On May 17, 2020, just after Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in to head an emergency government with political rival Benny Gantz, he was interviewed on Army Radio and answered a question shouted at him in the Knesset plenum: What have you done for the benefit of all Israelis?
“First of all,” he said, “I thwarted many terror threats that threatened all the citizens of Israel. In the years that I have served as Israel’s prime minister, we have had the lowest level of fatalities in the history of the state.”
“I thwarted many terror threats that threatened all the citizens of Israel. In the years that I have served as Israel’s prime minister, we have had the lowest level of fatalities in the history of the state.”Benjamin Netanyahu
And this was not an exaggeration.
In the almost 148 months from when he took office on March 31, 2009, until Naftali Bennett replaced him on June 13, 2021, some 166 people were killed in Israel in terrorist attacks unrelated to major military campaigns in Gaza. This is an average of 13.6 people a year, or 1.1 a month.
By contrast, in the 118 months from when Ehud Barak took office from Netanyahu in July 1999 to when Netanyahu moved back into the prime minister’s residence in 2009, 1,181 people were killed in Israel in terrorist attacks. That averaged about 120.5 people a year, or 10 a month – nine times as many.
The significantly lower number of terror fatalities under Netanyahu greatly impacted his political longevity. People may not have known these grisly statistics, but there was a sense among many voters that terrorism was less a part of this country’s daily life when Netanyahu was in power.
Tragically, however, the first two months of Netanyahu’s current tenure are following a different trajectory.
More Israelis killed by Palestinians just 2 months into Netanyahu's new tenure
Fourteen Israelis have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists so far this year. That is more terror deaths in two months than the 12 the country suffered in 2019 and 2020 combined. Only six times since 2009 have more than 14 people been murdered by terrorists in a year.
Clearly something is not working as it did in the past. Clearly something needs to change. Clearly some new measures need to be discussed.
A bill to institute the death penalty for terrorists is scheduled to come before the Knesset on Wednesday. While there may indeed be deterrent merits in mandating capital punishment for terrorists, this must be thought through very carefully.
On Sunday, after the brutal murders of brothers Hillel and Yagel Yaniv, The Ministerial Committee on Legislation green-lighted the bill, despite Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara’s opinion that it should not come to the Knesset before the security cabinet discusses it.
The government said a security meeting would be held after the Knesset vote. Such a serious discussion is essential, accompanied by a reasoned public debate regarding the merits and drawbacks of the idea.
While new approaches to combating terrorism may be needed, these need to be more than mere slogans.
In response to Monday’s murder of Elan Ganeles, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir tweeted: “We must change the concept of security and move from defense to attack. No more containment and restraint, but an offensive hand.”
“We must change the concept of security and move from defense to attack. No more containment and restraint, but an offensive hand.”Itamar Ben-Gvir
This might be a good idea. But what Ben-Gvir has seemingly not yet internalized is that he is now a senior government minister with a seat in the security cabinet. If this is what he thinks, then put together a serious coherent plan, convince his ministerial colleagues and the heads of the security services, and implement it. Twitter posts are no substitute.
The keywords here are “serious” and “coherent.” This is also something that Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich needs to learn.
Smotrich, who is also in the security cabinet, tweeted following the Yaniv brothers’ murders that calm “will only be achieved when the IDF mercilessly hits the terror cities and its perpetrators with tanks and helicopters in a way that sends the message that the landlord has gone crazy. [This] will take away their desire to harm us.”
The significant uptick in terrorism and this week’s three brutal murders necessitates that the government re-thinks policies and perhaps comes up with new ones to protect its citizens. But this must be done coolly, and the decisions made professionally.
Acting “crazy” is a game plan for underworld organizations, not a strong and powerful state with unimaginable lethal force – that must act rationally and reasonably even when the blood boils.