At this point, there have been dozens of violent attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinians, not counting the massive ones in Huwara and Turmus Ayya – why have Israeli security forces failed to prevent them?
In February, when settlers torched homes in the northern West Bank town of Huwara, killing one, the IDF learned the lesson of quick troop deployment. Yet overall, Israel’s security forces, especially in the last week, have failed to stop Jewish revenge attacks against Palestinians.
Why? The IDF will tell you that the answer is resources. It does not have enough troops to prevent all of the Palestinian terror attacks against Jews (see the increase in terror in recent weeks), so it certainly does not have enough troops for what it sees as a secondary mission: preventing Jewish terror.
That answer is probably part of the problem. The IDF’s main objective is to win wars against foreign enemies, not to stop its citizens from committing revenge violence.
In other words, the IDF does not even want this mission and would rather the police deal with it; in the IDF’s first reaction to Huwara, it tried to divert blame to the police.
Only later on did the IDF take responsibility and recognize that only it has enough forces sufficient to be regularly deployed deep into West Bank areas where these attacks are occurring.
Cases where Shin Bet have taken action
Over the years, the Shin Bet has ramped up efforts to catch Jewish terrorists after specific attacks, like the murder of Muhammad Aby Khadir in 2014 or the murders of the Palestinian Dawabshe family in Duma in 2015.
In those cases, the Shin Bet and IDF used administrative detention on a small number of Jews and even enhanced interrogation techniques. But these tend to be short-term investigations, to find one or two murderers after someone has been killed. These are not examples where Israel succeeded in preventing hundreds of settlers from ransacking and setting fire en-masse to a Palestinian town, like what happened in Turmus Ayya on Wednesday.
The processes that have led to these failures date back years in terms of a culture of passivity when it comes to addressing Jewish settlers attacking Palestinians.
To the extent that they are worse today, some of it could relate to National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir being in power and other government officials creating an atmosphere in which border policemen, and even some IDF troops beyond his direct sphere of influence, feel that there are some top Israeli leaders who do not want them to clamp down too hard on Jewish violence.
Last November, before the new government was formed, but when it was already known that the current coalition was on its way to power, an IDF soldier beat up a left-wing activist in Hebron and said that Ben-Gvir would “bring order” when he came into power.
Subsequently, there has been an increase in incidents of soldiers beating Palestinians and even groups of soldiers protesting when some of their fellow soldiers were disciplined or prosecuted for carrying out such beatings.
What the IDF could do is exhibit the same creativity it does when it fights Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah.
Instead of complaining that it places forces in one town to protect Palestinians from a Jewish revenge attack, and doing nothing when the revenge attackers maneuver around them, it could be anticipating how to stop highly motivated revenge attackers from succeeding at all.
The IDF does not sit back and wait for Hamas, Iran, or Hezbollah to attack with a drone or sea commandos. It does not throw up its hands and give up on attacking underground Iranian nuclear facilities because it lacks a giant bunker-buster bomb.
Rather, it brainstorms about how these groups might try to surprise them and places defenses in place ahead of time.
If it cannot attack Iranian underground facilities with one big bomb, it comes up with creative ways to use multiple bombs, even if that is not the conventional way they are used.
After Huwara, the IDF had failed, but it had an excuse. Now, Israeli security forces have had four months to plan and anticipate how creative revenge attacks might play out.
In addition to the moral considerations, if Israel’s security forces do not reach a more proactive plan soon for protecting Palestinians, the Jewish state’s legitimacy could suffer in new and unprecedented ways which could have far-reaching consequences on other critical diplomatic and security issues.