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How Operation Sunrise failled - Lessons learned of the Assassination of Rabin

On the 4th of November, 1995, Yigal Amir shot Prime Minister Rabin of Israel. The following
analysis will demonstrate the motives of the assassin, how he carried out the assassination, and
how the assassination was made possible. As an internal committee of inquiry of the Israeli
security authorities discovered, many serious mistakes had been made.

General state of security, autumn 1995 in Israel

In September 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and the PLO’s Yassar Arafat signed a treaty. Rabin
succeeded in gaining ratification of a peace agreement in the Kneset (the Israeli Parliament) by the
small majority of 51% which provided for Jewish withdrawal from parts of their territories by the
Israeli Army for self administration by the Palestinians. The opposition party, Likud, was against
the treaty, and refused under the leadership of Benjamin Netanjahu, any territory changes in favor
of the Palestinians. The terrorist group Hamas, which is supported by Iran, was also against the
agreement, and once more used terrorism to sabotage the agreement. Disastrous suicide bomb
attacks increased the pressure on Prime Minister Rabin to turn over Jewish territories to Islamic
Palestinians. Jewish settlers were outraged at Rabin, and posters showing Rabin in Hitler-like pose
appeared during demonstrations. Rabin was called a traitor to his own country. Although the risks
for Israeli politicians by Arab terrorists were perceptible, some politicians and members of the
Israeli government still chose to be accessible to the population.

The Assassin, Yigal Amir

Yigal Amir was born in 1970, the second child of eight. He grew up in a two room apartment near
Tel Aviv, considering himself a ”sephardic” Jew (a Jew from Arab origin.) Religion was important
in his life. A good pupil, he attended the ultra-orthodox Wolfson school. After finishing school,
he wanted to study theology. Although those who start theological study do not have to go
into military, he joined the Golani Brigade, an elite unit of the Israeli Defense Forces. In October
1993, he began his studies in computer technology and theology at the Bar Ilan University.
Increasingly, he became opposed to the policy of Rabin, and organized student demonstrations
and trips to Hebron. With his weapons permit, he bought a Berreta pistol (calibre 9 mm Para)
which he later used to assassinate Rabin. During demonstrations, Amir was arrested twice.
During a public function, he hurled insults, and mentioned to friends that he intended to assassi-
nate Rabin. Amir joined the EYAL which was founded in 1991 by one of his friends. Nine months
before the assassination, Amir’s girlfriend broke off their relationship. From then on, Amir became
more radical and talked about wanting to kill Rabin because of the agreement with the Pales-
tinians. Between his political-religious ideas, his personal disappointments, (and lastly the sepa-
ration from his girlfriend), he became an assassin.

The victim

Rabin, one of the heroes of the Six Day War, was both admired and hated in Israel and around the
world because of his attempt to broker a peace agreement with the PLO. In his own country, resis-
tance against his policy increased, especially after the suicide terrorist attacks by Islamic terrorists.

The Scene of the assassination

On November 4th of 1995, one of the biggest demonstrations in Israel’s history took place at the
Malchei Yisrael Square in Tel Aviv. More than 100,000 people in favor of Rabin’s agreement
with the PLO attended the event. Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Perez stood in the
gallery which was part of a municipal building at the Malchei Yisrael Square. In a blind sidestreet,
Rabin’s limousine was parked.

The assassination

Since January 1995, just after he was left by this girlfriend, Yigal Amir planned to kill Rabin and Peres.
He tried twice to kill Rabin, but without success. Rabin wanted to visit the Holocaust Memorial
at Yad Vashem in June of 1995, but because of a terrorist suicide attack committed by Jihad el
Islami, Prime Minister Rabin postponed that visit. Here, Amir had planned to assassinate Rabin.
In September of 1995, Rabin attended an official opening of a road in Kfar Smaryahu, but Amir
wasn’t able to break through the security measures -so he postponed this attempt. The media an-
nounced in advance, the participation of Rabin and Peres at a peace demonstration on November
4th, 1995. Amir wanted to assassinate both politicians during that event.

At 5:45 pm, Amir loaded his handgun with hollow point bullets, cocked the Beretta pistol, and went
by public bus to the Malchei Yisrael Square. There, he passed himself offas a VIP Driver, and waited
near Rabin’s limousine.

At 9:40 pm, Rabin went downstairs from the gallery to his car. At the moment when Rabin was two
meters from his limousine, Amir shot three times. Rabin was hit by two bullets to his thorax and ab-
domen. The team leader of his protection detail was shot in the arm when he tried to disarm Amir.
During the struggle, Amir shouted ”They are only blank cartridges, it is an exercise!” The wounded
team leader pulled Rabin into the limo and the driver drove to a hospital while Amir was arrested by security officers. At 11:00 pm, Rabin’s chief of staff announced the death of the Prime Minister to
the public.

The personal protection on the 4th of November, 1995

The General Security Services (Shin Bet, formerly Shabak) in Israel is the Interior Intelligence
Agency, responsible for counterespionage and counterterrorism inside Israel and the occu-
pied territories, the protection of members of the Israeli government, and the protection of
foreign dignitaries. It also has the task of protecting all Israeli diplomats and diplomatic instal-
lations worldwide. Members of the General Security Services (GSS) are also engaged in foreign
countries, especially South America and Africa, and for the implementation and training of
personal protection units for foreign statesmen. Unlike Germany and many other countries, the
GSS or Shin Bet has the advantage of having the Intelligence function and the personal
protection details incorporated inside one authority so that information can be passed directly
to units inside the organization without taking complicated ways and wasting time. During the
year 1994, Shin Bet was undergoing internal power struggles. When the new chief of GSS was
appointed, heads of departments resigned, leaving a gap inside the organization which were
still not closed completely in November 1995. A few weeks before the assassination, the Prime
Minister was advised by the Protective Department of the GSS not to attend public appearances.
Rabin did not accept their recommendation, and was not even willing to wear a bulletproof vest
during such events.

Intelligence Gathering

Intelligence gathering is elementary for a proper analysis and threat assessment. Right wing extre-
mists and anti-Arab Jewish organizations became more and more the focus of the Israeli security
services. Raviv, the founder of EYAL, had been working as a source for the Shin Bet since 1987.
Although he was under surveillance and was a friend of Amir (who was a member of EYAL), Amir apparently escaped the focus of GSS. Amir had been arrested twice while taking part at anti-
Rabin demonstrations. After checking his particulars, he was released. During a public appearance
of Rabin, Amir was pushed away by security officers when he attempted to approach Rabin. A
friend of Amir reported to the GSS in the summer of ‘95, that Amir was planning to assassinate
Rabin. Shin Bet did not investigate. Existing information was not given to the protection detail in t
he necessary extent. Also, the increase of attacks against members of the government had not
been correctly evaluated. Due to the assassination of a leader of the Jihad at Malta by the Mossad,
the Israeli security forces were more focused on a suicide attack by Arab terrorists.

The protection during the event

More than 1,000 Israeli police and security officers were deployed for the protection of this event.
Counter sniper teams took positions on roofs, and hundreds of apartments around the square were
controlled. Roofs were illuminated, and parking bans were imposed. The code word for the protec-
tion assignment of Rabin during the event, was ”Operation Sunrise.”

On the one hand, there were extensive and strict security measures, but on the other hand, espe-
cially around the stairs to the gallery of the municipal building, security was neglected. The
Internal GSS Committee on the Rabin assassination which was established shortly after the
assassination, found out that the wrong evaluation of the security situation and existing Intel-
ligence lead to the failure of the protection assignment on the fourth of November. Several mis-
takes and weak points which were not corrected in time lead to Rabin’s death. According to the
original operational plan, Rabin was supposed get out of the limo near the municipal building,
then go inside the first floor. From there, he was to continue on a secured route which was not
accessible to the public, to the gallery, without using the stairs outside. It was planned that
Rabin should leave the gallery after the event to get back to his car by the same route. If this
plan had been applied, the Prime Minister had to walk only a few meters, being exposed. The
area could have been secured easier, and the limo could have been parked just in front of the
entrance. But due to unknown reasons, this good planning with its advantages was not applied.
Gaps in the security system made the assassination attempt possible. At 9:25 pm, 15 minutes
before the end of the event, a member of the Protective Department of GSS controlled the security measures at the stairs to the gallery, and at the place where the limo was parked. Discovering
that contrary to the plan, the area around the limo was not secured by Shin Bet, he ordered police
officers to secure the area. But at that moment, Yigal Amir was already in the immediate area near
the limo. A police officer asked him why he was there, and Amir pretended to be a VIP driver
who was supplementary ordered. Nobody checked to see if this was true, and no one paid further attention to Amir’s presence. Israeli personal protection officers always keep the protection
circles around the protectee clean, and therefore act much more aggressively than the protec-
tion officers of units like the US Secret Service. If they recognize that the protection circles are
not clean, they narrow the circle, making it free from unauthorized people. At the end of the event,
Rabin’s protection officers believed, according to the plan, that the area from the stairs to the
limousine would be free from unauthorized people, and would be under the control of Shin Bet.
This was a wrong evaluation of the situation, because the police had instead taken this area
under its control, but too late since Amir had already gained access and was remaining inside
the area. Rabin’s close protection detail was informed too late by radio that the area was controlled
not by Shin Bet, but by police. While Rabin stood in the gallery of the municipal building which
had no direct access from the Malchei Yisrael Square, he was highly exposed to a sniper attack.
Therefore, his bodyguards wanted to get him out quickly after the end of the public function,
relieved that nothing had happened to him. But relief has facilitated attempts on politicians in the
past. The attempts on US President Reagan, the German Minister of Interior Schauble, and Lafon-
taine happened at the end of events, when the protection officers thought the greatest dangers
for their protectee were over. When the close protection detail started to go downstairs from the
gallery to the limo, police officers at the stairs and around Rabin’s car had not been informed that
Rabin was leaving the gallery, enroute to his car. This is why the police had not formed a security
corridor from the end of the stairs to the car.

The side road on which Rabin’s limo was parked is very blind and was insufficiently illuminated,
contrary to standard operating procedures. At the moment when Rabin was two meters from his
car, a police officer stood one arm length inside, behind Rabin. A close protection officer walked
beside Rabin, and another close protection officer was about one and a half meters inside, right
behind him. Two additional of the close protection detail, who were part of the inner protection
circle, removed themselves too soon from Rabin before he entered the limo, and walked to the
other side of the vehicle. No one among the security officers looked behind. It was at this moment
that Amir approached from the back. When he was nearly between the back side police officer and
the close protection officer, he shot at Rabin. At this moment, he was one and a half meters from
Rabin, and the muzzle of his handgun was just 60 cm away from Rabin’s back. During the following seconds, the close protection officers reacted according to the drills they had been taught during
their close protection training. The wounded team leader pulled Rabin inside the limo, while the
other security officers overpowered Amir and arrested him. Foreign Minister Perez was brought
inside a building to get him out of the danger zone until the situation was under the control of the
security services. But then, the protection detail committed further mistakes. SOPs were not taken.

The time for driving to the Icholov Hospital which is 850 meters away, is the shortest route, one
 minute. But the police were not able to keep the direct street to the hospital free from people and
other cars, so the driver had to take a detour. Another problem - the driver had to stop at several
police checkpoints and explain that Rabin was wounded before he was allowed to drive on. The
police at these checkpoints had not been informed about the assassination attempt. It took seven
minutes (six minutes longer than it

should have) before the limo arrived at the hospital. Nobody had informed the hospital about
 the assassination attempt, or that Rabin was on the way, although the attempt had happened
nearly seven minutes previously. Only after Rabin arrived, was a hospital team of surgeons
put together for the emergency operation. Due to his wounds, Rabin had little chance to
survive, therefore immediate medical help was important.

Observations & Conclusions

Although protected by security authorities with vast resources, many observations and conclu-
sions can be drawn from this operation for non-governmental close protection operations.

1) Shin Bet possessed intelligence information, but it was not evaluated correctly nor given their
full extent to the protection detail. Private Security services don’t possess the same level of resour-
ces, but it is vital that all information be provided to protective details, and be prepared for the
possibility of worst case scenarios.

2) The cooperation between Shin Bet and the Israeli police was unsatisfactory. During big events, different private security services are in action, having different tasks and areas of control. To
prevent gaps, information must be exchanged, and a permanent communication between team
leaders is absolutely necessary.

3) Coordination and teamwork between the various security companies must be implemented
before, during and after an event, and should help to decrease any problems between competing companies.

4). Weak points in their security (which were spotted too late), and their unsatisfactory correction,
made it easier for Amir to kill Rabin.

5) Shin Bet forgot, contrary to the plan of action, to secure the area around Rabin’s limousine. The
close protection detail was not informed about this failure. If there is a divergence from the plan of
action, all deployed security officers must be informed, and the head of operations must immedia-
tely close any gaps in the security system.

6) Emergency procedures were not applied. Nobody at the hospital had even been informed about
Rabin’s wounds or emergency arrival. Not only had communications failed, but before carrying out
a protection operation, the head of the operation must make sure that all members of the protection
detail are familiar with emergency procedures and emergency routes. Permanent training with simu-
lation of stress, increases the probability that such procedures will be applied in an extreme situation.

7). The security officers had ”relaxed” their attentiveness, particularly at the end of the event, which
was not the end of the protective assignment. The result was disastrous in that the protection circle
had gaps, not all areas of observation were covered, and an assassination was easily carried out.
Security officers must never let down on their alertness, and must be aware of everything at all times. Furthermore, there is no excuse for communications failures.

8) After the assassination, Shin Bet was criticized for having parked Rabin’s car during the whole
event at the same place, and to have shown the position where Rabin would enter his limousine.
This writer disagrees with that criticism. In an emergency, the car must be close to the protectee
for his evacuation.

9)  Rabin was not willing to wear a bulletproof vest. Such a vest would have provided him good
protection against the wounds he suffered. This only demonstrates once again, how important it
is to wear ballistic protection.

Copyright  P. M. and PRAESIDIA DEFENCE. The author P. M. is a former member German government security forces. He has studies “Terrorism and Political Violence” at an university
in the USA. He  works now for

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