The Shin Bet's Hypocrisy Regarding 'Price Tag' Gangs

What goal did Shin Bet's announcement that right-wing extremists becoming organized terror groups have? Why has the Shin Bet allowed the 'price tag' gangs to run riot for years?

The lead headline in Haaretz on September 13 read: "Shin Bet says right-wing extremists becoming organized terror groups." This headline, which hit me like a sledge-hammer, recalled other days - black days. Has the Shin Bet security service learned nothing and forgotten nothing from those days? What goal was this divisive information supposed to serve? Why has the Shin Bet allowed the "price tag" gangs to run riot for years?

Go back to the mid-1990s. Members of a gang that called itself Eyal, their faces masked, gave the media details about attacks on Arabs, including a murder in Halhoul. The road that runs through Halhoul is a major artery leading to the settlements of Kiryat Arba and the South Hebron Hills, and those who travel it were terrified of revenge attacks by Arabs.

The Shin Bet - which, it later emerged, had created Eyal and guided all its activities (including a staged swearing-in ceremony that shocked the nation when it was broadcast on television) - told journalists and politicians that such attacks were the work of Jewish "terror cells." And the land was filled with hatred of the settlers.

The "leader" of Eyal, Avishai Raviv (who, together with other members of his gang, would later sport shirts emblazoned with pictures of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in an SS uniform ), was arrested from time to time - presumably so that he could be given orders about his next provocative acts. But he was always released immediately.

Some time later, the police revealed that the murder in Halhoul stemmed from a blood feud between Palestinian clans. It turned out that the Shin Bet had fabricated a provocation.

As chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements at that time, I refused to believe those of my friends who raised this as a possibility. The Shin Bet doesn't even employ such manipulative tactics against Israel's enemies, I argued. The security service of the Jewish state would never instigate attacks on Arabs, as this would assuredly lead the Jews to despise it while also sparking revenge attacks by Arabs. The Shin Bet, I shouted, is not the Okhrana secret police of czarist Russia.

Some time later, journalist Amnon Abramovich revealed Raviv's identity as a Shin Bet agent code-named "Champagne." We recalled Raviv's provocations, which were now revealed in their full extent and ugliness. The shock of the news that the Shin Bet had indeed instigated them all, about which there could be no further doubt, was unendurable.

But then came the second blow: Despite the gravity of these revelations, which had no parallel in Israel's history, nobody was held accountable.

In the Bus 300 affair, when Shin Bet agents killed two captured terrorists, the media mobilized in full force and brought all its weight to bear to secure a cleaning of the Shin Bet stables. Top Shin Bet officers were incriminated and paid with their jobs, and the organization was thrown almost completely off kilter.

But when these horrible acts were perpetrated against the settlers, the media vanished. Abramovich even subsequently expressed regret that he had outed "Champagne." The Shin Bet officers who created and ran Eyal were promoted; one, Carmi Gillon, even became head of the Shin Bet.

Rabin, the prime minister, did nothing to prevent the terrible deeds committed by an agency under his direct authority.

This time, it is easier to refuse to believe the headlines. Moreover, how can one explain why an agency that knows exactly where and when to find a needle in the haystack of Gaza - and send helicopters to kill it - has been unable for years to identify and prosecute the "price tag" criminals, whom it has now, just as in those earlier dark days, even branded as "terror cells?"

Perhaps there is no provocation here, but merely the deliberate turning of a blind eye.

The agency could have several reasons for doing so. And smearing the settlers, as it did in those days, is not the least of them.