Cameras linked to Israeli command centers will monitor roads across Judea and Samaria to allow for an immediate IDF response to any violence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday.
Netanyahu spoke at the site near Itamar where terrorists murdered Eitam and Naama Henkin Thursday night. He was joined by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot.
“The focus of this visit is on active defense of the roads,” Netanyahu said.
“A significant portion of the attacks take place on the main roads,” and enhanced surveillance, along with the ability for quick response, can “significantly” improve Israel’s ability to both thwart attacks and apprehend the perpetrators, he said.
“This is a very, very important element in restoring security,” the prime minister said.
The positioning of cameras both on the ground and in the air over West Bank highways is an addition to a string of other measures decided by the security cabinet late Monday night, where Netanyahu sparred with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked over the proper steps to take.
Bennett was quoted as saying soldiers and police were not responding to provocations, and that there was a need for tougher measures.
Interior Minister Arye Deri was quoted as asking Eizenkot at the meeting whether the IDF’s hands were tied, and Eizenkot replied in the negative.
Deri then turned to Shaked and Bennett and asked whether they wanted to lead to war.
He said that to criticize the IDF and the prime minister and create an impression that there was no response on Israel’s part was “irresponsible.”
“This will not continue,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying, and – alluding to criticism from inside his government during Operation Protective Edge – said the government will not last if similar criticism was aired again.Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu and his envoy to the Palestinians, Yitzhak Molcho, told ministers of an ultimatum from Washington that the US would abstain from any Security Council vote on an expected French proposal condemning plans for settlement building if Israel were to announce any significant new plans to build in the enclaves.
Ministers did not announce any plans for new construction in the settlements, but decided to advance plans to pave bypass roads in the territories around high-friction areas, in addition to an earlier decision to deploy more IDF troops in Judea and Samaria and Border Police in Jerusalem. Shaked was instructed to establish a mechanism to expedite the demolition of terrorists’ homes.
Netanyahu visited the site of the Henkin murders on Tuesday, where he said the focal point for the current tension was over the Temple Mount, and that Israel was committed to the status quo.
“But the status quo does not permit bringing pipe bombs into al-Aksa Mosque, and it does not permit throwing firebombs and rocks,” he said.
Netanyahu said he also directed the police to take actions against Old City merchants and Palestinians who allegedly spat and kicked at Adel Banita after she was stabbed and – while bleeding – sought their help. Her husband Aharon was killed in the Saturday night attack in Jerusalem’s Old City, and her toddler son was injured.
“I asked that these people be investigated, prosecuted and their stores closed according to the law.
We cannot accept this,” he said.
Netanyahu said action also will be taken against Israel’s Islamic Movement – which he said is the “first and foremost” source of incitement – along with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
With these steps, he said, “Israel can stop this wave of terror, like we have stopped others.”
Netanyahu said Israel is in constant contact with Jordan, Egypt and “many others,” trying to present them with the fact that “we have no intention of changing the status quo on the Temple Mount, that the mosques will remain there, and that Israel does not intend to destroy them and build the third temple.”
Those “lies” he said were “absurd,” but were beginning to be believed by the masses, and even among those in leadership positions. “If you repeat a lie long enough, it becomes a truth,” he said.
Israel, he said, needed to work aggressively against the terrorists, rioters and inciters, and also at the same time make clear that it was maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount.
In reaction to criticism from the Right – including ministers within his own government and party – that the IDF and security forces were not taking all the steps necessary and that they were not getting the needed support from the government, Netanyahu said: “There is no question of backing or support and everyone knows that.”
He said responsibility was needed from public leaders, including and especially the leaders in the settlements.
“We are in a long struggle, and it does not need militancy, but rather it needs a lot of strength, a resolute attitude, much composure and thoroughness, and that is what we are doing.”
Ya’alon called on settlement leaders and politicians to “stop harshly criticizing” the government. Referring to calls for a second Operation Defensive Shield, during which the IDF retook Palestinian city centers in the West Bank in 2002 after waves of deadly suicide bombings in Israeli cities, Ya’alon said there “is a difference between the situation” at that time and the current one.
Ya’alon also cautioned that “these statements [by settlement leaders] will cause civilians to take the law into their own hands.”
In 2002, Ya’alon said, the IDF needed a division to enter Jenin.
“Two days ago, we entered Jenin with a small force to carry out an arrest.”
The IDF, he said, has been on the offensive ever since Operation Defensive Shield, and dismissed the accusation by right-wing elements of restrictions on the IDF’s activities in the territories.
Ya’alon also called on coalition ministers, who have criticized the government over its handling of Palestinian violence, to “remember that the government has collective responsibility.”
On Monday night, three Likud ministers – Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Welfare and Social Services Minister Haim Katz and Tourism Minister Yair Levin – took part in a demonstration near the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Eizenkot said the IDF has full freedom of activity in Judea and Samaria, but it is impossible for the military to achieve a 100 percent success rate in the face of the complex security challenges.
The IDF is dealing with Palestinian rioting, alongside a handful of Jews who, by assaulting Palestinians, are “harming our effectiveness and ability to focus our activities against Palestinian terrorism,” the chief of staff said.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said Tuesday he does not believe the demolition of Palestinian houses or the construction of new Israeli settlements “will do anything other than inflame tensions still further.”
Ban said he was “profoundly alarmed by the growing number of deadly incidents in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem” Ban acknowledged the deaths in recent days of four Palestinians, including a 12-year old boy, and hundreds injured, and called these events “yet another worrisome sign of violence potentially spiraling out of control.”
“The Secretary-General condemns the killings and looks to the Government of Israel to conduct a prompt and transparent investigation into the incidents, including whether the use of force was proportional,” the UN statement said.
Although Ban on Sunday condemned the murder of two Israelis Saturday night in the Old City, he did not mention any Israeli victims in his remarks on Tuesday.
In a related development, Netanyahu shortened his planned trip to Germany later this week from two days to one citing the tense security situation.
Netanyahu will fly to Berlin on Thursday with senior ministers to take part in an annual government- to-government meeting, and will return later that night. Originally he was to fly out on Wednesday and return Thursday. He also will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The government-to-government meeting is taking place as part of a number of events this year to mark 50 years since the establishment of German-Israeli diplomatic ties.
Netanyahu came under criticism last week when he did not fly home immediately from the US following the murder of the Henkins on Thursday night, but rather only returned to Israel on Sunday.
Danielle Ziri contributed to this report from New York.