Here’s what will happen here in a few months or a few years, regardless of which government is formed after the election: A horrific terror attack at the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem’s Old City will make the Shin Bet security service spring into action. It will round up and interrogate the usual suspects – the so-called hilltop youth and price-tag attackers – using special means.
But it will be too little, too late because, while we’ve been drowning in the messianic and poisonous discourse surrounding “Yes, Bibi, no, Bibi,” a new Jewish underground has been getting organized out of sight. They have a more steadfast faith in the righteousness of their path, all the way to a state of halakha (traditional religious law) and rule by the Sanhedrin. More rabbis than have ever operated around here will give them all the requisite kosher stamps of approval. More and more outstanding young men with high officer’s ranks and yarmulkes believe in the supremacy of the Torah over the state, which is just a loathsome stage on the way to redemption, a new kingdom and a gold-covered Temple in place of that pesky Dome of the Rock.
No doubt someone among them will be able to lay his hands on a few kilos of Semtex and attach a few wires to it where necessary. They will sow terror on a scale like no other. The corpses of Druze prison guards will fly in the air when the vehicles they are riding in blow up in the northern village of Maghar.
An attack on Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation will ignite huge flames and new waves of Christian anti-Semitism abroad. Body parts will be collected from a Reform synagogue in Tel Aviv while in Jerusalem lawmakers will wallow in their own blood in the Knesset parking lot after a shoulder-fired missile hits those coming out of a plenary debate.
Carmi Gillon, who was head of the Shin Bet during the biggest security-related failure in Israeli history – when Yigal Amir assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995 – didn’t let even one technical detail escape his scenario. Not far from that Knesset parking lot, he stood and observed the goings-on until he confirmed that the act he mentions is an operational possibility. And he knows what’s required for such an act to happen and what its consequences will be.
You will find this scenario in “Vicious Messiah,” a political thriller Gillon wrote with veteran journalist and author Yosef Shavit, which was published this year (in Hebrew; Kinneret, Zmora, Dvir). And although he likely holds a unique record – the only security service chief in the modern Western world who has ever written a thriller – he doesn’t look at the binding of this book with the satisfaction of an excited, novice thriller-writer but rather with the deep, existential angst of a pained man who bears too many scars. He doesn’t hide the fact that this book is a means and not an end.
He confesses: “I’ve written two nonfiction books. One of them, ‘Citizen C,’ was even successful. But they didn’t resonate enough.”
He shrugs and takes a drag on his Marlboro Light before entering the noisy café in Modi’in, where I will try to get him to divulge the scale of the threat and what he sees in his nightmares when unease takes over and reminds him of all the scars Israeli history has inflicted on his body and soul. But first – the election (we met before it took place this week).
“Because all politicians have been solely preoccupied with survival for far too long – since Ehud Barak, basically, and maybe with the exception of Ariel Sharon, who had some political daring – two scenarios are likely. One is bad, the other very bad,” he bemoans. “[Benjamin] Netanyahu has mortgaged the state, statesmanship and democracy in his refusal to go to jail. A majority of 61 [Knesset seats], with or without deserters from Kahol Lavan, will pave the way for the ‘French law’ [granting a prime minister immunity from prosecution], legislation that will override Supreme Court rulings and the firing of the attorney general, which will be easy to do. True, there will be a petition against this step to the High Court of Justice. And if it rules that the government has no authority to fire him under these circumstances, we’ll hit another crisis and a new election.”
An even worse scenario, Gillon says, would be a unity government of Netanyahu with Benny Gantz of Kahol Lavan.
Just days before the vote this week, Gillon appeared in a video with five other former heads of the Shin Bet and of the Mossad, in which they explained how dangerous Netanyahu is. But this was not a clear endorsement of Gantz, according to Gillon.
“I believe, but also know that he is… how to put it, a mediocre person,” he says. “And he is also busy with survival. Even when it came to the post of Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, he really wasn’t the first choice, and rightfully so. However, political life maneuvered him; it wasn’t the other way around. And sometime in the very near future, he will have to decide about the Trump plan. Let’s say the Israeli government adopts it fully, including partial withdrawal from Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. That is the moment that will be a trigger for right-wing messianic ideology to act, to create chaos through attacks by a new underground.”
Still, Carmi Gillon doesn’t want to give up and leave – or wait for the apocalypse. “I still believe in this great idea, the State of Israel, and in the need and in the ability to return to sanity: to return to the 1967 borders, to focus on building a different, better society,” he says.
He may sound like he’s detached from the realm of realpolitik, disconnected from political reality, Jewish demography and sentiments that have taken root over the decades, but he is quick to point out that Israeli governments have for generations reinforced these feelings.
“From the depths of my memory, I recall newspaper headlines and pictures – from [then-Defense Minister] Shimon Peres’ beneficent gaze at the settlers in Sebastia and [settler leader] Rabbi Levinger, to the total obsequiousness every Israeli government has displayed toward rabbis of the religious Zionist movement and to ultra-Orthodox lawmakers,” he says.
Jewish terrorists, Gillon asserts, are no longer on the margins. “They’re no longer ‘wild weeds.’ The Israeli public erred when it called them that,” he stresses. “They’re not weeds. When the Jewish underground was uncovered [following a series of violent, anti-Palestinian attacks in the 1980s], there were 12,000 settlers in the territories. Now there are 500,000. They flourish on a clearly defined popular, ideological ground.”
Gillon says there probably isn’t one religious Zionist who hasn’t read “Torat Hemelech” (“The King’s Torah”), the racist compendium of halakha by Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur of the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar: “No attorney general has allowed an investigation of the radical rabbis and to try them over the very imminent danger reflected in their declarations and the circle of their admiring students. We’ve also erred regarding this.”
So, what can stop the drive toward a state based on Jewish law?
“I believe there are among many right-wing voters – I don’t want to give them a sociological label and sound like some bombastic elitist – who really don’t want this, who want to continue to lead a way of life in which one can make Kiddush on Friday night and go to the beach on Saturday, without having to restore anything to its original glory.”
Gillon adds that he is not so naïve as to believe that any right-winger who reads his new thriller will be convinced what he describes there.
“I know that in this day and age, the book will not reach the readers who need to be warned of what is to come,” he says. “I would be happy if the book’s contents would get public exposure the way, say, ‘Fauda’ [an Israeli TV series] does. That’s the right thing today.”
Taut and muscular
But Gillon – a relative newcomer to the publishing industry – has yet to do what is necessary to make “the right thing” happen. He hasn’t even sold the rights for “Vicious Messiah” to be adapted, or pushed the synopsis to the broadcasting channels through an energetic agent. Which is a shame. The book is written like a taut, muscular thriller, the kind that one reads breathless and scared. It contains many terrifying, graphic descriptions, below which lurks true fear. That’s because (warning: half-spoiler) in contrast to the reality he knows so well, involving the tracking and ultimate deciphering of the crimes committed by the Jewish underground in the 1980s, coming up with solutions doesn’t help in the book. The country will not remain quiet for 40 years, and every government, right or left – Gillon and Shavit avoid characterizing them – does its best to cover up the truth. As he himself is painfully and angrily aware of, from his life or from what he called “my three scratches.”