In the thorny debate currently underway in Israel over how to reduce levels of deadly, out-of-control crime in the country’s Arab sector, the involvement of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) is a main talking point.
The debate sometimes overlooks the existing level of involvement of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency in dealing with crime.
For example, on June 7, 24 hours after a major ammunition theft from the Israel Defense Forces Tze’elim base in the south, the Shin Bet helped make the arrests and retrieve the stolen weaponry.
The thieves had brazenly cut through the base’s perimeter fence, and, seemingly knowing where to go, made their way into an underground bunker, stealing tens of thousands of bullets.
The Shin Bet delivered the precise intelligence needed to make the rapid arrests, and enabled police to retrieve some 26,000 bullets.
The case is a good illustration of what the Shin Bet can—and can’t—do when it comes to dealing with crime.
The Shin Bet can and does assist the Israel Police to combat the influx of black-market weapons, whether via smuggling runs from Jordan or thefts from IDF bases.
The Shin Bet also helps in the investigation and resolution of incidents that involve both criminal and national security angles. Examples include a bomb attack on the Nazareth branch of the Health Ministry, the attempted murder of a mayor, or shooting attacks aimed at a police officer.
Needless to say, the Shin Bet will become involved in domestic national security developments, in line with legal stipulations, as it did in assisting police to make arrests of violent attackers following the 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Having said all of the above, it would be a mistake to view the Shin Bet as a magical cure for the broader problem of crime in the Arab Israeli sector. This is an issue that requires a systematic approach, involving, first and foremost, strengthening the Israel Police in terms of numbers, tools, infrastructure and enabling more severe punishments.
While the Shin Bet can provide pinpoint assistance, any major entry by it into the world of crime fighting will necessarily come at the expense of its counter-terrorism activities, in terms of missions, its organizational attention and the exposure of its classified tools.
As a result, the focus should be on strengthening the police, the organization designated to tackle the problem, and giving it the tools that it needs to function independently against crime.
This is a long-term process, but one that can start immediately. The Shin Bet can send representatives to police teams dealing with dangerous crime families. But it won’t take its eye off Palestinian terror plots in order to deal with family honor homicides, for example.
The Shin Bet seeks to expand its responsibility where possible, and it stands by to assist the police where it can deliver a relative advantage. But it should not be the go-to address in purely criminal incidents—that’s where police, in bigger numbers and more resources and tools, are truly needed.
Any government serious about reducing such crime must also tackle root issues, such as education and investment within Arab Israeli communities.
A round table led by a capable coordinator would naturally identify a holistic approach as being necessary to deal with the issue, and the Shin Bet would certainly have an important seat at such a table.