Ministers said to slam Shin Bet for ostensibly lax security for PM

Former officials slam security detail for PM’s son as excessive, unnecessary

TV report questions Shin Bet’s costly protection of Yair Netanyahu in Miami, though he does not fall under its responsibility; agency also harasses critic, a US citizen, in California

Yair Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in Tel Aviv, on November 29, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Yair Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in Tel Aviv, on November 29, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair, who has been in the United States for the past year, enjoys a security detail there to which he does not appear to be entitled, Channel 12 reported Friday.

Securing Yair Netanyahu’s stay in an extravagant apartment complex in Miami, Florida, with a chauffeur and a pair of bodyguards from the Shin Bet’s elite Unit 730, costs the state an estimated NIS 200,000 ($55,000) a month, according to the report, for a total of NIS 2.5 million ($680,000) to date.

It is unclear why the younger Netanyahu is being protected by Unit 730, which is tasked with guarding only the seven top public officials in Israel: the president, prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister, speaker of the Knesset, opposition leader and Supreme Court president. Other protected people receive their security detail from the Prime Minister’s Office’s lower-ranking Magen unit.

According to the report, it is also unprecedented that a prime minister’s adult child living abroad should be given a round-the-clock Shin Bet security detail.

The younger Netanyahu left Israel in the aftermath of massive protests on March 26, 2023, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets around the country in anger over his father’s decision to oust Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had called on the government to pause its planned judicial overhaul, saying it threatened national security.

Yair Netanyahu, then a prolific right-wing agitator on social media, was said to have influenced his father’s decision to fire the minister.

The mass protests led Netanyahu to freeze the overhaul as well as the dismissal. By May, Gallant was officially reinstated, and the younger Netanyahu’s social media feed had all but gone dark. He moved to a Miami getaway owned by Simon Falic, a millionaire benefactor of the Netanyahus.

In February, the British Daily Mail newspaper published photographs of Yair Netanyahu apparently living in the Slate, a luxury high-rise also belonging to Falic in Hallandale Beach, near Miami. Yair came under criticism in Israel for vacationing opulently abroad while his country was at war.

Haaretz reported Sunday that one of the premier’s US-based critics, dual American-Israeli citizen Offir Gutelzon of Palo Alto, California, had been harassed by the Shin Bet for his intent to make public Yair Netanyahu’s comings and goings in Miami.

When asked about the Haaretz report at a news conference Monday, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that “the US would oppose any effort by any foreign government attempting to intimidate individuals in the US from engaging in protected free speech activity.”

The Netanyahu family’s security was reportedly beefed up when Sara Netanyahu, the premier’s wife and Yair’s mother, was accosted by anti-overhaul protesters at a central Tel Aviv hair salon in March of last year at the height of the demonstrations. After the incident, the Netanyahu family requested to have its security taken up a notch, according to Channel 12.

Israelis demonstrate outside a hair salon in Tel Aviv where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara Netanyahu was, on March 1, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

One interviewee in the Channel 12 report, Ami Dror, an anti-overhaul protester who used to head the premier’s security detail in the 1990s, said the Shin Bet was opposed to the Netanyahus’ request, but was overridden by a five-member committee of ministers.

“They were completely opposed,” said Dror of the Shin Bet. “They were pulling their hair out [but] they were forced to” comply with the Netanyahus’ demands.

“They didn’t want to [do it] because there was no reason,” said Dror, who did not cite a source.

“You need to decide,” he explained. “The cost of [maintaining] two people abroad is high. Is it more important to give that budget to ten Shin Bet officers who will interrogate people in Gaza, or two people who will stand there [with Yair Netanyahu]?”

“If the Shin Bet had had specific intelligence that he was threatened, it would be a completely different story,” said Dror, “but that’s not the case.”

Shlomo Harnoi, a former head of the Shin Bet’s bodyguard service, told Channel 12 that “there are probably no actual threats, as far as I know — something concrete where it’s obvious someone wants to hurt [Netanyahu].”

Dror claimed the reason the Netanyahus wanted beefed-up security was because they liked the optics. “A lot of the protected people feel pressure to be protected for the status, to walk by and be seen in all sorts of places,” he said, adding, “You just look better when you have bodyguards.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu has also been known to prefer a robust security detail. After his family lost theirs following Netanyahu’s defeat in the 2021 election, the unseated premier insisted — to no avail — that the state continue to supply his wife and children with bodyguards.

(From left to right) Avner, Sara, Benjamin and Yair Netanyahu tour the Golan Heights, on April 23, 2019. (PMO)

The Walla news site reported Friday that at a cabinet meeting the previous day, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem — both political allies of Netanyahu’s — berated Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar for being too lax with the premier’s security, which they claimed was being increasingly compromised by protesters against him.

The Walla report cited unnamed sources as saying Bar told the ministers he was unaware of an increased threat against the prime minister, and asked them to give him an example. Ben Gvir, according to the sources, then showed Bar an inflammatory social media post against the prime minister. Nonplussed, the Shin Bet chief was said to have informed the minister that the post was published by a fake Iranian account, not an Israeli citizen.

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