One of Ariel Sharon’s first priorities as new Israeli prime minister is the overhaul of national security services, especially the Mossad foreign intelligence agency. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s political sources in Jerusalem, Sharon had hoped Dan Meridor, outgoing chairman of the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee and former justice minister, would head a newly created secret services ministry. Meridor gets on well enough with all three of Israel’s undercover agencies, army intelligence, the Shin Beit domestic service and the Mossad, to process a reform program without too many upsets. He also owns the right connections in the US intelligence community. In Washington he is viewed at the National Security Agency and CIA as a moderate pro-American politician.
Meridor declined the post when he learned he would have to follow a reorganization plan Sharon had drawn up in detail himself.
The prime minister’s second choice for the job will most probably come from inside one of the services, a decision he will delay until after his trip to Washington.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports that the Sharon plan will confront the Mossad with its most thorough overhaul since the seventies. At present, the service maintains residencies in almost 100 countries with hundreds of attached agents. Sharon holds the last three directors responsible for developing this over-extended, outdated and ineffective format: Shabtai Shavit, who openly lobbied President Clinton to pardon the fugitive financier Marc Rich; Danny Yatom who moved up later to become Barak’s political and defense chief of staff; and the incumbent Efraim Levy. Under Sharon, the Mossad will shut down many stations, fire agents, and reorganize by geographic region, maintaining regional residencies and small, mobile teams operating as and where needed.
A vital element in the Sharon plan is its application to the nuclear question. He is highly critical of the central Mossad department dealing with the nuclear threat, as too hidebound by bureaucracy to handle its tasks. That was why in ten years, it was unable to prevent the development of Iran’s nuclear program, a far cry from its performance in the eighties when Mossad operatives sabotaged nuclear components bound for Iraq before they left France.
Sharon wants the Mossad to introduce specialist desks for Iraq, Iran, India, North Korea and Pakistan. He also sees a need for a specialist desk focusing on the smuggling of nuclear materials from Russia and the Central Asian Moslem republics. Each nuclear desk would have its own officer with responsibility to the Mossad director. Similar desks would cover arms trading and smuggling, financial crime, narcotics trafficking and terrorism.
As another key reform, Sharon wants a total separation between professional intelligence field work and the proxy operations of front organizations and firms. Those fronts will be run solely by retired agents no longer active in the field – which is one way of declaring war on corrupt practices that have been allowed to spread through the services and partially handicap operational performance.
In the same way, the new prime minister takes a dim view of former intelligence and Shin Beit officers presenting their business relations with heads of the Palestinian Authority as intelligence assets. Such borderline relations carry a dangerous potential for tainting strict intelligence work and have an unhealthy bearing on political considerations. This manifestation, Sharon believes, was one of the stumbling blocks hindering former prime minister Ehud Barak in formulating his Palestinian policies and developing relations with their leaders. Sharon will insist that in future relations, intelligence work and financial influence be carefully kept apart.