Ami Ayalon

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You are Ami Ayalon, former head of the Israeli Security Service and peace activist


You were an outsider, brought in to rehabilitate Israel's elite Secret Service, the Shin Bet, in the aftermath of its most dismal failure—its inability to protect Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin from an assassin’s bullet in 1995. As a young boy, you were raised on a kibbutz (a sort of collective farm) where you excelled in soccer, even though you were thought to be “too short.” Friends sometimes say that because you were so short you felt a need to overcompensate by being in top physical shape.

Unlike your predecessors, you came to the Shin Bet directly from the military, where you were a decorated officer. As a young commando in 1969, you received the Israeli Army’s highest honor, the Medal of Valor, for your role in the fabled Green Island Raid against an Egyptian military instillation. Though you were severely wounded in the assault, you returned to his Naval Commando unit and eventually became its commander. During the late 1970s and early 1980s you personally led teams of divers in numerous raids against Palestinian installations along the Lebanese coast. In 1992, you were made head of the Navy, with the rank of Major General.

The Shin Bet’s reputation was in shambles following the Rabin assassination, so then Prime Minister Shimon Peres decided to bring in an outsider to help restore public confidence. You were was his top choice for the position. Not only were you a beloved war hero; you were also a resilient and stubborn commander, with a reputation for being a straight-shooter. Forthright and even sharp-tongued, you would “tell it like it is,” regardless of whether you were addressing your subordinates or your superiors. Most of all you were a hard-edged veteran of Israel’s elite Naval Commandos.

Your main goal as Head of Shin Bet was to increase security around the country’s leadership. Until Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination, Israel had been a very open society with relatively free access to politicians among all sectors of the population. An assassin’s bullet changed all that. The country’s leaders suddenly became targets and required layer upon layer of protection. You were charged with implementing this.

During your five-year tenure, you waged a relentless war against terror under three very different prime ministers: Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ehud Barak. Yet though you were considered to be the most left-wing head of the Shin Bet, it was actually Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak for whom you reserved your sharpest criticism. When the Camp David talks collapsed in 2000, conventional wisdom assumed that Barak had offered Arafat everything, and that it was only the Palestinian leader’s intransigence that prevented them from reaching a peace treaty. You shattered this myth, claiming that Barak had arrived unprepared and had hectored Arafat, instead of negotiating with him. You also claimed that the Intifada was not planned by Arafat, believing it was a true popular eruption of longstanding frustration among the Palestinians.

In terms of your beliefs about a just peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, let us draw from an editorial you wrote for the Los Angeles Times, in which you offered advice to then-President Barack Obama. You wrote that "he should espouse the following clear principles for the endgame: Two states for the two peoples with mutual recognition; borders based on the 1967 lines with equitable swaps to enable the settlement blocks to remain under Israeli sovereignty; Jerusalem should remain an open city, capital of two states, with Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods, Israeli sovereignty over Jewish neighborhoods and a special shared regime for the administration and guardianship of the holy sites; a demilitarized Palestine with international guarantees of its security; Palestinian refugees returning only to the Palestinian state or resettling in third countries with compensation; declaration of end of conflict by all sides." You further stated that a "clear process that will lead to an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is a precondition for the creation of a regional coalition that will address Iran's nuclear weapons program, and terrorism, violence, fundamentalism and nuclear proliferation throughout the Mideast.”

Taken from the website for the (highly recommended) motion picture "The Gatekeepers," A Sony Pictures Classic Release (2013):

and from: "Obama in Israel: The start of a new era?" by Ami Ayalon (Los Angeles Times, 3-8-13):

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