Avi Dichter is a chameleon, who is just as comfortable in Palestinian society as he is in Israeli society. Upon completing his military service in Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s legendary commando unit, Dichter joined the Shin Bet and was stationed in its Southern Command, responsible for the volatile Gaza Strip. By 1992 he was head of the Southern Command, overseeing some of the Shin Bet’s most brazen operations, including the assassination of “The Engineer” in 1995. He served for a short time as head of the Shin Bet’s Security Desk, following the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin. In May 2000 his former commander in Sayeret Matkal, now Prime Minister Ehud Barak, promoted Dichter to the position of Head of the Shin Bet, succeeding Ami Ayalon. Shortly afterward the country erupted in the bloody al-Aqsa Intifada.
Dichter’s military training served him well. Convinced of the justice of his cause, he could be cold and ruthless, but as someone who was comfortable mingling with the Arab population he also appreciated the value of HUMINT (human sources of intelligence). He was successful under Barak and flourished under Ariel Sharon, when the latter became prime minister. Both he and Sharon were pragmatists, and Dichter was never forced to justify his preferred strategies, no matter how diplomatic-or how forceful—they might be. This leeway was invaluable, given the extreme violence of the Second Intifada. Although Israel suffered many casualties, it was spared many more because of Dichter and the vast array of techniques he employed to combat terrorists and stem terrorism.
Perhaps the most controversial of these was his policy of targeted assassinations. Modeled largely after the successful attack on Yahya Ayyash, these increased in number under Dichter, with the full support of the Sharon government. At the same time Dichter expanded the role of intelligence gathering to preempt attacks and was one of the initiators of the Separation Wall, believing that it would hinder terrorists from reaching their targets in Israel.