“You are all prisoners of a wrong idea,” Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir accused everyone present at the security cabinet meeting, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a discussion on the situation ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which Netanyahu convened with the participation of high-ranking military and police officers from the defense establishment, Ben-Gvir stressed: “For years we have followed your method and have achieved nothing.” The officers present warned: “The escalation and terrorist attacks will increase drastically.” They also made it clear to Israel’s head of government and the ministers: “We must under no circumstances light any more fires (ie. provoke the enemy).”
Last Wednesday, Netanyahu called an urgent night-time situation assessment meeting, which included Defense Minister Yoav Galant, Ben-Gvir, the Chief of Staff, the Police Commissioner, the head of the Shin Bet security service and other experts. A month before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, caution and moderation are the order of the day. “In our estimation, the escalation of terrorist attacks will increase, the warnings are already increasing,” the defense establishment says. “We see poor dynamics on the ground and intelligence reveals high motivation to carry out terrorist attacks.” The same senior officials also said, “In the month leading up to Ramadan, there should be caution and moderation, we don’t want to inflame the Palestinian territories any more.”
But Ben-Gvir disagreed with the military and police brass, and a loud discussion broke out between the minister and the generals. “Israel has achieved nothing with your strategic attitude, tactics and concepts over the years. If you are willing to guarantee for me that there will be no more terrorist attacks if I stop my authorized enforcement actions in East Jerusalem, then I am ready to stand down.” Since taking office, Ben-Gvir has been pushing home demolition orders in Arab neighborhoods that his predecessors dared not do, even though the law was on their side. The home demolition orders are routinely carried out throughout the year in all neighborhoods in accordance with the law and with the support of the Israel Police.
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai has repeatedly told his boss, Ben-Gvir, that the operations in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods are futile and only serve to further anger the Arab residents. Since Ramadan is approaching, Ben-Gvir was asked to freeze his plans for the time being. The minister disagreed: “Since when does the state act on the anger of residents? It’s not the residents who decide, we decide. We cannot be satisfied with what we have started so far. It goes on.” Shabtai tried to explain to his boss that “there are other considerations, governmental and political.” But Ben-Gvir insisted: “What, you are talking political considerations? This is my task.” Shabtai stressed, “We can and should halt operations for now and be content with what we have achieved.” Ben Gvir contradicted him: “I order you to continue the operation.”
Over the weekend, Shabtai said he would not resign from his post after MKs from Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party warned that he would be removed if he didn’t submit. The statement appeared to mark a further escalation in the power struggle between the police commissioner and his minister. Last week, Ben-Gvir slammed Jerusalem police for not using enough force against a left-wing anti-government demonstration, and he also criticized police officers for uprooting an illegal Jewish outpost and orchard in Samaria.
While Netanyahu did not oppose Ben-Gvir’s words and attitude, the impression of several in the room is that Bibi tends to agree with the majority at the table, not because his security minister is wrong, but because he is wrong about Washington and the moderate Arabs countries. Netanyahu understands Ben-Gvir’s criticism that Israel has been too considerate of everyone over the years, thereby weakening its own deterrence strategy. Palestinian children aged 13 and 14 take up knives and pistols and attack Jews and soldiers. This is shocking. No one is afraid of Israeli soldiers, and for that, Ben-Gvir and others on the right wing of Israel blame the security establishment. Like he said, they are lost in a wrong idea.
That’s right, in Israel much of the Jewish population thinks that the Arabs only understand strength, and that Israel has adopted an overly considerate strategy in recent decades that has only made things worse. It all started with the failed Oslo Accords. Voices like Ben-Gvir say that Israel must treat Arabs in the Middle East the way Arabs treat their own: brutally. But that doesn’t work because technically Israel is a democracy and has other values, such as compassion and humanity, and these are unfortunately exploited by our enemies. This guides Israel’s strategy and approach, which is not working. Therefore, Ben-Gvir is asking the security cabinet to wake up and realize that Israel has lost its way. Whether he can succeed in this is doubtful. Ben-Gvir promised his voters that he’d change things up, but Bibi will certainly put the brakes on his agenda.
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