Price tag graffiti Dudu Bachar (archive)
Graffiti reading "price tag" (illustrative) Photo by Dudu Bachar (archive)
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Settlers for the first time targeted an Israel Defense Forces base in a "price tag" operation Wednesday, vandalizing vehicles and spray painting slogans denouncing the army's actions. Until now, such attacks, meant to "exact a price" for the demolition of buildings in settlements and outposts, have exclusively targeted Palestinians.

Unknown parties penetrated the headquarters of the Benjamin Brigade, located near the settlement of Beit El, and vandalized 13 vehicles by puncturing their tires and cutting internal cables. The vandals also spray-painted slogans on the wall denouncing the army's demolition of houses in the Migron outpost on Monday.

Some of the slogans termed the brigade's commander, Col. Saar Tzur, "bad for the Jews." Tzur commanded the Migron demolitions.

The police, Military Police and Shin Bet security service are all investigating. There are no signs that the base was broken into.

IDF sources termed the incident "extremely grave," noting that it was unprecedented. While there have been violent confrontations between settlers and soldiers during demolitions, this is the first time army property has been vandalized with malice rather than in the heat of the moment.

The incident was particularly troubling to senior IDF officers because the base is closed and guarded. That means either a soldier or civilian working at the base let the vandals in, or they managed to break through the fence surrounding the base without being detected, which would indicate a lapse in security. The former possibility is especially worrying because IDF bases in the West Bank rely heavily on local civilians to provide basic services.

However, that is also the possibility the Military Police currently consider most likely, given that there were no signs of a break-in. While detectives did discover a hole in the fence, it is an old one that has been there for some time.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, speaking at a graduation ceremony for army sappers, said "the vandalism was perpetrated by a gang of lawbreakers, an extremist, irresponsible minority. All of us - officers and soldiers, civilians from every part of the [political] spectrum - must remember and remind others that the IDF is not the enemy. We all recognize that the IDF is a defensive force that operates under the law."

GOC Central Command Avi Mizrahi, who in the past has deemed "price tag" operations "terror," vowed to catch the perpetrators and put them on trial.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak charged that such "acts of vandalism against Israelis and Palestinians" are meant "to cause an escalation at this sensitive time" and said he was sure the perpetrators would be caught quickly.

In fact, the police and the Shin Bet have not managed to catch a single "price tag" vandal in the last two years. While they have arrested many suspects, all have ultimately had to be released. But investigators are optimistic that this case will prove easier, because unlike previous "price tag" operations, which took place in Arab villages, this one occurred in a closed compound with multiple security cameras.

Detectives are also pursuing intelligence leads regarding soldiers with radical right-wing views who are currently serving at the base or have served there recently.

On Wednesday Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino decided to set up a special investigative task force to deal solely with "price tag' attacks, which have proliferated lately. In the two days since the demolitions at Migron, price-tag vandals have torched a mosque, uprooted Palestinian trees and spray-painted slogans in Palestinian villages, in addition to the attack on the army base.

The task force will be a joint venture between the elite Lahav 433 unit and the Shai (Samaria and Judea ) District Police.