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Despite ending well, Sunday's break-in to a Jericho synagogue by Israeli rightists exposed a major weakness in coordination between the various arms of the security forces in tackling the extreme right.

When it comes to frustrating Palestinian terror attacks - or even working together with the Palestinian security forces - what were once known as the "four legs" of Israel's West Bank security apparatus (the IDF, Shin Bet, the Judea and Samaria police and the Civil Administration) work together admirably.

But, as was proved when right-wing activists easily dodged a sparsely manned Israeli roadblock outside Jericho, things tend to get complicated when these same forces try to confront Jews.

Chaim Levinson wrote in Haaretz on Monday that the call to march on Jericho was widely publicized on billboards and right-wing Jewish internet forums some two weeks before the event. Journalists were even invited, some several times over. Yet the army claims that its Jordan Valley Brigade knew nothing - which is why the provocateurs were confronted by only a token force of soldiers and police.

The collection and distribution of intelligence about the extreme right is a known weak point of law enforcement in the territories. It is no secret that security officers are not exactly clamoring to deal with the problem; not just because the work rarely brings the accolades that normally accompany the fight against Palestinian terrorism - but also because it means entering a political minefield in which support from on high can vanish at precisely the moment it is most needed.

Moreover, there is an inherent dilemma of where to set the boundary between intervention on the one hand, and infringement of democracy and freedom of expression on the other. Army intelligence does not concern itself with gathering information on Jews - and rightly so. The army, generally speaking, tries to keep away (at least publicly) from that sort of tricky territory.

That is why, despite intensive involvement on the part of Central Command and army auxiliary brigades in enforcing the West Bank settlement freeze, the army strives to keep a low profile. (The fact that the freeze has almost completely dropped off the public agenda is a good indicator that that government ploys to circumvent the freeze have to a large extent calmed the fears of settlers, notwithstanding their occasional moans).

With the army taking a back seat, the task of keeping tabs on the extreme right has landed in the lap of the Shin Bet's Jewish unit and the Judea and Samaria District police. As far as the Shin Bet is concerned, the division is clear: Anything out in the open, such as notices posted by the Jericho marchers on internet chat forums, comes within the sphere of public order and is a matter for the police.

In practice, the police did not pass their intelligence to the IDF ? which is how the activists managed to infiltrate Jericho. In this instance, there is no question as to whether the security forces should have apprehended them: Any Israeli entering the area is at mortal risk ? and also likely to fall into the tight net strung between the increasingly well-synchronized IDF and PA.

Another factor is the extent of the authority soldiers and police have in preventing Jewish infiltration into Palestinian-controlled territory. It is clear that opening fire on Israeli civilians is indefensible, provided they are not endangering the lives of the security forces. On the other hand, it seems that physical force is sometimes not an option when the army is faced with inferiority in numbers, as it was in Jericho. During riots at over the West Bank barrier at Bil'in and Na'alin, for example, far greater force is regularly employed against a combination of Israeli leftists, Palestinians and international anarchists.

It is also impossible to ignore the religious context of Sunday's incident at the Jericho synagogue, which came amid a period of relative quiet on the security front. On Monday and Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority was behind riots in Hebron following comments by Benjamin Netanyahu, who declared a historic connection between the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city, and the Jewish people and Israel.

The PA, of course, is trying to instigate and direct a national protest, partly violent, on various fronts. The fence and Jerusalem are the main targets - but the Palestinian leadership could be playing with fire by widening the arena of conflict to encompass a clash of religions.

Posted by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff on February 23, 2010

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