Israeli media reveals Shin Bet chiefs name

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JERUSALEM — Israeli media, ignoring censorship laws barring publication of the name of the head of Israel's domestic security service, have reported that the former head of the navy has agreed to take on the post of Shin Bet head.

Rear Adm. Ami Ayalon, who left the navy at the end of the year, will replace the current Shin Bet head — known only by his initial, the Hebrew letter "Kaf" — who announced earlier this week that he was stepping down.

Kaf's resignation came amid sharp criticism of Shin Bet security lapses surrounding the Nov. 4 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

If Ayalon is appointed — Prime Minister Shimon Peres will reportedly submit Ayalon as his choice Sunday to the Cabinet — it would be the first time a Shin Bet head was appointed from outside the security organization.

Observers said Peres appointed a Shin Bet outsider to improve the agency's reputation in the wake of the assassination.

Senior Israel Defense Force and security sources were reportedly satisfied with Ayalon, who has a reputation for keeping a low profile.

After Kaf announced plans to resign, several possible successors were named, including Ayalon and the head of the IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Ilan Biran.

Ayalon, 50, turned down a previous offer to be appointed Shin Bet head when the post was offered to him by Rabin, Peres' predecessor.

Israeli newspapers say Ayalon agreed to take the position after meeting with the current head of the agency, who reportedly persuaded him to take the post.

By law, the name of the Shin Bet head is withheld to protect his safety.

But several Israeli newspapers published Ayalon's name, saying they were doing so at a time when the Israeli public was demanding more government openness.

Newspaper officials added that even though the workings of the Shin Bet should be kept secret in most instances, the name of it's top official should be disclosed.

In the wake of the publication of Ayalon's name, Environment Minister Yossi Sarid called for a change in the legislation barring publication of the Shin Bet head's identity.

Kaf's decision to resign was dramatic, but not unexpected.

Along with five other Shin Bet officials, he recently received a warning letter from the state commission of inquiry investigating the assassination that any testimony he gave before the panel could be used against him.

Immediately after Rabin's assassination, Kaf asked to resign. But at the time, Peres refused the request.

In the letter he submitted after the assassination, Kaf reportedly said he believed the security service bore most of the weight for the failures that led to Rabin's murder, so he must resign.

But Peres refused the request, saying the Shin Bet still had many challenges to face, not the least of which was the ongoing battle against Islamic terror.

Peres also stressed the security service's role in ensuring that the political process advance after the assassination.

Kaf raised the issue twice more before presenting Peres with another request Sunday to be released from his duties, according to Israel Radio.

Peres rejected the latest request, asking Kaf to reconsider. But on Monday, Kaf said his decision was final, and Peres accepted it.

Some commentators noted how the resignation came at a time of recent successes in Israel's battle against Islamic terror.

Israel has refused to say if it was responsible for the death last Friday of Hamas terrorist Yehiya Ayash in the Gaza Strip — but the general assessment is that Israeli security operatives were involved.

Kaf, 45, was born in Jerusalem to an established legal family. He is a fifth-generation Israeli and a father of three. He joined the security service in 1970.

He wrote a paper on the threat of Jewish extremism, and during his career uncovered the right-wing Jewish underground.

Ironically, the self-confessed assassin of Rabin, Yigal Amir, was a Jewish extremist of the sort that Kaf wrote about during his career with the Shin Bet.