On the Fringe but Taking Control

Every once in a while, some senior officer warns about 'Jewish terror' in the West Bank. But these are mere blips, with no lasting effect, for the officer who doesn't want to be promoted has yet to be born.

Since Tuesday morning, the media have been flooded with emails, phone calls and faxes denouncing Monday night's attack on an army base by right-wing extremists. Nevertheless, here's a pretty safe bet: In another two days, when the storm dies down, everything will be exactly as it was before.

Law enforcement agencies in the West Bank will continue to deal leniently with the extreme right; settler leaders will continue to make deals with the Prime Minister's Bureau; and Israel Defense Forces officers will continue to walk on eggshells when it comes to settler violence.

Every once in a while, some senior officer warns about "Jewish terror" in the West Bank. But these are mere blips, with no lasting effect, for the officer who doesn't want to be promoted has yet to be born. And both army and police officers are aware of the enormous power wielded by the settlers' extremist wing, especially given its vocal lobby in the current Knesset.

GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi said Tuesday that he hasn't seen "such bitter hatred of soldiers among Jews in all my 30 years of service in the IDF." He has, however, spent his two years at Central Command being serially shocked. And though he issues constant warnings, the army still walks on eggshells.

Moreover, Mizrahi is vulnerable to the hilltop youth and their supporters. On Monday, for instance, the army's plan to evacuate an illegal outpost was leaked to the settlers, enabling them to gather and disrupt the operation.

The IDF's cautious response to Jewish violence was on display again Monday night. Only one person was arrested during the assault on the Ephraim Brigade's base, even though this was a large-scale riot, and just two others were detained for questioning.

And if anyone thinks that this time the perpetrators will be punished to the full extent of the law, he or she should consider how investigations into arson attacks on West Bank mosques fizzled out, or whether any indictments have yet been filed over the arson attack on a mosque in Tuba-Zanghariyya in northern Israel. That incident represented the last time the state's leadership awoke from its collective slumber long enough to voice outrage and promise swift action.

The sad truth is that the law enforcement system in the West Bank is helpless against such attacks. The police and the Shin Bet security service have trouble amassing evidence that will stand up in court, while judges often display leniency toward Jewish criminals motivated by ideology, and especially toward criminals on the right.

The latest incidents ought to set off (yet another ) warning bell, not only because of their scope - according to the IDF, some 300 Jews took part in stoning Palestinian cars near the outpost of Ramat Gilad - but also because they bear all the hallmarks of organization.

At first glance, it seems that a single hand was behind all of Monday's events: the riots at Ramat Gilad, the attack on the Ephraim Brigade's base, the infiltration into Qasr al-Yahud on the Jordan River and a second infiltration into Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. The goal was apparently to deter the state from keeping its promise to the High Court of Justice to evacuate three major West Bank outposts by the end of this month.

A few months ago, ahead of the Palestinian Authority's bid for statehood at the UN, the security services invested enormous effort in preparing for the possibility of an outbreak of Palestinian violence. As is known, no such violence ever occurred. Now it seems the greatest threat to continued quiet in the West Bank comes not from the Palestinians, but from irresponsible provocations by a fanatic, lunatic fringe of the Israeli right.