PM appoints new national security adviser: Meir Ben-Shabbat

Ex-Shin Bet officer fills role vacant since 2015, takes over for acting adviser Eitan Ben-David

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Meir Ben-Shabbat, who was named National Security Adviser on August 13, 2017. (Courtesy)
Meir Ben-Shabbat, who was named National Security Adviser on August 13, 2017. (Courtesy)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday that Meir Ben-Shabbat would be taking over as head of the National Security Council later this week, filling a role that has been vacant since 2015.

Ben-Shabbat, who previously served as a senior official in the Shin Bet security service, is scheduled to begin in the position on Tuesday, Netanyahu said at the start of this week’s cabinet meeting.

“He has a wealth of experience and practice in defending the security of Israel [from his time] in the Shin Bet, including his latest position as head of the southern district,” Netanyahu said. “He is also well known to the members of the cabinet, who have already heard the clarity of his thoughts and have been assisted by his experience.”

Yossi Cohen, who currently leads the Mossad intelligence agency, served as national security adviser from 2013 to 2015. When he left, the position was left empty.

Yaakov Nagel served as acting national security adviser from 2015 until March of this year, leaving the position for personal reasons. He was replaced on an interim basis by Eitan Ben-David.

The incoming head of the National Security Council has 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 over the past 20 years. His position as head of the service’s southern district was comparable to that of a military general.

Ben-Shabbat personally led the Shin Bet’s efforts in Gaza during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead campaign, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

The 51-year-old father of four also led the security service’s Cyber Directorate and its National Directorate for Thwarting Terror, Espionage, Research and Policy.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett lauded Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Ben-Shabbat, saying in a statement that he “brings with him years of security and defense experience in various capacities, and a profound understanding of Israel’s national security.”

Bennett, who also leads the Jewish Home party, has been 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, something he reiterated in his statement on Sunday.

“It is essential the NSC be a strong organization, playing a central role in the oversight and management of our national security. It must also be a support system, to provide diverse diplomatic and security alternatives, and to prevent a single-minded conception from taking over,” Bennett said.

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