At the annual World Summit on Counter-Terrorism—held on Sunday and Monday at Reichman University in Herzliya—the head of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) gave a speech that raised a few eyebrows. And rightly so.
Listing the threats that the Shin Bet has had to confront, such as those emanating from Hamas in Gaza and the weakening of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Ronen Bar highlighted an issue that’s outside his purview, to put it mildly.
“From the investigations that we’re conducting, we can say today that [Israel’s] political instability and growing [societal] schism constitute an injection of encouragement to the axis-of-evil countries, terrorist organizations and lone wolves,” he said. “Our historical comparative advantage—the one that was to our credit for thousands of years—is fading away. This insight should be the most disturbing of all. The Shin Bet can warn about but not treat it. [The latter] is in the hands of each and every one of us,” he said.
Some are defending his remarks, which seemed to indicate that terrorists apprehended by the Shin Bet have been telling their interrogators that internecine strife in the Jewish state has bolstered their confidence and resolve. If this is the kind of intel that Israeli security agents are extracting from Palestinian and Arab-Israeli killers, anyone concerned about the violent methods employed during interrogations might as well calm right down.
In other words, it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine that too many conversations about the effects of societal rifts take place during encounters between terrorists and the operatives who manage to locate and detain them. It’s safer to assume that Bar was reaching a conclusion, based on his interpretation of the situation in the areas that he is charged with safeguarding.
But even if he actually did hear such claims from terrorists, it’s not his place to sound alarm bells from a perch at a conference podium about political and social strife. Ditto for the task ahead of Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, tapped on Sept. 4 by Defense Minister Benny Gantz to become the twenty-third chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces.
It was thus equally distressing to read Yediot Achronot military correspondent Yossi Yehoshua’s feature article the following day, in which he stated that the “issue that most worries Halevi”—currently deputy IDF chief of staff—is “crumbling social cohesion, which he has often defined as greater than all [Israel’s] external threats.”
According to Yehoshua, due to the above, the incoming head of the Israeli army “is expected to deal [among other things] with military-societal matters.”
He would do better to invest all his energy in preparing for the next war against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), against Hezbollah in Lebanon and against the head of the snake in Tehran. It’s his job, after all.
Furthermore, if he and Halevi are so concerned about a so-called rift that’s weakening the country and emboldening its foes, they should be addressing the real culprits—behind closed doors, away from the gleeful gaze of the mullahs and their proxies—not the general public.
Though it’s true that the populace is split at the ballot box, it is as resilient as ever. It’s the political echelon—one side, in particular—that’s responsible for exhibiting and fostering divisiveness.
Just look at the discourse emanating from the camp whose loathing for Likud Party and opposition leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu outweighs every other ideological or pragmatic consideration, including—or because of—his popularity.
Despite Likud’s having more Knesset seats than any other party and repeated polls showing that Netanyahu is viewed by a large majority as the figure most suited to be prime minister, the “anybody but Bibi” politicians have fomented an atmosphere of hatred that luckily isn’t felt on the street.
Take Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman, for example, who on Sunday likened Netanyahu’s “techniques” ahead of the Nov. 1 elections to those of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
He made the vile comparison after being accused by a former activist in his Yisrael Beiteinu Party, Yossi Kamisa, of having offered, two decades ago, to pay $100,000 to assassinate the then-head of the Israel Police’s Investigations Branch. Lieberman simply asserted that Bibi was behind the allegations.
While the response to his invoking of Goebbels and Stalin was negative across the political spectrum, it came with a caveat. As Prime Minister Yair Lapid tweeted: “Even when one faces the unending poison and incitement machine that is eroding Israeli society, the Holocaust must remain outside of the discourse.”
In other words, Lapid had to condemn the WWII parallel, but took the opportunity to throw in his own vitriol, alluding to the Netanyahu camp’s “machine” of “poison and incitement” that is “eroding Israeli society.”
There it is again: the assertion that Israeli society is falling apart. Lapid ought to be reminded that it was the coalition led by him and Naftali Bennett that collapsed, not the citizenry. But then, he might prefer not to acknowledge that his party, Yesh Atid, is polling well below Likud.
Yes, if anyone needs admonishing by the heads of the Shin Bet and IDF about the perils of enemies observing Israeli “instability,” it’s the interim anti-Netanyahu government and like-minded lawmakers who care more about preventing a Likud victory than a nuclear Iran.
Thankfully, the director of the Mossad, David Barnea, is on the ball in this respect. The message that he delivered at the counter-terrorism conference hit just the right note.
“The Iranian leadership must understand that attacks against Israel or Israelis, directly or indirectly by proxies, will be met with a painful response against those responsible, on Iranian soil,” he said on Monday, stressing that a new nuclear agreement would not grant the Islamic Republic immunity from Mossad action. “We will not pursue the proxies, but the ones who armed them and gave the orders, and this will happen in Iran.”
Bar and Halevi should take their cue from Barnea. Let them protect the state from ever-present external dangers, and leave society to fend for itself.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”