| Inside Israel |

High Alert

Yisrael Hasson, 66, former deputy director of the Shin Bet, on how Israel should confront the return of organized terror 


 rising wave of terror attacks in Israel, beginning with a stabbing attack in Be’er Sheva two weeks ago that took four lives, and continuing into last week’s Bnei Brak shooting that killed five, has put the country on edge. Children ask their parents if it’s safe to go outside, and people with longer memories hope this is not a return to the agonizing days of the Second Intifada.

As more information emerged about the attackers — how much about their intentions was known to authorities, their affiliation with recognized terrorist groups, their postings on social media — the Israeli security establishment has come in for a round of harsh criticism. There is public outrage that the authorities took insufficient action in the face of attacks that were essentially preventable. That sense of disappointment and concern was shared by many within the Israeli security establishment. The string of arrests and thwarted terror attacks over the weekend only drove home the Israeli security apparatus’s prior complacency.

Former IDF commander Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen gave voice to some of that frustration: “In a general way, I believe that the government’s actions are an expression of weakness. The Israeli leadership’s highly publicized efforts to defuse the latent threat of Ramadan, opposite the king’s palace in Amman and the PA in Ramallah, looked like fawning, and projected weakness on the ground. In this respect, the Israeli response, above all, has to project strength and self-confidence according to the standards understood in the region.”

Yisrael Hasson, 66, former deputy director of the Shin Bet and a former Kadima MK, is another one of those establishment voices expressing concern. In a conversation with Mishpacha, he spared no criticism of the government’s security measures, but also expressed hope that the appropriate lessons will be learned, and suggested that the full story of the government’s successes has not been told. He also offered some proposals for buttressing the security situation overall.

Is it your view that the head of the Shin Bet should take personal responsibility for the events of the last week?

“These things need to be put into proportion. A long list of terrorists were arrested or eliminated last week. The Shin Bet’s job is to prevent the next terror attack, and that’s exactly what happened last Shabbos, when they managed to foil a major Islamic Jihad terror attack at the last minute. Every terror attack is a failure, and in cases of failure, you learn, change, get smarter, until the next failure — that’s how progress is made. It seems that lessons were learned from the events of last week, even if I’m not personally at peace with the decisions reached.”

What would you do differently?

“The security establishment has dedicated a lot of time to the subject of ISIS. Many say, ‘How can the security establishment ignore people with known ISIS links?’ This question is based on a mistaken assumption. Are those affiliated with Hamas any less dangerous? Do those affiliated with Islamic Jihad represent a lower-level threat? There are thousands of them.”

So in your view the Shin Bet hasn’t failed?

“The Shin Bet is focused on threats and providing a high level of security. We aspire to a 100 percent grade, but there’s no such thing. There never has been and never will be. The wave of terror is extremely challenging. The Shin Bet classifies suspects based on sector and region. It allows the entrance of 100,000 Palestinians workers and 12,000 Palestinian merchants from Gaza.”

Do you think that’s okay?

“The series of murderous terror attacks has reignited a debate that first emerged during the riots in mixed cities in Operation Guardian of the Walls — to what extent the Shin Bet should engage in police work and in tracking citizens not involved in organized terror. It’s clear to everyone that we need to embark on a very far-reaching operation.

“The Shin Bet is called on to step into worlds it’s never entered before. I think it’s incumbent on the security apparatus to try to create solutions that don’t currently exist. We’re going to be living beside the Arabs. We aren’t going anywhere, and they have no intention of going anywhere. Now the question is what needs to be done regarding this. The measures taken in recent days have made it clear to the Arabs that terrorist activity against the State of Israel will meet a heavy price.”

Is this a mission for the Shin Bet alone?

“Not just the Shin Bet. The entire security apparatus is on the alert. Just last week, an elite unit was deployed to foil another terrorist attack and, along with other forces, succeeded in eliminating the terrorists. Several fighters were injured in the process. The terrorists were a ticking time bomb and were well-armed. Their arrest, carried out under difficult conditions, prevented a major terror attack.

“And at the same time, it must be said that the security apparatus needs to deploy forces to provide backup on the regional level. They would do well to use soldiers being discharged from military service for national service in the reserves. The State of Israel needs to arm them and direct them to carry handguns everywhere they go, and this will allow for immediate response.

“The approach has to be changed. It’s true that you can’t collectively punish all Arab Israelis, but in the riots in mixed cities last year, we saw where things are standing. Extremist phenomena must be dealt with.”

Maybe it’s Ramadan that inflames the situation and leads to violence?

“Those with malicious intentions will always find an excuse. The very fact of our presence is enough reason for them to target us. There’s been an attempt to introduce a dichotomy into Arab society between the ordinary working man and the angry youth. This isn’t the right approach to the issue. Everything needs to be covered. The government is doing well to hunt down ISIS sympathizers in recent days. But at the same time, it’s important to remember that there’s also Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who are no less dangerous. And there needs to be a firm hand to deal with them.”

Practically, what’s the solution?

“In concrete terms, the Israeli security apparatus has to flex its muscles in direct response to the threat in the streets of Israel. What’s needed is a combination of pro-active counterterrorism operations along with passive security on a wide scale. The security effort will require a massive armed presence in the streets that the Israeli police lacks the manpower for. Here, the response needs to be organized on the basis of widespread mobilization of reservists, in addition to cooperation from the citizenry, in terms of carrying firearms. We need to organize a local militia in every yishuv and every neighborhood. This force will answer to the Israeli police, border police, or the IDF home front command. We also have to repair the gaps in the security fence.

“The recent wave of terror has once again made clear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political and security crisis of the first order, no less fierce and more immediate than a series of other strategic threats, such as the Iranian nuclear project and the advances made by our enemies in the region in terms of advanced weapons systems. This is a challenge that won’t go away, even if the current government’s policy is bent on preserving the status quo on the Palestinian front. There’s no panacea for this conflict, and yet the State of Israel cannot allow itself to return to the days when terror raged unchecked in its streets.”

But it seems that we are facing a much broader front now than we did in previous crises. How do we begin to formulate a strategy?

“It’s important to separate the different fronts in order to be able to tailor the response correctly to every sector: terror originating in ISIS sympathizers in the Arab-Israeli community, terror from PA territory, terror from Gaza.

“The string of attacks in the past month reflects the complexity of the issue. The terrorists who carried out knife attacks in Jerusalem were East Jerusalem residents who carried blue IDs. The terrorists from Be’er Sheva and Hadera were affiliated with ISIS and came from the Bedouin dispersal in the Negev, as well as from the heart of Arab Israeli society in Umm al-Fahm. The Bnei Brak terrorist was a Palestinian from the village of Ya’bad near Jenin, the ‘suicide bomber capital’ of the Second Intifada.

“These terrorist were influenced by an extreme ideology from the schools of ISIS, the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas, who are trying to stir up the territories and Jerusalem without drawing Gaza directly into the conflict, and Hezbollah with Iranian encouragement. Even more, Hezbollah and Hamas didn’t hesitate to laud the terrorists from Be’er Sheva and Hadera, notwithstanding their affiliation with ISIS — a bitter enemy from their perspective, which committed fatal terror attacks in the Shiite suburbs of Beirut and has declared war on Hamas in Gaza.

“Also, in terms of the methods on the operational level, the recent terror attacks are anomalous and reflect an advance on the knife terror of 2015, which mostly saw lone-wolf knife attacks, but also some small scale use of makeshift firearms.”

The security apparatus’s response until now shows that it has its work cut out for it.

“The outstanding characteristics of the current wave are prior planning and the use of standard combat weapons. In the Bnei Brak attack, an organized network of agents was necessary to provide the terrorist — who infiltrated Israel from the northern Shomron — with his vehicle and firearm. For the Hadera attack, terrorists made use of handguns to gain control of standard combat weaponry and were equipped with a great deal of ammunition and protective vests. We’re talking about careful planning, spanning every detail that required an organized logistical network. Only the presence, b’chasdei Shamayim, of a trained military force that was able to neutralize the terrorists with precise fire prevented a much worse calamity. Although the security apparatus has been preparing for the problematic scenario of automatic weapons use in civilian concentrations for some time, it seems that the timing of its materialization has taken security forces off guard.”

Horror Gives Way to Sorrow

By Eliezer Shulman

It was without a doubt one of the saddest days in Bnei Brak history. A few suspense-filled hours after the minutes of pure terror in the streets, the extent of the tragedy visited on the city came to light: Five people had lost their lives while going about their evening. The paralyzing fear that descended on the city during Tuesday night gave way on the next morning to profound anguish, with the funerals of the victims Hy”d.

At the funerals of Rabbi Avishay Yechezkel and Rav Yaakov Shalom Hy”d, the grim atmosphere was palpable, and the eulogies testified to the complete shock of the families.

“Abba, I will always love you,” said Uriel Shalom, the son of one of the victims, his words penetrating the hearts of all present. “You were always wise and kind. Sorry, Abba.”

In the course of Shalom’s funeral, family members revealed that his sons were only spared through a miracle. They were supposed to be riding in the same car with their father, who was shot from close range, but they stayed home at the request of their mother.

This joins a long list of astounding miracles that characterized the event from beginning to end, with the terrorist’s weapon jamming several times as he pointed it as passersby who were thus able to escape. One of those who found himself on the end of the terrorist’s M-16, a young man out riding his bike, returned to the scene of the attack next morning to bentsh Hagomel.

At the levayah of Rabbi Avishay Yechezkel Hy”d, he was eulogized by his father, his brother, his brother-in-law, and various public figures. Rabbi Yechezkel, a cheder rebbi, came into the terrorist’s path when he went out for a walk with his two-year-old son. He shielded the toddler with his body to protect him from the bullets. The victim’s brother, Ovadia Yechezkel, recounted that his brother called him to warn him to stay inside the moment he heard gunshots.

“Last night the world turned upside down,” he said. “You feared for me and since that moment I haven’t heard from you.” In a tearful eulogy, the brother told the dramatic story of the previous night’s events: “You protected the child like an eagle and took the bullets yourself. You demonstrated true Jewish courage and saved him.”

The victim’s brother-in-law, Rav Shlomo Zaber, eulogized as well: “Nineteen years go I had the zechus to join this holy family. He was nine and he knew all of Gemara by heart. He always aimed high. On Shabbos, he used to go to four different Tehillim classes. We always knew that when Avishay was at home, he brought joy. It was a delight to be near him. There was no one who spent time with him and didn’t enjoy it.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 906)

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