Analysis: Time to create deterrence

Extremists behind so-called “price-tag” attacks are walking away with the conclusion that violence pays.

Workers clean price tag from Muslim cemetary, J'lem_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Workers clean price tag from Muslim cemetary, J'lem_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
A few months ago, OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi met with a group of judges from courts in the center of the country.
His goal was to try to explain what was happening in the West Bank, why it was difficult to collect concrete evidence on settlers and why, in the case of perpetrators of so-called “price-tag” attacks who walk out of court with barely a slap on the wrist, there was effectively zero deterrence.
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In the months since those meetings, Mizrahi and the entire Israeli law enforcement system have faced an apparently dramatic increase in the number of attacks against Palestinians and IDF troops throughout the West Bank – and occasionally within Israel.
In the past three months alone, incidents included the infiltration and subsequent vandalism of the Binyamin Regional Brigade base, the firebombing of a mosque in the Israeli-Beduin village of Tuba-Zanghariya and the burning of a mosque last week near the Ariel settlement.
None of this was enough to shake up the system, even though it should have.
Only on Tuesday, after settlers and right-wing activists allegedly crossed the border fence between Israel and Jordan, threw stones at a group of Palestinians, attacked IDF officers and vandalized the Efraim Regional Brigade base did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak slam their fists on the table and scream, “Enough!”
The problem is that their “enough” is not going to be enough to stop the far-right extremists who are suspected of being behind the series of attacks. One key reason is that the group is extremely determined, and the defense and legal establishments are not.
What first needs to be understood is that these settlers and far-right activists largely do not fear the police or the courts.
Past experience has also shown that punishments tend to be minor, and that’s in the rare instance where the case actually makes it to court.
The group, which consists mostly of “Hilltop Youth” who live in illegal outposts and some of the more extreme settlements in Samaria, also has a clear objective – to deter the Israeli government from taking action to evacuate these locales.
So far this strategy has worked. Just last month, Barak asked the High Court of Justice for a delay in carrying out a series of court-ordered evacuations to prevent an escalation of violence in the West Bank.
While Netanyahu and Barak do not sanction the “price tag” attacks, these incidents are somewhat convenient.
Neither politician wants to rock the boat with settlers and enter months of social infighting, which would distract them from focusing on the more pressing challenges Israel faces, such as the threats posed by Iran, Egypt and Syria.
Moreover, Netanyahu and Barak use the violence as a justification during talks with the Americans, to explain why they are dragging their feet in evacuating the illegal outposts.
They claim it does not make sense to evacuate the outposts now, face a civil war within Israel and then never be able to move forward with a full evacuation under a peace deal with the Palestinians. Instead, they argue, it makes more sense to wait and evacuate all areas at once.
The problem is that these delays are what empower the extremists who are behind the attacks. Instead of showing them that despite their activities, the IDF, police and Justice Ministry still know how to enforce the law, the attackers are walking away with a different conclusion – that violence pays.