New Shin Bet chief: Agency won’t stand idly by as crime rises in Arab community

Ronen Bar succeeds Nadav Argaman as head of service that mostly deals with Palestinian terror; says Israel must also find ways to further cooperate with the PA

New Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar on October 11, 2021. (Shin Bet)
New Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar on October 11, 2021. (Shin Bet)

Ronen Bar on Wednesday began his tenure as head of the Shin Bet, succeeding Nadav Argaman as director of the security service.

The agency is chiefly responsible for dealing with Palestinian terror. But in recent weeks, as communal violence in Arab society has continued to spiral out of control, government officials have proposed enlisting the Shin Bet in law enforcement activities. It is not yet clear to what extent the agency would be used to curb the ongoing violence.

Since the start of 2021, there have been 98 victims of apparent homicides in Arab society, according to a tally by the Abraham Initiatives nonprofit. The organization said that 81 of those killed this year were victims of gun violence.

“There has been a lot of talk lately about the growing violence in general and in Arab society in particular,” Bar said at a ceremony marking the beginning of his tenure and the end of Argaman’s.

“The agency will not stand idly by,” he said, vowing to study the issue and present a plan that would strike the right balance in terms of the agency’s involvement.

“This is obviously a national mission,” he declared.

Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar (L), Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) and outgoing director Nadav Argaman (R) on October 13, 2021 (Haim Zach/GPO)

Bar served in the Israel Defense Forces’ elite Sayeret Matkal unit, the same detachment in which Prime Minister Naftali Bennett himself once served, and then entered the Shin Bet as a field agent.

He was tapped to lead the Shin Bet’s Operations Division in 2011, became head of the service’s resource development department in 2016 and took over as deputy head of the organization in 2018.

Ahead of his appointment Bar was vetted by the Goldberg Committee for high-level civil service appointments, which said in a statement on Friday that it had not found any “defect in the purity of [his] qualities,” nor any issue with the appointment process, despite an anonymous letter sent to the panel that made two claims against him, the specifics of which could not be detailed publicly due to security constraints.

At the Wednesday ceremony Bennett thanked Argaman for his five and a half years of service as head of the agency. “Nadav, we have known each other for years, but in recent months I have become even more acquainted with the special and precise spirit that you brought with you to the service,”  Bennett said.

Bar told the outgoing director: “You took the organization forward in many areas and I have no doubt that [your contribution] will provide a significant infrastructure for years to come.”

New Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar (L) with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on October 11, 2021 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

On Arab community violence, Bar said: “Israel must embrace and strengthen Arab society in Israel, which is interested in integrating into Israeli society, and do so through investment in infrastructure, education, and welfare. At the same time, it is important to increase law enforcement activity and establish deterrence against [criminal elements], in order to reduce the number of weapons in their possession and thwart their motivation to act.”

Israeli officials previously told The Times of Israel that Bar looked more favorably than did his predecessor Argaman on the move to involve the agency in fighting crime in the Arab community. Bennett had taken Bar’s support for the move into consideration when deciding who to nominate as the Shin Bet’s next head, one official said on condition of anonymity.

Speaking about the Palestinians, Bar said: “Israel must find a way to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority and promote economic projects with international assistance. At the same time, it must severely hit Hamas in [the West Bank], the Gaza Strip and its headquarters abroad.”

Bar is expected to head the agency until 2026.

Times of Israel staff and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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