Shin Bet Opposes Bennett's Request for Help in Crackdown on Arab Crime

Law enforcement officials say the security service should be involved because illegal arms could be used for terrorist activity, and hope its next director will be more receptive

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
Police officers at the scene of a murder in Sderot, last week.
Police officers at the scene of a murder in Sderot, last week.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the police commissioner want the Shin Bet security service to get involved in combating illegal weapons in the Arab community, but the Shin Bet opposes doing so.

However, the term of the current Shin Bet director, Nadav Argaman, ends in October. Consequently, the plan is to discuss this idea with his successor, in hopes that they will prove more amenable to it than Argaman, several sources said.

Law enforcement officials think the Shin Bet should be involved because the illegal arms could also be used for terrorist activity, which is the agency’s responsibility. Both the Public Security Ministry and the police think the Shin Bet’s intelligence capabilities would be of great help.

During May’s riots in mixed Jewish-Arab cities, there were many attacks involving guns, the sources noted, and many of the perpetrators had criminal records.

“It’s clear that the weapons that organized crime rings maintain for criminal activity can also be used against the security forces or civilians during the next riots,” a senior police officer said. “Any agency that could help with this would be more than welcome.”

Though efforts were made to minimize the Shin Bet’s involvement in solving the violent crimes committed during the riots, police said that information provided by the agency was sometimes what enabled them to identify suspects. That was true, for instance, of both the murder of Yigal Yehoshua in Lod by Arabs and a brutal attack on an Arab in Herzliya by Jews.

A senior law enforcement official who supports the idea said police are basing their request for Shin Bet involvement on concerns that Arabs could use illegal weapons in ways that would harm national security – for instance, by blocking major roads in northern Israel to disrupt troop movements during wartime.

“If Route 65 is blocked, sending a division up north in the event of a conflict with Hezbollah would take three days instead of one,” he explained. “We have to treat the crime problem as a security problem.”

Bennett, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai also support the Shin Bet’s involvement in this issue. But aside from the Shin Bet’s opposition, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit also has reservations.

By law, the Shin Bet is authorized to take action to “thwart and prevent illegal activity aimed at undermining national security, the democratic system of government or its institutions,” which refers to the institutions of government. But Mendelblit said it’s far from clear that this provision could be stretched to include efforts to collect illegal arms from ordinary criminals.

The cabinet could explicitly authorize the Shin Bet to do this, but that would require approval by the Knesset subcommittee on the secret services. The panel would have to be convinced that this expansion of the Shin Bet’s role “is intended to protect and promote state interests vital to the country’s national security.”

Bennett is supposed to announce his choice for Argaman’s successor in the next few weeks. The two candidates are Argaman’s current deputy, R., and his previous deputy, V. Though both have held a variety of senior posts in the agency, neither has ever dealt with the country’s Arab community, other than during their stints as deputy director.

The Shin Bet said that by law, its role is to protect Israel’s security, democratic system of government and government institutions against “terrorism, espionage, subversion, sabotage and the exposure of state secrets.” During May’s riots, it worked with the police to solve crimes of sabotage and terrorism, and as a result, “dozens of lawbreakers, both Jewish and Arab,” were arrested for involvement in attacks.

However, it added, “We don’t comment on the positions the agency presents during closed discussions.”

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