JERUSALEM Security service chiefs came in for criticism yesterday after three Cabinet ministers were asked in recent weeks not to sleep at home for fear of assassination attempts by Palestinian extremists.
“This is a victory for the terrorists and a dangerous precedent,” said an unnamed “senior security source” who was quoted by Israel Radio.
“If we can put a company of soldiers to guard an isolated settlement [in the West Bank or Gaza] with a few families, we can do what has to be done to secure [the life of] Cabinet ministers,” the security official said.
The extraordinary precautions were taken after the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi three weeks ago by gunmen of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
The group said it was acting in retaliation for the death of its leader, Mustafa Zibri, who was killed in August by a missile fired through his office window by an Israeli helicopter.
Mr. Zibri was the first political head of a Palestinian organization to be targeted by Israel, which cited his direct involvement in planning a series of terrorist acts inside Israel as reason for the targeted killing.
Minister Without Portfolio Danny Naveh was evacuated with his family on short notice Thursday from his home in Shoham, a small community near the West Bank border, after the security services reportedly learned of plans by a terrorist cell to assassinate him.
His new home is surrounded by other buildings still under construction. Most of the workers are Palestinian.
The Prime Minister’s Bureau, which is responsible for the security services, issued a statement Saturday night that the evacuation of Mr. Naveh was for a short period “until security in the area of his residence could be improved.” This was believed to refer to the completion of construction in the neighborhood.
Another Cabinet member, Health Minister Nissim Dahan, who lives in the settlement of Hashmonaim just inside the West Bank, was also asked to move elsewhere for an undetermined period.
Two weeks ago, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer evacuated his home for one day on instructions of the security services but returned after security measures were strengthened. He is reported to use different hotels when staying overnight in Tel Aviv.
Mr. Zeevi was gunned down in an East Jerusalem hotel where he frequently stayed.
Senior military commanders, particularly armed forces chief of staff Gen. Shaul Mofaz, also have been receiving increased security protection. Gen. Mofaz, who has been a frequent target of Palestinian condemnation, lives in Kochav Yair, which borders the West Bank.
There is recognition in both the Israeli and Palestinian camps that further assassinations of political leaders could quickly spiral out of control.