Defence chief: terrorists mostly hiding from us

Interview: Avi Dichter


The chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, Avi Dichter, has said that progress made by the Israeli security services meant that terrorists now spend 95 per cent of their time hiding and only five per cent on operations.

Mr Dichter (below), a former head of Shin Bet, was in London this week to have meetings with British defence and Foreign Office officials, as well as address the annual dinner of Magen David Adom.

Mr Dichter said that the modification in terrorists' behaviour was one of his major achievements as Shin Bet chief. He said he had "changed the timetable of the terrorists", so that they spend most of their time on the run.

Since 1994, he said, the Palestinian Authority had failed to take a single terrorist to court. Instead, there was a "revolving door" situation and it remained Israel's task to bring prosecutions. So far, he said, Israel had destroyed the infrastructure of Hamas in the West Bank and brought more than 8,000 terrorists to court. "The name of the game is detaining them," he said, "not killing them. We don't have any tools to get information from dead people, only live ones."

Mr Dichter said he was "proud" of Israel's insistence on going the extra mile to swap terrorist prisoners for Israeli citizens, alive or dead. "I know there is no consensus on this in Israel. As Jewish people we are honouring alive or dead citizens, and we have paid some very tough prices over the years. When I used to send people on cross-border raids, into some very dangerous situations, they knew and I knew, that if God forbid something happened, we would make all efforts to bring them back. I think that represents Jewish values and I am proud of it."

Speaking about the war in Syria, Mr Dichter said Hizbollah had lost more than 1,600 fighters, with around 5,000 "injured terrorists" captured by the anti-regime fighters. He added that the ongoing conflict "created opportunities - but mainly for Hizbollah".

The Iranian-funded terror group, he warned, was being "trained on the battlegrounds in Syria", developing new skills and in receipt of more sophisticated weapons, particularly artillery supplies. But Mr Dichter said that the high number of losses by the Hizbollah fighters was "good news and a more positive aspect" for Israel.

The acute danger for Israel, he said, was that Syria was "becoming more and more a no-man's land. It becomes more complicated and difficult for Israel to respond if there is an attack [from the northern border]".

Mr Dichter, who speaks fluent Arabic, is renowned for his uncompromising stance against terror. But he offered a gloomy take on Israel's future in the region. "In English and Hebrew, we say 'my enemy's enemy is my friend. But in Arabic the expression is 'me and my brother against our cousin, and me and our cousin against the stranger'. We - Israel and the Western countries - will always be the stranger."

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