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National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat announces he’s stepping down

NSC head will leave position at end of August; PM Bennett thanks Netanyahu appointee for ‘many years of contributing to Israel’s security in a professional and successful manner’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat delivers a statement upon his arrival at the Bahraini International Airport on October 18, 2020. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)
National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat delivers a statement upon his arrival at the Bahraini International Airport on October 18, 2020. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

Weeks after the swearing-in of the new government, National Security Adviser and head of the National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat announced that he would be stepping down from his position following four years in the role.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said that Ben-Shabbat informed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of his decision earlier Wednesday, and that he would remain in the position until the end of August.

“With the formation of the government, the head of the National Security Council responded to the prime minister’s request to remain in office in order to enable stability and functional continuity. Through this, Ben-Shabbat assisted the prime minister and his staff in taking office,” the PMO said.

Bennett will appoint a new national security adviser in the coming weeks “while maintaining an orderly transition process with the outgoing head of the National Security Council,” the statement added.

Bennett thanked Ben-Shabbat for his “many years of contributing to Israel’s security in a professional and successful manner.”

The prime minister said Ben-Shabbat had “served in a number of positions and in all of them he demonstrated impressive success by utilizing an in-depth understanding of the political and security challenges facing the State of Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat, at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on April 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Ben-Shabbat was appointed by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the head of the NSC in 2017, a position in which he oversaw Israel’s normalization agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

He was heavily involved in the government’s pandemic response, as well as leading talks with Washington regarding the Iranian nuclear deal.

Ben-Shabbat was perceived as a close ally of Netanyahu, with some charging that he had become a political tool for the prime minister.

Responding to the announcement that Ben-Shabbat would be stepping down, Netanyahu on Wednesday said he wanted to thank Ben-Shabbat “from the bottom of my heart” for “his exceptional service to Israel’s security.”

“Meir helped me a lot in overt and covert actions to ensure our security and our future, and in achieving the historic peace agreements we brought between Israel and the Arab countries,” the now-opposition leader said in a statement.

Ben-Shabbat had previously served in the Shin Bet since January 1989. His focus was Hamas and the Gaza Strip, directing much of the service’s activities against the terrorist group since the late 1990s. His position as head of the service’s southern district was comparable to that of a military general.

US Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner (R) speaks as he stands next to the Head of Israel’s National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat (L) at the Abu Dhabi airport on August 31, 2020. (NIR ELIAS / POOL / AFP)

Ben-Shabbat personally led the Shin Bet’s efforts in Gaza during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead campaign. The 54-year-old father of four also led the security service’s Cyber Directorate and its National Directorate for Thwarting Terror and Espionage.

Bennett is said to be considering tapping Amos Yadlin, the director of the Institute for National Security Studies, as the next chairman of Israel’s National Security Council, Channel 13 reported earlier this month.

Yadlin served as head of IDF Military Intelligence and was military attaché to Washington. He was the center-left Zionist Union’s candidate for defense minister ahead of the 2015 election and is seen as more moderate than the hawkish Bennett.

Bennett was in the past highly critical of the National Security Council’s performance during the 2014 Gaza war, saying it did not fulfill its role of providing varied options for the cabinet to consider.

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