations rather than intelligence-gathering and analysis, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report. Furthermore, the Mossad is to be recognized as the senior clandestine agency tasked with covert operations, including those conducted by Israel Defense Forces-IDF combat units.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are directing this radical rearrangement of the national military and intelligence order, conducting the system's first shakeup since the 2006 Hizballah-Israel war.
In the summer of that year, the Israeli armored columns advancing into southern Lebanon up to the northern banks of the Litani River were unable to smash Hizballah's military strength. To redress the imbalance, IDF commandos struck deep behind enemy lines twice. The first raid on August 2, 2006 aimed at seizing Hizballah command centers around the ancient city of Baalbek, about 130 Km (80 miles) north of Israel, and knock them over. It failed because Hizballah, forewarned by the sound of the helicopter engines ferrying the Israeli troops in, were given enough time to evacuate.
Four days later, on August 5, 2006, Israeli commandos raided the Mediterranean port town of Tyre, 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of Israel, killing 27 Hizballah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard operatives, including senior commanders.
This time, the commandos took their lesson from the first raid and approached their target noiselessly by sea under cover of dark.
Tamir Pardo picked as covert operations master-planner
Both these operations behind Hizballah lines were supervised by Tamir Pardo, then head of the Mossad's operations branch. It was the first time that a Mossad officer had ever been given command of an IDF special operations unit for a covert mission inside enemy territory.
This method was not applied in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, because of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's objections. That campaign too like the Lebanon war ended unresolved and without a clear victory for either side.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report that Olmert's successor as prime minister recalled those two raids in Lebanon. He and the defense minister carefully studied the transformation of the American Central Intelligence Agency and its revised methods of operation in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan into a fighting force for covert warfare under a civilian DCI as supreme commander, currently Leon Panetta.
They also took to heart US objections to using the IDF for attacking Iran's nuclear facilities.
All these factors combined to make Netanyahu, Barak and national military and intelligence chiefs realize that a drastic overhaul had become necessary for the Mossad, Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet domestic security agency and a sweeping redistribution of their tasks. This process would have a profound impact on the IDF as well.
Four major changes are in the making therefore, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and military sources:
Intel chiefs relieved of policy briefing, strategic analyses
1. From now on, all heads of military and intelligence organizations will be required to have background experience in field combat operations on the tactical or strategic level to qualify for appointment. This proviso will apply to the Chief of Staff, Mossad Director, Military Intelligence Chief and Shin Bet Director. All of them will need to be proven "field animals" – in military parlance, rather than specialists in political analysis and military strategy as heretofore. Netanyahu and his advisers no longer want to hear intelligence and military officers offering opinions and judgments in the realms of decision-making and statecraft.
This ruling will apply to the sort of briefings to cabinet and other closed forums heard recently, in which the Mossad and IMI Directors informed policy-makers the time was right for negotiations with Syrian President Bashar Assad, in one case, and the need to retrieve ties with Ankara at all costs and ignore Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan's implacable hostility – in another.
From now on, elected policy-makers alone will be responsible for diplomacy and strategic planning and judgments. All they want to hear from the generals and spymasters is recommendations on such matters as covert operations for halting Iran's nuclear progress and the flow of North Korean rockets to Iran, and from Iran and Syria to Hizballah.
In the event of war, they will first demand plans for Mossad and IMI special operations behind enemy lines for sabotage, and only in their wake, dispatch the armored and armored infantry columns to breach them. To enforce homeland security, special Shin Bet commando units will be deployed deep inside Palestinian territory and Israeli Arab population centers while the IDF commando units are fighting on the front.
Only field combat experts need apply for top jobs
These directions are strongly blazed by the latest military and intelligence appointments.
Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, a field operations tactician of the first rank with little interest in politics and policy-making has just been appointed Israel's next Chief of Staff after Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi.
Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, even more of a "field animal" has been chosen as his deputy. His strengths lie in his ability to focus totally on preparing the armed forces for war and skills in setting up surgical field operations.
Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the new Military Intelligence chief is another field operations man who hails from the Paratroops Brigade's special commando unit and command off the Gaza front.
Kochavi has no previous experience in the intelligence trade. While managing the IMI Corps' several departments, he is expected to concentrate on expanding undercover combat units and enhancing their operational capabilities, for which he is amply qualified.
Tamir Pardo will perform similar functions in the Mossad.
Netanyahu has not yet selected the next Shin Bet Director to follow Yuval Diskin, who retires after three decades of clandestine activity and management. Our intelligence sources report that all three candidates are insiders of the organization who came up through the ranks and are active field operations men.
2. Of the three services, the Mossad faces the most radical change in its character, structure and methods of operation.
The drawing-up of strategic assessment studies, developing policy guidelines and generating ties with governments which have no formal relations with Israel will be transferred to the National Security Council headed now by Dr. Uzi Arad, a former Mossad officer himself.
Mossad and its chief promoted to command of all covert operations
While the Mossad's glory days of running networks in the US, Russia, China and Europe recede into the distant past, it emerges from its traditional chrysalis as Israel's primary covert military force, whose intelligence-gathering duties are limited to operational needs.
3. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report that, after obtaining the defense minister's acquiescence, the prime minister has assigned Tamir Pardo additional high office as head of the Committee of Israeli Intelligence Directors, a body still in formation. This position is equivalent to America's Director of National Intelligence-DNI and places him at the top of the national intelligence pyramid. In this role and as architect of the Mossad's reshaping into the national covert special combat force, he rises in rank as the equal of IDF Chief of Staff.
4. This wholesale reform will no doubt be reflected in the national defense budget, Israel's largest, and necessitate a fundamental redistribution of appropriations between the military and intelligence. Our military sources predict the transfer of large slices of the cake from the military to the clandestine agencies arising from shifts in manpower and combat and logistical resources.
It will have to be decided, for example, whether the new covert combat force is to be equipped with autonomous air, naval and logistical arms or draw on IDF support in these fields. It may also be decided to furnish the intelligence force with a UAV arm like the CIA.