Israel’s Shin Bet security agency announced Friday it would be assisting in efforts to prevent violence between Jews and Arabs in cities where both live that have seen deadly outbreaks of fighting over the past week, which it called “terror for all intents and purposes.”
Tensions between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities have spiraled into mob violence, turning some ostensibly ethnically integrated cities into veritable war zones as police have appeared unequipped to handle the most serious internal unrest to grip the country in years.
In Lod, a central city with Jewish and Arab populations that has become an epicenter of the ethnic violence wracking the country, police made the extraordinary decision Friday to limit entry into the city starting at 4 p.m., while keeping a nightly curfew in place for a third night.
Arab protests in support of Palestinians in Jerusalem and on the flashpoint Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif holy sites spread across the country at the start of the week, touching off revenge attacks by Jews. Several people have been shot by assailants and others have beaten by angry mobs on both sides, with many of the attacks caught on camera.
Synagogues and a Muslim cemetery have also been torched by vigilantes in Lod, according to reports.
The announcement by the Shin Bet, which rarely operates openly within Israel, came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested using military troops to quell violence in Lod, an idea reportedly opposed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
The Shin Bet said it is using “intelligence-collecting capabilities” to learn about any plans to carry out attacks or engage in violent clashes, as well as the identities of those behind these plans, according to a statement.
The Shin Bet said it is doing so “to thwart these incidents and to locate, arrest, investigate and put the perpetrators on trial.”
The security service also said Shin Bet agents are operating in the cities and areas where the violence is occurring.
“We won’t allow violent rioters to impose terror on the streets of Israel, either by Arabs or Jews,” Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman said, adding that the Shin Bet will use all its capabilities and act against “whoever tries to harm Israeli citizens, Jews or Arabs, until the calm returns to the streets of the country.”
Amid the violent rioting, the police are said to have deployed undercover operatives called mista’arvim, the term used for Israeli agents dressed as Arabs who normally operate in the West Bank. “Naturally, they also assist in dealing with local disturbances in Israel,” a police source told Channel 12.
On Thursday night, two civilians and a policeman were reported to have been shot by Arab assailants in Lod and Ramle, and in Jaffa a 19-year-old soldier was in serious condition after being beaten and was suffering from a skull fracture and a cerebral hemorrhage, Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv said.
בית הכנסת דוסא עולה באש. pic.twitter.com/PGZmMUe2Ul
— מאיר ליוש Meir Layosh (@MLayosh) May 13, 2021
Footage posted online showed a Lod synagogue’s courtyard damaged in a fire, apparently during riots in the city, overnight Thursday – Friday.
Despite the ever-expanding violence, and a call-up of reinforcements for both police and Border Police, law enforcement has seemed unequipped to handle the scope of the chaos.
Kan news posted video from the city of what it said were armed citizens accompanying officers to the site of clashes.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 13, 2021
On Thursday, Gantz extended a state of emergency in Lod there by 48 hours, a move his office said came at the request of police.
Police on Friday announced the arrests of three suspects over violence in Lod overnight, including live fire at officers and the burning of buildings, they said in a statement.
Visiting Lod Thursday, Netanyahu said he would approve far-reaching measures to quell the violence seen across Israel, including deploying military forces.
“We have no bigger threat now than these pogroms, and we have no choice but to restore law and order via determined use of force,” he said.
Despite his call for Israel Defense Forces troops to be deployed, it is unlikely that Netanyahu has the authority to approve such action independently.
Netanyahu also proposed the use of administrative detention of rioters, a controversial measure commonly deployed by the Shin Bet against Palestinians in the West Bank.
Administrative detention enables authorities to detain people for extended periods of time without leveling formal charges against them, in a practice decried by critics as undemocratic and abusive, but defended by the security establishment as a necessary measure in cases where revealing the evidence would harm national security.
The local unrest between Jews and Arabs came amid renewed fighting between Israel and Gaza terror groups, with some 2,000 rockets fired from the enclave since Monday night, killing nine in Israel. The IDF has responded with airstrikes on Gaza, which have killed 119 according to the Hamas-run health ministry.