Current and former senior security officials say the Shin Bet security service has refrained from monitoring Israeli Arabs who are involved in politically motivated crime. The agency has also failed to conduct adequate reviews of its prior failures, the sources say.
The attacks in Be’er Sheva and Hadera in the past week are the result of intelligence and operational failures on the Shin Bet’s part, officials told Haaretz, adding that the agency has failed to locate Arab citizens of Israel who identify with terrorist organizations. The officials noted that the political leadership has not been requiring that Shin Bet be involved in monitoring anti-Israel crimes committed by Israeli Arabs.
According to some of the officials, the Shin Bet has had great success in foiling attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank, but staff at the security agency “are afraid to get into dealing with terrorism carried out by Israeli citizens, in part because they understand that it will be very difficult for them and that it could weaken the brand,” as one source put it. Like the other people quoted in this article, he was speaking before the shooting attack in Bnei Brak Tuesday.
“The Shin Bet has technological tools that are among the most advanced in the world and very aggressive tools it knows how to use against Palestinians,” a former senior official said. “It also has legal approval to use them. It can’t use them on Israelis.
One senior official noted that in 2017, three men from Umm al-Fahm, the home of the two attackers in Hadera, fatally shot two Border Police officers outside Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. The Shin Bet later claimed they had not previously been involved in anti-Israel criminal activity, the source said.
“No one stopped to ask the Shin Bet for answers – how a situation develops in which a cell organizes, acquires weapons, surveys the area and in which some of them post nationalist content on social media prior to the incident. [The cell] arrives without any difficulty or any advance intelligence information to the most sensitive site in the world with rifles and opens fire on police,” the officer noted.
“Who at the time asked why the Shin Bet was missing an incident that is its reason for existence? Who asked for answers from the Shin Bet?” Another senior official made reference to the fact that the Shin Bet didn’t anticipate the outbreak of unrest in Israeli cities with mixed Jewish and Arab populations during Israel’s war with Gaza last year.
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“How can an organization for which this is its core [mission] not be able to say that 20 percent of the Israeli public [the Arab population] is about to take to the streets, that in Lod, there’s an intention to attack Jews, that in Ramle, they’re opening fire on the homes of Jews and that in Bat Yam and Acre, they’re carrying out attacks?” he asked.
“We were a moment away from a civil war, but no one spoke with the Shin Bet. They didn’t ask it to present the failings and to see how they debriefed after the event. No one today at the Shin Bet has explained at any senior security forum how it happened that we didn’t know that Israeli Arabs were taking to the streets in violent protest.
From the standpoint of the Shin Bet, its responsibility for the results of the operation ended the moment that the first trash can was burned in Lod,” the official added.
Another official criticized how the Shin Bet probed an incident in which a cleaner at Defense Minster Benny Gantz’s home offered information to hackers linked to Iran. No one was punished and the investigation into the incident did not name anyone as being responsible.
“An organization responsible for foiling espionage doesn’t know that at the home of the defense minister, the most sensitive figure after the prime minister, a criminal is working who sends pictures to Iranian intelligence,” he said. “In what organization in the world would they have accepted such an investigation to such a serious incident?”
Police brass have complained about failure to monitor Israelis who are involved in politically motivated legal activity. “The Shin Bet knows how to work. It knows how to deal with terrorists with Israeli citizenship. It’s just that it hasn’t made the decision,” said one former senior police official.
“A Bedouin guy [who is jailed for] belonging to the Islamic State is released from prison. It’s the Shin Bet’s job to put him in its intelligence focus,” the official said, referring to the attacker in Be’er Sheva. “He needs to be its target and to see what happens with this man. The Shin Bet’s job is to provide oversight over these folks, either through technological means or personal conversations. They can’t say ‘I can’t catch everyone.’ Someone there needs to provide clearer answers as to why this happened.”
A source who was until recently advised one of the security agencies aid the Shin Bet has failed to understand terrorists from the Bedouin community in part because it doesn’t understand the current situation in the community.
“Today a substantial portion of the Bedouin marry a guy or woman from Gaza or the West Bank. Sometimes they marry several women and the children come to live in the same communities or the spouse moves [there.] And then it’s not Bedouin whose standpoint is that they will die on their land regardless of who is the sovereign power in the country. Here it involves a very large population who arrives with hatred toward Israel that it absorbed in school, on the street, in fighting with the Israeli army and what interests them is revenge,” he said.
Sources involved in confidential security deliberations have said that as far back as 2019, the Shin Bet presented an intelligence assessment to the political leadership indicating that while the involvement of Israeli Arabs on the whole in politically motivated crime was on the decline, the situation was reversed among Israeli Bedouin.
It estimated that between 2013 and 2017, the number of Bedouin who were arrested and charged with security offenses and involvement in terrorism had jumped by a factor of 7.5 – and has continued to increase.
Some security officials believe that this is the result of links between Bedouin in Israel’s south and Palestinians in the West Bank – family ties, as well as the fact that many of the Bedouin in the south pursue studies in the West Bank, where they are exposed to anti-Israel propaganda.
“A quarter of the Bedouin university students study outside of Israel today, in Arab countries or in the Palestinian Authority,” said a source who until recently was an Arab affairs adviser at an Israeli security agency.
“Our oversight needs to begin there, but for the Shin Bet, that’s a heavy burden and the organization doesn’t always want additional work for itself. Beginning to arrest dozens or hundreds of people through administrative orders [without a trial] won’t bring about change.
It’s not similar to the West Bank. It’s Israel, and they’re Israelis,” the official said. “The Shin Bet, the police and all of those in the defense establishment and the government need to sit and think about how to deal with the situation.