Rabin’s killer said Shin Bet ‘didn’t know anything’ about plot, refuting Smotrich

In uproar over far-right MK blaming security service for encouraging 1995 assassination, TV airs old clips from Yigal Amir probe in which he says Shin Bet ‘never could have known’

Yigal Amir, the convicted assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, seen during a court hearing in Tel Aviv, November 1, 2007. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Yigal Amir, the convicted assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, seen during a court hearing in Tel Aviv, November 1, 2007. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Yigal Amir, the Jewish extremist who assassinated former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, told interrogators that the Shin Bet security service “didn’t know anything” about his plans ahead of the murder, contradicting claims by Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich, who sparked outrage on Sunday by blaming the Shin Bet for encouraging the killing.

Amid anger over the right-wing lawmaker’s speech, Channel 12 on Monday aired old excerpts from Amir’s testimony following the assassination, which appear to refute Smotrich’s assertation.

“The Shin Bet never could have been alerted. The Shin Bet didn’t know anything about me at all,” the assassin told investigators after the killing.

“They knew I was organizing Shabbats and everything, but never could have known that I would do something like that,” Amir said.

Smotrich was accused by critics of promoting conspiracy theories in his Sunday speech to the Knesset during a ceremony marking 27 years since the November 4, 1995, assassination.

Smotrich argued that right-wing rhetoric against Rabin at the time played no role in inciting his killing. Instead, he alleged the Shin Bet, which is charged with protecting politicians, bore responsibility.

“Those who failed in protecting prime minister Yitzhak Rabin,” Smotrich said to jeers, “were not the right-wingers and the religious Zionists and the settlers who justifiably decried his government’s policies. It was the security services, which not only failed to protect him, but also used irresponsible manipulations, which haven’t been fully exposed to this day, to encourage the murderer to carry out his plan.”

Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks at the plenum hall during a memorial ceremony marking 27 years since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 6, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

But Amir’s words contradict this.

“No one around me thought I was capable of doing something like that. Even today people are in shock,” Amir said during the Shamgar Commission, the official investigation into Rabin’s assassination, according to the recordings.

Amir said he had been motivated to kill Rabin by the election results in Israel and the massacre of 29 Palestinians by Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein in Hebron in 1994. Rabin took power at the head of his Labor party following the 1992 elections.

“After the previous election, the situation in the country really disturbed me. Especially after [the massacre by] Goldstein, it started. Then the idea came to me that I needed to take him down,” Amir told investigators, referring to Rabin.

In the plenum speech, Smotrich did not elaborate on the accusation against the Shin Bet, which revolved around Shin Bet agent provocateur Avishai Raviv, codenamed Champagne, who joined the ranks of far-right extremists before Rabin’s murder and was indicted — and later acquitted — for allegedly knowing about gunman Amir’s intention to kill Rabin and failing to prevent the assassination. Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court found no evidence that Raviv knew Amir was planning to kill Rabin.

Eitan Peleg, Raviv’s lawyer, told Army Radio on Tuesday that Smotrich’s allegations constituted libel against his client and against the state. He said it was unthinkable that a politician who could make such allegations was set to be a senior minister and that he would sue Smotrich for libel if the Religious Zionism leader waived his parliamentary privilege.

Avishai Raviv, a former Shin Bet agent, on July 25, 2002. (Flash90)

Amir said during the investigation that he knew Raviv, and that the agent had discussed killing Rabin, but that Raviv wasn’t trusted in Kiryat Arba, the Jewish settlement next to Hebron.

Amir said Raviv was “not a person that people listen to.”

“After Goldstein, he moved to live in Kiryat Arba, and then people came to me and said he’s from the Shin Bet, he works with the Shin Bet,” Amir said. “These rumors spread in Kiryat Arba, the moment that Avishai Raviv… when he came there right after Goldstein.”

“There was chaos, the Shin Bet arrested people, everyone was snitching on each other. Then there started to be suspicions about Avishai Raviv, that he was traveling around in a car with a phone, people told me to not make friends with him,” Amir said.

A confidential section of the 1996 report of the Shamgar Commission included details about the Shin Bet and Raviv in relation to the murder.

Raviv has claimed that while he heard Amir make a Jewish vow known as din rodef, declaring Rabin worthy of killing, he hadn’t believed his intention was serious.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Washington, DC, November 16, 1993 in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)

Amichai Ataeli, a journalist for Yedioth Ahronoth who conducted years of extensive interviews with Amir in jail, told Channel 12 on Monday that Amir was “broadly contemptuous” of Raviv, that Amir and those around him considered Raviv to be less than “fully baked” and not trustworthy, and “they suspected that he was being operated by the Shin Bet.” As regards Smotrich’s specific suggestion Sunday that Raviv had caused Amir to carry out the assassination, Ataeli said, “I don’t see it that way.”

Criticism of Smotrich came from both members of the outgoing government and at least one MK allied with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s presumptive right-wing religious coalition, which is set to include Smotrich and other far-right lawmakers.

Avi Dichter, a Likud MK who headed the Shin Bet from 2000 to 2005, said he fully condemned Smotrich’s remarks, calling them “unhinged from reality.”

“Comments like these harm the good name of the organization and its people, who work night and day in order to protect Israel’s citizens,” he said in a tweet.

“To throw mud in such a huge way at an organization like the Shin Bet — these are really dark words. Manipulations like that are not a method of work, not at the Shin Bet, absolutely not,” Dichter told Channel 12 on Monday.

Likud MK Avi Dichter speaks in the Knesset on December 27, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted that Amir was the killer and “leaders” at the time were responsible for “creating an atmosphere of incitement,” a possible reference to Netanyahu, who led the opposition at the time and has been broadly implicated in helping whip up right-wing anger against Rabin over efforts to reach peace with the Palestinians in exchange for territorial concessions.

“The accusations against the Shin Bet are conspiracy theories which should be wiped from the public discourse and not brought up by leaders and future senior ministers,” Gantz said.

Smotrich doubled down on his allegations on Monday.

“There is no conspiracy,” he tweeted in the face of strong criticism. “The despicable murderer Yigal Amir murdered Yitzhak Rabin z”l and we are all still in pain and shock from the terrible murder. Yes, there was a significant failure on the part of the Jewish Division at the Shin Bet, and yes, to this day it refuses to take responsibility.”

“The media, as usual, is again twisted and distorted,” he added, referring to reporting on his comments at the ceremony.

Dvir Kariv, who served as an agent in the Shin Bet’s Jewish Division from 1994 to 2012 and was a senior member at the time of the assassination, told Radio 103FM that he was “shocked” at Smotrich’s remarks, saying they amounted to accusing the service of murdering the prime minister.

“These statements are utter nonsense, they’re very dangerous, there isn’t a grain of truth to them,” said Kariv, who was also involved in the probe of the assassination. “The very fact that he says that the Shin Bet agitated a murderer to commit the murder — he is actually saying that the Shin Bet murdered Rabin, that the State of Israel murdered itself.”

Smotrich, he asserted, had spread “delusional conspiracy theories” by suggesting the assassination was “deliberate” and had been orchestrated by the security service.

Yigal Amir reenacts his assassination of Yitzhak Rabin (Nati Harnik / GPO)

Lior Akerman, the Shin Bet agent who was the first to interview Amir after the assassination, acknowledged the Shin Bet’s failure to protect Rabin, but bitterly disputed Smotrich’s assertion that the climate of incitement had not been a factor and rejected as utterly false Smotrich’s claim of Shin Bet encouragement.

“There were intelligence failures… in collecting information prior to the assassination,” Akerman told Army Radio. But the rest of Smotrich’s allegations were “utterly unconnected to the reality.”

“Throughout his investigation,” said Akerman, Amir was pleased and proud of what he had done, and he had drawn encouragement “from a long line of rabbis and other inciters” against Rabin.

A statement distributed Sunday to journalists and attributed to “unnamed Shin Bet sources” expressed shock over Smotrich’s comments on the anniversary of Rabin’s death.

“On this day of all days, an elected official has chosen to encourage conspiracy theories and slander an organization whose sole purpose is to thwart any sort of terror and to defend the state’s security,” the statement said. “Such remarks, which encourage extremist discourse, should be condemned.”

Smotrich’s political partner, Itamar Ben Gvir of the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction, gained national notoriety ahead of Rabin’s killing.

Shortly before the assassination, Ben Gvir proudly held up an ornament that he’d managed to rip off Rabin’s Cadillac during a TV interview and said “We’ll get to Rabin too.”

Additionally, for years, Ben Gvir had a picture of Goldstein hanging on the wall of his Kiryat Arba home. He removed it in 2019 after it became heavily publicized in local media and began to harm him politically.

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