JERUSALEM — The head of Israel's secret service resigned today because of the controversy over the beating deaths of two Palestinian bus hijackers and was granted immunity from prosecution in the case, the Cabinet secretary announced.
Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom and three other security agents were granted presidential clemency and cannot be prosecuted in the case, Cabinet secretary Yossi Beilin said. The other three agents have not resigned, he said.
The resignation appeared to preclude any full-scale investigation into allegations that Shalom ordered the Palestinians killed and then covered it up, and was an apparent victory for Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who opposed an inquiry.
Bad for Security
Peres and Shamir warned that an investigation of the 1984 incident could damage Israel's security because it might make public details of how the counterintelligence agency operates. Shamir, who was prime minister at the time, has been accused of knowledge of the alleged cover-up.
The decision on Shalom was reached after all-night consultations among Yosef Harish, Israel's new attorney general, Peres and other top Cabinet ministers. Leftist legislators immediately denounced it, and four minor political parties filed motions of no-confidence against the government.
"This decision is wrong and disappointing. . . . It is one big whitewash intended to allow the political echelon to escape investigation," legislator Yossi Sarid of the Citizens Rights Party said on Israel radio. "Shamir can throw a big party."
Other legislators challenged the legality of the decision by President Chaim Herzog to grant clemency before legal proceedings have begun.
Shalom asked for clemency--which grants him immunity from prosecution--Harish said in a statement released at the prime minister's office. Harish said that "it appears there is no point to an investigation" now that clemency has been granted.
"Shalom announced that he wanted to be relieved because the publicity and the revelation of his identity would not allow him to continue fulfilling his job," Beilin said in a statement to reporters outside the prime minister's office.
The controversy marked the first time in Israeli history that the Shin Bet chief's identity was revealed in public while he was in office.
Beilin said he did not know when Shalom's resignation will take effect or who would replace him.
The controversy centers around the hijacking of an Israeli civilian bus to the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip. Two of four hijackers were killed when Israeli soldiers stormed the bus, but another two were captured alive and killed later.
Shalom is alleged to have ordered the killings and to have covered them up by giving two previous inquiry commissions false evidence.
Israel radio reported that several legal precedents exist for the president to grant clemency before legal proceedings have begun.