The national unity myth

Unless dramatic changes are made in the political and diplomatic conduct, more kidnappings and murders are bound to take place.

Vigil for Naftali, Eyal and Gil-Ad (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Vigil for Naftali, Eyal and Gil-Ad
This week we received the sad news that the three Israeli teenagers who had been kidnapped – Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel – had been tragically murdered.
The intelligence gathering has not been completed yet since the murderers have not been caught and their infrastructure has still not been destroyed.
We are without a doubt one of the most factious nations on earth. No longer do we split ourselves into the traditional Right and Left political divisions.
The reality today is that our society has split into numerous splinter groups and we squabble over every issue. We have the religious against the secular, the haredim against the national-religious camp, the Arabs against the Jews, the traditional Sephardim against the secular Ashkenazim and the Ethiopians against the Russians.
For some strange reason, the only time we are united is during a war or if a national tragedy occurs. Once a military operation begins or – heaven forbid – a citizen is kidnapped, everything changes. All at once, we display complete unity and everyone makes an effort to coordinate well with the other.
This past week, as a huge number of security personnel and civilian volunteers searched for the missing boys, many people spoke publicly about our country’s unity in this time of crisis. I, on the other hand, had a different kind of feeling.
Something has changed lately and I’ve noticed that the cracks in this wall of unity have begun forming. No longer is there an overwhelming consensus.
Not everyone participated in the mass protests or even agreed with the sentiment coming out of them. The media are interviewing people who empathize with settlers, but also with others who think that people who hitch rides in the territories are out of their minds.
And some of the people who live next to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv are just sick and tired of the protests that take place outside their window every week.
But I must say that I don’t think this phenomenon is very surprising, since the government has been neglecting to deal with these conflicts for years now. No one is engaged in long-term strategic planning or asking what the ramifications of the blossoming haredi population will be on the country.
No politician is building a true plan to take care of issues dealing with the Arab community in Israel.
No serious negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians are taking place and it’s no longer clear which members of Knesset belong in the Right or Left camps. Everyone is the same, just with different names.
To a certain extent, these kidnappings have turned into a ritual event.
Immediately after the news of a kidnapping becomes public, a public relations firm offers its services and begins leading a campaign led by the families in an effort to pressure the government to quickly deal with the security crisis. During the night giant banners are designed and printed and then hung the next day all over the country.
Popular columnists quickly get to work preparing their stance either for or against a specific action.
It’s as if they were saying that without this publicity, the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) wouldn’t be doing anything to take care of the situation. That only after the fancy posters had been printed had soldiers been called to action to locate and then bring back the boys who had been kidnapped as quickly as possible.
And if the IDF doesn’t find the people who were kidnapped within a few hours or days, then the resources and manpower they use to continue searching are considered wasteful.
And if the Shin Bet doesn’t identify the exact location where the hostages are being hidden, this is treated as a serious professional mishap.
Israel reacted to the abduction of the three teenagers by carrying out searches and roundups, which Hamas then responded to with a barrage of missiles shot into Israel from the Gaza Strip.
The Shin Bet has access to a tremendous amount of intelligence information that it cannot share with the public for operational reasons, although it does make an effort to release as many details as it can without compromising its searches. For example, the Shin Bet allowed the names of the kidnappers be publicized and admitted that it was actively pursuing them. It did not, however, reveal any details about the boys’ situation or the fact that most likely they had already been killed by the depraved murderers. But it was in possession of this information and it based its searches on this intel, which eventually led it to the bodies.
It’s very difficult to collect intel in an area that is not under your control, that is a no-man’s land, which is not administered by either the Israelis or the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority has not been functioning properly for years already. In fact, since Yasser Arafat’s day, it hasn’t operated as a legitimate political entity. And when its legitimacy waned, so too did its ability to provide any level of security.
In effect, the Shin Bet is the sole body providing any protection against terrorism originating in the PA.
Intelligence gathering becomes so much more difficult when the offenders are local activists who initiated an action on their own. In the case of the three boys who were recently kidnapped and murdered, although the terrorists are intimately involved with Hamas, they were not following specific orders when they picked up the teenagers, and did not take advantage of the national organization’s logistical support on the day the murders were carried out. A terrorist is much more likely to succeed in kidnapping Israelis if he plans and executes his plan with a minimum of people involved – especially without Hamas headquarters.
The more individuals involved in the planning, the harder it is to keep the operation a secret, making it easier for Israeli intelligence gathering forces to locate the victims.
The Shin Bet does not involve itself in discussions surrounding the questions: Does Israel have the right to be in the territories and should people be hitchhiking in Judea and Samaria.
The Shin Bet carries out its duties regardless of political intricacies.
Sometimes it is successful in completing its mission quickly and efficiently, and sometimes it takes it more time. But in the end, it always gets the information it was searching for, albeit not always in time to save lives.
In the case of Shaer, Yifrah and Fraenkel, a fast response would not have helped to save their lives since they were murdered within minutes of being kidnapped, but had the Shin Bet been able to act quickly, it would have had a chance nab the murderers before they slipped away.
I sincerely hope that our nation succeeds in remaining united in times of crisis as well as in calm times. I hope that the people realize how much is being invested in our security forces and how hard they work to keep everyone safe. These forces have been trusted with the extremely challenging task of thwarting Palestinian terrorist attacks.
Unless dramatic changes are made in the political and diplomatic conduct of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, more kidnappings and murders are bound to take place. It is only a matter of time. The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.