Ronen Bar who has served as director of the Shin Bet since October 13, 2021, warned the World Summit on Counter-Terrorism conference at Reichman University in Herzliya on Sunday against the political instability and social divide that are developing in Israeli society, describing them as a “shot in the arm” to the terrorist organizations and the “axis of evil countries.”
“Based on our research, it can be said today that the political instability and growing division are a shot in the arm to the countries of the axis of evil, the terrorist organizations, and the individual terrorists,” Bar said, adding that “our historical comparative advantage, which helped us for thousands of years, is fading away. This insight should disturb us more than anything else. The Shin Bet can warn––but not take care of the problem, it’s in the hands of each and every one of us.”
Bar touched on the policy regarding Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and said that due to the weakening of Mahmoud Abbas’s position on the Palestinian street, he would have to strengthen his security apparatus and carry out civil reforms while uniting Fatah, the largest faction inside the PLO coalition. “The Palestinian public also wants it, but it takes two to do this tango,” Bar said.
He noted that “the violence in Judea and Samaria is increasing and we have entered a closed cycle of violence. Our people are forced to carry out arrests and thwart attacks every night, at the cost of Palestinian casualties and a further decline in the status of the security apparatus. It’s an expression of the lack of governance in the PA.”
Regarding the Gaza Strip, Bar said that Yahya Sinwar, who has led Hamas in Gaza since 2017, will have to choose between the development of the Strip and hostility toward Israel. “It’s not possible over time to govern the population with one hand and want to improve its condition, and with the other hand to incite. Sinwar will have to understand that this division no longer holds. The Gazan public has gotten a taste of coexistence and was able to meet Israelis, for the first time since 2001, not through Al Jazeera or crosshairs. This public will have to pressure Sinwar to focus on the restoration of the Strip for the well-being of the residents.”
Last March, the Lapid-Bennett government increased the quota for Gaza workers entering Israel to 20,050, with an average monthly income of around NIS 6,000 ($1,763), or around $21,000 annually. This figure is many times higher than local salaries, in a market plagued by rampant unemployment. The new permits give their owners the right to work in Israel legally and thus be entitled to social security and pension payments. The proof was in the pudding this year: during the tense week before Operation Breaking Dawn, and the operation itself, which lasted from August 5 to 7, Gazans with Israeli work permits demonstrated against the Hamas government and the Islamic Jihad, demanding a quick end to the hostilities so they could go back to work. This street-level resistance may have explained Hamas’ decision to stay out of the fighting.
In recent weeks, dozens of arrests have been made in the heart of the refugee camps and Kasbahs where the terrorist operatives reside as part of quick “circle closing” efforts, some of which have not yet been released for publication. Last week, security forces identified and arrested in Jaffa an armed PA Arab who was planning a major attack on Israeli civilians in Tel Aviv. According to security sources, more than 240 significant attacks involving shootings, suicide bombings, explosive devices, and even kidnapping have been thwarted since the beginning of 2022.
Israel has the same policy of issuing permits to PA workers as well, however, its success depends on the security forces’ ability to seal all the holes in the seam line separating the PA from green-line Israel. As fewer PA Arabs are able to infiltrate illegally into Israel to seek jobs in construction and agriculture, more of them will have to apply for permits which would make them part of the security system, curb their ability to do damage in the service of terror organizations, and at the same time get them better-paying jobs with benefits.
The head of the Shin Bet also referred to the handling of criminal and nationalist crime in Arab society, which he said “suffers from a growing phenomenon of crime families taking over everyday life, and its people find it difficult to create elementary security for their children.”
Bar warned that “another event like the ones we experienced during Guardian of the Walls may be irreversible.”
During those events, which started on May 10, 2021, widespread Arab riots intensified across Israel, particularly in cities with large Arab populations. In Lod, rocks were thrown at Jewish apartments and some Jewish residents were evacuated from their homes by the police. Synagogues were burned down. A Jewish man who was critically wounded after being struck in the head by a brick died six days later. In Acco, the Effendi hotel was torched by Arab rioters, injuring several guests. One of them, Avi Har-Even, a former head of the Israel Space Agency, suffered burns and smoke inhalation and died on 6 June.
“It must be assumed that the likelihood still exists of a violent outbreak in the Arab cities and Arabs’ involvement during a security crisis,” Bar surmised, but noted in the same breath that “Arab society as a whole is on the trend of integration, and the majority who understand the alternatives prefer evolution and not revolution.”
The above may be the most self-conflicted statement made by an Israeli security official since the Rabin government integrated the concepts of “Deal with the PLO” and “Peace.”
Otzma Yehudit Chairman MK Itamar Ben Gvir responded to Bar’s assertion on the link between political instability in Israel and Arab terrorism, saying, “It’s not the death penalty for terrorists that brings terrorism, but on the contrary, terrorism requires the death penalty for terrorists. The extreme discourse comes from the direction of the supporters of terrorism who must be expelled, and the Shin Bet should focus mainly on a relentless war against terrorists and those who incite the murder of Jews, even if they serve as members of the Knesset.”
The Shin Bet chief did not suggest outright that Itamar Ben Gvir was the face of political instability in Israel, but he may well have thought so. Let’s hope that after the November election, with Religious Zionism garnering a hefty 13 to 15 mandates, Ronen Bar should have a good meeting with his new boss, Internal Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir…