Some senior government officials breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday night – relatively speaking, of course – after the identity became known of the terrorist who went on a shooting spree in Bnei Brak that killed five people. “At least this time, it wasn’t one of ours,” one minister said bitterly.
If Tuesday’s attack, the most lethal of the three perpetrated in a week, had also been carried out by an Israeli Arab, Heaven help us.
Palestinian terrorism is easier to digest, even if it’s difficult to avoid the sense that the wave of terrorism sweeping Israeli cities over the past week (and which apparently is just beginning) is something that we are now unfamiliar with. Days before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and two weeks before Passover starts, Israel is apparently returning to dark days that we were happy to forget. There’s certainly been nothing similar since the so-called “knife intifada” of 2015 to 2016.
Eleven people murdered in three cities in the course of seven days is a strategic event – in security terms, but also politically. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is in isolation at home with the coronavirus, will have to promptly address the public and explain how his government plans to deal with this major deterioration in the situation.
Bennett admitted Tuesday night that Israel is facing a lethal wave of Arab terrorism. Now he must act accordingly, even if it means flooding the streets with police and soldiers. He has to convene the political-security cabinet and have it pass tough decisions.
Up to a week ago, we were in a different reality. “Summits” came one after the other: first in Egypt, then in Turkey. Bennett had been due to fly to India on Saturday night (amid a childish quarrel with Defense Minister Benny Gantz), and as recently as Monday of this week, a Middle East summit was held in the Negev that was unprecedented in terms of who was in attendance.
Israel appeared to be embarking on a new era in a new Middle East. Everything now appears so disconnected.
The first nine months of Bennett’s so-called government of change were some of the calmest in terms of security. The prime minister privately boasted of that, while being sure to add “knock wood.” He was referring primarily to the Gaza Strip – perhaps even only to Gaza.
For the time being, Gaza is quiet, although who knows for how long. Problems are coming from unexpected directions: within the Arab community, and on Tuesday night, from the Jenin area of the West Bank.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who following last week’s attack in Be’er Sheva issued a mean-spirited, contemptible response in which he placed direct responsibility upon “Bennett and Lapid,” showed admirable restraint Tuesday night. Perhaps he realized he had gone too far before. He conveyed his condolences, wished a speedy recovery to the wounded, expressed support for the security services and called upon the government to act firmly.
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By contrast, his good friend in the opposition, Religious Zionism lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, didn’t hold back this time either. He came to the scene. Like birds of a very specific type, this racist and inciting Knesset member is nourished by blood, suffering and pain.
He will always be there, pushing himself toward the cameras, going wild as if he were the last thug. Actually, why “like”?
This is without a doubt Bennett’s major test. The objective reality doesn’t matter. A government like the current one, which is not seen as hard-core right wing, will always face difficulties with the public in the face of waves of terrorism.
The only one who passed the test and enjoyed wide public support for a long time, before he embarked on Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank in 2002, was Ariel Sharon. But that was not before he predicted that if he didn’t do so, the public would hound him out of the Prime Minister’s Office “with sticks and stones.” Bennett is very far from being Sharon.