Controversial right-wing politician MK Itamar Ben-Gvir’s ascension to the Temple Mount would with “near-certainty” have caused “significant damage to national security” and may have led to civilians, soldiers and police officers being harmed, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said on Friday.
The statement came after Ben-Gvir attacked the agency and its chief Ronen Bar for allegedly giving briefings against him.
The Shin Bet did not mention Ben-Gvir by name, but was clearly referring to the government’s decision to bar his entry to Jerusalem’s Old City via Damascus Gate on April 19.
“During the past month, the Shin Bet has drawn up a number of recommendations and assessments aimed at strengthening security and preventing an eruption on many fronts,” the statement said.
“The Shin Bet is fully aware of the importance of freedom of movement in general, and that of Knesset members in particular, but, in this extremely unusual case, an assessment based on intelligence was given that predicted with near-certainty significant damage to national security.
“It is the Shin Bet’s duty and mission to prevent in advance an act that may lead to a security escalation that may harm civilians, soldiers and police officers,” the statement continued, adding that the agency “will continue fulfilling its duty and mission according to the law, and passing on independent and professional assessments that, at their core, aim to prevent harm to the security of the nation and its citizen.”
A threatening message was sent to Ben-Gvir over Facebook, containing pictures of rifle bullets with the caption reading, “We will kill you and your family.” The MK called on Knesset security and the Shin Bet to investigate the threat.
“Left-wing politicians do not condemn threats against right-wingers, and only when there are threats against the lives of left-wingers do they wake up,” noted Ben-Gvir, who heads the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party.
“I call on politicians from the Left and Shin Bet officials to stop the incitement against me,” he said. “Words can kill, and there is no difference between threats on the Left and threats on the Right.”
Police have opened an investigation into the threats, Israeli media reported.
This is not the first time the right-wing politician has been the victim of threats, and he had previously petitioned the Knesset for extra security. However, he has also been vocal in criticizing the Shin Bet for a perceived focus on investigating him rather than on trying to combat terrorist attacks and tensions on the Temple Mount.
“When the Temple Mount is on fire and terror attacks are intensifying, the Shin Bet must deal with state security and not with an investigation against me!” Ben-Gvir said in a social media post, slamming Shin Bet head Bar.
This criticism was condemned by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
“Ronen Bar is a man who dedicates his whole life, day and night, so that we can sleep peacefully and confidently,” Bennett said in a statement.
“The responsibility on his shoulders, and on the shoulders of all Shin Bet operatives, is enormous. Terrorist threats to the State of Israel are enormous. The number of people, on any given day, who seek to kill and harm us is almost infinite. Shin Bet operatives stand in the breach, saving the lives of Israelis on a daily basis.
“Their devotion deserves only one thing – gratitude.”
However, “the dangerous political campaign” that depicts the Shin Bet and Bar in a negative light “is a cowardly anti-Israel act designed to set the country on fire with fanaticism and chaos.”
Bennett vowed to support the Shin Bet, saying that “if anyone has any complaints about policy decisions – I’m the prime minister.”
IN RESPONSE, Ben-Gvir accused Bennett of using “the Shin Bet head for his political needs.”
He stated: “I like Shin Bet operatives and defend them in Knesset committees, but the Shin Bet head is not allowed to investigate an elected official – and a member of the public is allowed to criticize the fact that the prime minister is using the head of the Shin Bet.”
He further accused Bennett of “distorted logic,” saying that “The Shin Bet is allowed to investigate me, but I’m not allowed to respond to their incitement against me. Hypocrisy.”
“Naftali Bennett continues to lie and divide,” Religious-Zionist Party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich said, according to Israeli media. “I call on the entire political system to work to ensure that opportunistic and worthless people like Bennett are no longer in Israel’s Knesset.”
“Itamar Ben-Gvir, the convicted criminal that [opposition leader Benjamin] Netanyahu wants to appoint as public security minister, has set himself a new target for his attacks: The head of the Shin Bet and his operatives,” Lapid tweeted, adding that he expects Netanyahu to “strongly condemn” him.
Ben-Gvir is not the only lawmaker to have recently received threatening messages.
Just this past week, Bennett and his family received threatening letters.
Most recently, a letter containing a bullet was sent to the prime minister’s son, Yoni Bennett.
The threats led to a series of condemnations in the political system, led by the prime minister and his son.
“Political conflict, no matter how profound, should not reach violence, bullying and death threats,” Bennett tweeted. “We need to do everything, as leaders and as citizens whose future and the future of their children are in this country, so that such phenomena simply do not happen.”
The prime minister’s son, Yoni, to whom the letter was allegedly personally addressed, also condemned the incident on social media. “It’s so sad that things like this happen because of incitement,” he said.
On Thursday, an IDF soldier was detained by Military Police after he threatened Bennett on social media, according to KAN news.
Walla and Eliav Breuer contributed to this report.