Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday doubled down on his call to involve the Shin Bet in the fight against the wave of violent crime in the Arab community, despite reported objections from the security service’s chief and the attorney general.
At the conclusion of a meeting with top police and Shin Bet officials, Netanyahu’s office said he instructed authorities to prepare for the security agency to become involved — overruling the opposing voices.
In addition, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi was tasked with presenting recommendations to tackle the issue next week.
“Despite the difficulties, the capabilities of the Shin Bet must be harnessed in the war against the mob families in the Arab community,” Netanyahu said.
After a spike in killings over the weekend, the number of Arabs killed by deadly violence in Israel this year shot up to 102, far more than the 35 slayings at the same point in 2022.
The meeting on Sunday was attended by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, Hanegbi, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai, and other officials.
According to leaks from the meeting reported in Hebrew media outlets, Baharav-Miara and Bar raised objections to involving the Shin Bet in the battle, while Ben Gvir and Shabtai stressed the need for immediate action.
“If you knew that Shira Banki’s murderer was walking free before she was killed, and the police said they couldn’t deal with it, you would have brought the Shin Bet in to catch him. So why not here?” Ben Gvir reportedly asked, invoking the murder of a teenage girl during the 2016 Jerusalem Pride March by an ultra-Orthodox knifeman.
“It can cause damage to the organization,” Bar replied. “We focus on thwarting terrorism. We assist the police, but it shouldn’t be our job. It will deprive us of resources, and there is concern that our sources will be exposed.”
Bar said that the crime wave required an improvement in police infrastructure and manpower and that the Shin Bet “is no panacea.”
According to a source familiar with the details of the meeting, the Shin Bet chief said the organization could help fight specific crime families where beneficial, but that it was no replacement for police.
“There will be an addition of policemen and the strength of the police will improve. It will take time but we need something immediate. We can’t wait,” said Shabtai.
“We oppose it,” Baharav-Miara reportedly said. “Changing the Shin Bet law will harm democracy.”
“We either change the law and say the Shin Bet will be trusted with dealing with crime families or we will do it through temporary provisions,” Ben Gvir said.
“It’s not just a legal problem. In order to convict, we will have to reveal investigative methods in court,” Baharav-Miara responded.
“I represented hilltop youth. You never revealed them. You were given privacy, you will receive it here as well,” Ben Gvir said, referring to his time as a lawyer when he took on Jewish extremists in the West Bank as clients.
“This is an incomprehensible situation, and it can’t go on like this. It needs an immediate solution,” Netanyahu said.
The Shin Bet is generally tasked only with fighting nationalistically motivated terror threats and many Arab leaders oppose the agency’s involvement in non-terror-related matters.
The Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday that Shabtai and Bar were set to sign off on a deal regulating intelligence sharing between Israel Police and the Shin Bet in the coming weeks.
According to the report, the document was written in response to days of violent unrest in cities with mixed Arab-Jewish populations in 2021 and dealt with cooperation on nationalistic activities in the Arab community.
However, the document also includes guidelines on how the two organizations can cooperate on criminal matters, without specifying what they are. Kan noted that some of the agreed-upon points are already being implemented, despite the fact that the deal has not yet been approved.
According to Channel 12 news on Sunday, the Shin Bet has assessed that it can support the police on matters that straddle the line between criminal and national security matters, such as weapons theft, and efforts by gangs to harm government and police officials.
However, they are opposed to intervening in internal conflicts like gang wars, femicides and battles over drug turf.
Police, politicians, and community leaders have struggled over the past several years to rein in criminal activity, which has driven spiking violence.
Many Arab community leaders blame authorities and the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars, and violence against women. The communities have also suffered from years of neglect by state authorities.
In light of the soaring crime wave, there have been growing calls for the removal of Ben Gvir, who is in charge of the police.