Carmi Gillon, who succeeded Peri as Head of the Shin Bet, comes from an aristocratic Israeli family. His grandfather was the only Jewish justice to serve on the Supreme Court of the British Mandate of Palestine, his father was a State Attorney, and his mother was Deputy Attorney General. Nevertheless, he was also one of the people least prepared to head the Shin Bet, and his brief tenure was marked by its greatest debacle—its failure to protect Prime Minister Rabin from an assassin’s bullet.
Carmi served in Israel’s Armored and Artillery corps before sustaining an injury in the War of Attrition. Upon completing his service, he studied Political Science at The Hebrew University. It was there that he was first recruited by the Shin Bet. He spent the first part of his service working for its Security Desk, charged with protecting Israeli installations overseas, including embassies, El Al offices, and other facilities. In 1982 he was appointed head of the Jewish Desk, and was involved with the capture of the Jewish Underground and of Yonah Avrushmi, who threw a grenade at a Peace Now demonstration in Jerusalem in 1983. At the time it was the most serious attack by Jews against Jews in modern Israel’s history.
Gillon left this position in 1987 to study at the National Security College. Upon graduating, he assumed several senior positions in the Shin Bet, while simultaneously studying for an MA in Political Science and Public Administration. He later served as head of the Shin Bet’s Northern Command, overseeing operations in Lebanon.
In March 1994, Gillon was handpicked by Yaakov Peri to succeed him. During his brief tenure, he shifted the organization’s focus to Jewish terrorism, especially from the right. This new direction posed a serious challenge to Gillon. It required him to conduct surveillance on Israelis who had never committed a crime, but whom he suspected of preparing to launch the most severe attacks against the state and its leaders. Exacerbating the problem was the fact that these people, mostly idealistic settlers with extensive military training, had the support of many prominent politicians.
Despite numerous successes in the war against Jewish terrorism, this was also where Gillon confronted his greatest failure. He had long warned that extremists would attempt to kill Prime Minister Rabin in order to hinder the peace process, but Israel had never faced political assassinations before, and most people were skeptical of his assessments. They were wrong. On 4 November 1995, an assassin managed to slip through the “sterile area” surrounding the prime minister and shoot him from close range.
Gillon immediately took responsibility for the fiasco and handed in his resignation, but this was rejected by acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Ironically, this enormous failure was followed by one of Gillon’s greatest successes. In January 1996, the Shin Bet assassinated
“The Engineer,” Yahya Ayyash, a Palestinian terrorist who had masterminded some of the bloodiest attacks on Israeli civilians in recent memory.
The following day Gillon resigned, still overwhelmed by the aftershocks of the Rabin assassination.