Suspect in murder of four Palestinians was Shin Bet agent

Israeli secret police recruited man charged in knife attacks that left four Palestinians dead and faces claims it attempted to persuade him to target a spiritual leader.

NAZARETH // The arrest by the Israeli internal security service, the Shin Bet, of an Israeli Jew accused of killing at least four Palestinians has thrown a rare light on the secret police, including claims that it tried to enlist the accused to assassinate a Palestinian spiritual leader. Chaim Pearlman, who was arrested on July 13, has been charged with murdering four Palestinians in Jerusalem and injuring at least seven others in a series of knife attacks that began more than a decade ago. Police are still investigating whether he was involved in additional attacks.

Although Mr Pearlman had been denied access to a lawyer until Friday, since his arrest far-right groups have rapidly come to his aid, waging what the Shin Bet officials have described as "psychological warfare" by releasing damaging details about the case. Ties between the Shin Bet and illegal settler organisations have come to light after Mr Pearlman's arrest. The Shin Bet have been cornered into admitting that they recruited Mr Pearlman as an agent in 2000, in the midst of his alleged stabbing spree, despite the fact that he was a known member of Kach, an outlawed group calling for the expulsion of Palestinians from "Greater Israel".

In addition, Mr Pearlman has also released tape recordings he secretly made of recent conversations with an undercover Shin Bet agent who tried to get Mr Pearlman to incriminate himself. The agent, who befriended Mr Pearlman and was known as "Dada", can be heard exhorting him both to go to an "Arab village" to "turn it into a fireworks display" and to execute Sheikh Raed Salah, a leader of the Islamic Movement and a recent participant in the aid flotilla to Gaza that was attacked by Israel.

In the 20 hours of recordings with Dada, some of which have been broadcast on Israeli television, the undercover agent can be heard repeatedly inciting Mr Pearlman to kill Sheikh Salah, Dada says: "Why haven't soldiers killed Raed Salah, may he die? Someone should take care of him, send him to the next world." He then suggests Mr Pearlman shoot at the sheikh's car or put a bomb under it. "That's the classic one. Nothing's left, everything goes everywhere," he says on the recording.

Dada's advice came after Sheikh Salah had stated that Israeli commandos aboard Mavi Marmara ship had tried to kill him. Mr Pearlman, who apparently suspected he was being investigated, sent the recorded conversations with Dada to local media to be broadcast in the event of his detention. In another blow to the Shin Bet, Mr Pearlman's supporters have released a secretly filmed video of the head of the agency's Jewish division, which arrested Mr Pearlman, naming him and identifying where he lives.

Although the agent is in charge of handling "Jewish terror" cases, the video states that he lives in Kfar Adumim, a West Bank settlement. It is a criminal offence to identify any employee of the Shin Bet, but the release of details about such a senior figure is certain to provoke fears among officials that he may be in danger, including revenge attacks or future prosecution in an international tribunal.

Mr Pearlman's supporters have posted the video on YouTube and other overseas websites, making it difficult for the Shin Bet to remove. Nadia Matar, the leader of the pro-settler group Women in Green, told the Jerusalem Post last week that the Shin Bet divisional head "has to know that there is a price to stabbing Jewish brothers in the back. People have to be loyal or bear the consequences." The Shin Bet's modus operandi was exposed in part by a rare decision from the judge supervising the investigation to partially revoke a gag order immediately after Mr Pearlman's arrest.

Abir Baker, a lawyer with Adalah, a legal centre that handles Palestinian security cases, said: "The Shin Bet is facing an internal crisis over this arrest and the settlers are trying to exploit that with their campaign. "Many members of the Shin Bet are settlers themselves and think of these extremists as their colleagues, not as the enemy. The line between the Shin Bet and these extremist organisations is very blurred."

Unlike in the case of Palestinian attacks on Israelis, attacks by Jews on Palestinians are rarely solved, leading to criticism that the Shin Bet is not serious about tackling the problem of Jewish terror. Amir Oren, a columnist for the liberal Haaretz newspaper, accused the Shin Bet of having "chains on its feet and weights around its neck" when it investigated such cases. Yaakov Teitel, a settler who was arrested by the Shin Bet last year, was accused of his first murder of a Palestinian 14 years ago. Some observers have suggested he was only arrested after he started attacking left-wing Jews, including placing a bomb at the home of a prominent academic in 2008.

Ms Baker said Jewish terrorists often found it easy to evade the Shin Bet because they had learnt about the organisation's investigation techniques while working as agents. Although Mr Pearlman, 30, was living in the Israeli town Yavne, north of Ashdod, at the time of his arrest, he was raised on a settlement and spent time living in Kfar Tapuach, which is closely identified with the Kach movement. Despite being illegal, Kach operates relatively openly in settlements and Mr Pearlman's connections to the group may explain the well-organised campaign quickly mounted in his defence.

Itamar Ben Gvir, a parliamentary aide to Michael Ben Ari, an MP who has maintained ties to Kach, was reported by the Israeli press to be behind the media campaign against Shin Bet. Mr Pearlman is also being helped by Honenu, a legal organisation that defends Jews accused of attacking Palestinians. Anonymous Shin Bet officials told Channel 2 television that the campaign being waged against them by the far-right was "a completely different game" from previous confrontations.