Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed a suggestion to bring the Shin Bet security agency into a more active role fighting rising crime in Israel’s Arab sector at Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting.
Since the beginning of the year, 102 Arabs have been killed in criminal violence. The spike in violence is attributed to organized crime groups fighting turf battles and trying to eliminate rivals. On Thursday, five people were gunned down at a carwash in Yafa an-Naseriyye, an Arab town near Nazareth.
Arab Israelis have called for the government to take stronger measures against the criminal gangs, but are deeply opposed to the Shin Bet being tasked with fighting crime.
“A significant part of this crime is the result of criminal organizations that make the lives of the Arab citizens of Israel bitter and control terror and fear in their communities, controlling a protectionism that becomes a general coup and not only in the Arab sector,” Netanyahu said.
“We are determined to fight this criminal phenomenon, first and foremost at the head of the snake – in the criminal organizations. For this purpose, today I will convene a special meeting of the government ministries and legal counsel, to integrate the Shin Bet in a targeted effort against the crime families,” the Prime Minister stressed.
Netanyahu said that the government allocated money to hire thousands of police officers and establish a National Guard, “But it takes time to establish, absorb and train these forces – and we don’t have time. That is why I insist on bringing the Shin Bet into the campaign immediately.”
The Israel Security Agency — better known by its Hebrew acronym, the Shin Bet — is primarily responsible for counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and protecting VIPs.
The Shin Bet and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara have objected to proposals for the agency to take a more active role in battling Arab crime.
Shin Bet leaders are reportedly concerned that employing the agency to fight domestic crime will lead to the exposure of its methods, while Baharav-Miara and previous Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit have argued that the Shin Bet can only have a “limited role” in fighting crime.
“I hear criticism from those who say that ‘it won’t change anything’, and from those who say that ‘this is too radical a step’. I believe that this is exactly the necessary step and the problems involved in implementing this step should be overcome,” Netanyahu said. “This is the only way we can quickly reverse the trend and provide an answer to the Arab citizens of Israel who wish for the return of law and order to their lives.”
Netanyahu also said at his cabinet meeting, “I remind you that the governments I have led have built 10 police stations in the Arab sector, which previously hardly had any stations. Pursuant to the same policy, our government has allocated huge budgets to the police in order hire thousands more officers and to establish the National Guard.”
On Thursday, freshman Likud MK Eliyahu Rabivo said that he considered himself “free from coalition commitment” until the government advances his legislation to enable the Shin Bet to become more active.
Netanyahu’s comments also addressed his recent conversation with US Secretary State Antony Blinken regarding Iran, new economic benefits for military reservists, and plans for fighting the rising cost of living.