Yaakov Peri would have fit right in to a John Le Carré novel as a foil to the enigmatic Smiley. Suave, debonair, a true ladies’ man, he could have easily followed a career in music and, in fact, he played trumpet for Jerusalem’s Voice of Israel Orchestra.
Born in Tel Aviv in 1944, Peri entered the Hebrew University upon his release from the IDF. He completed his studies at Tel Aviv University with a joint degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Jewish History. He was recruited by the Shin Bet in 1966, and was trained as a field officer in the Arab sector. In 1987, following the 300 bus incident, he was appointed deputy director of the Shin Bet, and the following year Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir selected him as its head.
The crisis facing the Shin Bet at the time was how to cope with the Intifada, an unprecedented mass uprising in the Occupied Territories. Peri, who had spent years studying and working in the Arab sector, was instrumental in setting up a vast network of informers and collaborators in the early years of Israel’s occupation. Yet despite all this, the sudden eruption of the Intifada came as a complete surprise to him and other senior members of the Shin Bet.
During his tenure, allegations were made about “exceptional practices” at the Shin Bet’s Gaza City interrogation facility. Though an official investigation acquitted Peri, the agents who ran the facility claimed that they had been hung out to dry in order to avoid another public scandal so soon after the 300 bus incident.
Peri left the Shin Bet in 1994. During his six years in office he instituted the conceptual changes necessary to deal with a new political reality in the Middle East, in the wake of the Intifada and Oslo Accords. As a confidante of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, he took part in the delegation that negotiated security agreements with the Palestinians. Despite his position as a spymaster, no one questioned his integrity or fairness.