Netanyahu expresses support for Shin Bet head amid onslaught by his coalition

But a Likud lawmaker continues attacks on top security officials, claiming ‘leftist ideas’ are infiltrating the ranks

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, at a pre-Passover toast on April 4, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, at a pre-Passover toast on April 4, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Monday to the head of the Shin Bet security agency, Ronen Bar, to back him in the wake of an torrent of criticism from far-right members of his government.

But a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party who had berated Bar and military brass continued her attacks against senior military officers on Monday, doubling down on her claim that “leftist ideas” had infiltrated the ranks of security services.

A short statement from Netanyahu’s office Monday said he had expressed “his support for [Bar] and the members of the service for the important work they do around the clock for the security of the people of Israel.”

The statement came after several coalition lawmakers denounced Bar for reportedly warning that terrorist acts by Jewish Israelis are fueling Palestinian terrorism. Likud MK Tally Gotliv asserted that “ideas of the left have reached the top” of the security agency and Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech claiming senior defense officials do not know how to “distinguish between the enemy and your own people.”

Bar’s warning, published by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, reportedly came days before a young Palestinian man was killed by Israeli settlers near Ramallah on Friday night, and a Palestinian terrorist from Jenin killed an Israeli patrolman in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening.

Responding to the report, MK Son Har Melech slammed the Shin Bet in an interview with the Ynet news site on Sunday.

“We see that they got mixed up and don’t know how to define who is the enemy and don’t know how to deter the enemy and overpower the enemy, so we find ourselves facing such distorted definitions. Who should you be taking care of and who should you be fighting?” said Har Melech, whose own former spokesperson Elisha Yered was arrested in connection to the Friday killing of 19-year-old Palestinian Qusai Jamal Matan.

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, right, is accompanied by her then-spokesperson Elisha Yered in Jerusalem, February 26, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

“It is impossible to ignore the fact that a perception and policy has permeated within the senior command ranks, which, as I said earlier, do not know how to distinguish between an enemy and your own people,” she told Ynet.

“Unfortunately, today everyone already knows that there is a glass ceiling within the army and the security establishment. Only people with very specific opinions are promoted, and those who think otherwise are not promoted — opinions that are very, very destructive to the nation of Israel,” Har Melech claimed.

Firebrand Likud MK Gotliv, meanwhile, told Ynet on Sunday that “The ideas of the left have also reached the top of the Shin Bet and IDF,” claiming that the “deep state has reached the head of the Shin Bet and the heads of the IDF,” using a controversial term for an alleged conspiracy of bureaucrats working against the elected leadership.

MK Tally Gotliv attends a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Monday, during an interview with Ynet, military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari backed Bar in saying that violence by settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians was spurring more Palestinians to carry out acts of terror.

He also responded to Gotliv’s comments against the Shin Bet and IDF, calling them “grave” and adding that “it would have been better had they not been made… and [her remarks] harm national security.”

Gotliv later attacked Hagari in an interview with the Knesset Channel, saying that she would conduct a “very serious inspection” into goings on in the military.

“I will look into who is promoted above the rank of major general. Anyone who advances above the rank of major general, I will look into it as I know how to,” Gotliv said. (Major general is the second highest rank in the military, with only the chief of staff being promoted above it to lieutenant general. Hagari’s rear admiral Navy rank is the Ground Forces equivalent of a brigadier general.)

“What [Hagari] said is disrespectful, scandalous, and I fully reject it. How is the fact that I am arguing that the deep state infiltrated the army and its senior officers harming state security? How is the fact that I’m claiming that there are leftist ideas, extremist ones in my opinion, in the senior army ranks, how is that harming state security? He should ask himself,” Gotliv said.

IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari speaks to media near the Gaza border, May 10, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/ Times of Israel)

There has been a rise in settler violence in recent months, with the United Nations on Friday reporting there have been nearly 600 attacks on Palestinians and their property over the past six months.

The Israeli defense establishment recorded similar numbers during that period.

According to official data provided to The Times of Israel on Monday, there were 680 incidents of stone-throwing or assault of Palestinians by settlers in the first six months of 2023, compared to 950 in all of 2022.

The defense establishment also recorded 11 so-called “price tag” vandalism attacks in the first six months of 2023, compared to 18 in all of last year.

Additionally, there have been 25 serious attacks by settlers in the West Bank in the first six months of this year, according to the data. Those included arson attacks on homes and mosques in Palestinian towns and other serious incidents of violence, some ending with Palestinian casualties. In all of 2022, the defense establishment recorded 25 serious settler attacks against Palestinians.

Illustrative: A screenshot from video of settlers firing at the West Bank village of Umm Safa on June 24, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Friday’s deadly incident came after several other Palestinians were killed in disputed circumstances involving settlers this year.

The recent settler attacks have been condemned by the military, police, and a number of politicians, including some from the hardline right-wing coalition, but there has been little clear-cut condemnation from settlement leaders.

Some far-right lawmakers have indicated their support for the violent settlers, and have attacked defense officials who spoke out against them.

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