ANALYSIS / The Extreme Right Has Sought to Establish a 'Balance of Terror'

Extremists want to forge a 'price tag' policy, where every evacuation brings an immediate, violent reaction.

The debate over whether to broadcast interviews with Yitzhak Rabin's murderer should not be allowed to overshadow Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin's worrying comments before the cabinet Sunday.

As usual, the initial media reports of these remarks were not entirely accurate: According to Diskin's office, he never explicitly mentioned the possibility of another political assassination.

He merely said that right-wing violence has "gone up a level," and that further diplomatic concessions could "create a situation in which live weapons would be used to stop the process."

However, the Shin Bet confirms that a political assassination is one of three main possibilities that Diskin foresees. The others are attacks on Arabs and attacks on members of the security services.

Less than a year ago, in December 2007, the Shin Bet assessed the likelihood of a right-wing extremist attack on what it believes to be the two primary targets - Israeli politicians and the Temple Mount - to be relatively low.

Even though the Annapolis peace conference had taken place a month earlier, the security service argued that as long as extremists saw no real prospect of settlements being evacuated, they were unlikely to resort to violence.

So what has changed since then?

Primarily, the "price tag" policy launched by extremist settlers has become a major factor in developments in the West Bank.

The policy's roots lie in the August 2005 disengagement from Gaza and the subsequent destruction of nine houses in the West Bank outpost of Amona about six months later.

Ever since then, the extreme right has sought to establish a "balance of terror," in which every state action aimed at them - from demolishing a caravan in an outpost to restricting the movements of those suspected of harassing Palestinian olive harvesters - generates an immediate, violent reaction.

Even if this reaction cannot stop an evacuation, the theory goes, the damage it causes - whether the victims are Palestinians or Israel Defense Forces soldiers - will cause the government to think twice before ordering additional evacuations.

Diskin said that hundreds of people are regularly involved in extremist violence, and if necessary, they could recruit another few thousand people for a violent confrontation.

In recent months, the Shin Bet has discerned a gradual rise in right-wing violence. Even though settlers still see no great likelihood of settlements being evacuated in the near future, the fact that senior government officials such as outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and Labor leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak all speak constantly of the need for such an evacuation increases the sense of being under pressure.

And the distance from hitting and kicking soldiers and policemen to a political assassination is shorter than it seems.

Moreover, elections are coming up in February, and campaigns always lead to verbal escalation - on both sides. And sometimes, verbal escalation can lead to violence as well.