The head of Israel’s internal security service told lawmakers he opposed a proposal by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to allow judges to apply the death penalty to terrorists, according to Channel 10 news.
Nadav Argaman reportedly made his remarks during a closed-door session of the Knesset’s influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The report could not be immediately confirmed.
Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party made the death penalty for terrorists one of its central platforms in the 2015 election. Since he became defense minister, the right-wing politician has pushed for a change to the law that would allow any terrorist whose attack results in a victim’s death to be sentenced to death.
Only one person has ever been sentenced to death by a standing Israeli court: Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust.
Last week, Yisrael Beytenu said the proposal would be advanced, after Israeli coalition leaders agreed on a draft bill.
The Shin Bet chief is not alone in the dissent. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has also reportedly come out against the punishment, arguing that the death penalty would not serve to dissuade terrorists from carrying out attacks, as they generally commit them with the knowledge that they won’t make it out alive.
Though the Shin Bet is a security service, it does not answer to the defense minister. Argaman instead reports directly to the prime minister.
According to a statement put out by the Knesset committee, Argaman also told the committee members that the Gaza-based Hamas terrorist group does not appear to be interested in renewed military conflict with Israel, but is looking instead to carry out terror attacks in the West Bank.
“This year we broke up 148 local Hamas cells in the West Bank. This high number of cells shows the increase in efforts by the Hamas high command in the Gaza Strip and abroad,” he said.
“Hamas sees the West Bank as being the main front for terror, with the intent of upsetting the security stability there, but it is having trouble doing that, mostly because of Israel’s efforts to stop it,” he said.
The Shin Bet chief said the terrorist group appears to be deepening its ties with Iran as the Middle East generally divides between the Shiite faction led by Islamic Republic and the Sunni one led by Saudi Arabia.
Argaman noted that while Hamas does not appear to be currently interested in another round of fighting with Israel, “it is preparing for such a scenario.”
He noted that the security situations in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are increasingly strained, particularly as a result of US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital earlier this month.
But Argaman added that the situation in Gaza is particularly volatile, which could be seen in the significant increase in rocket fire emanating from the coastal enclave, which for two weeks was occurring at a rate not seen by Israel since the 2014 Gaza war.
Argaman predicted that it would be a “a highly unstable period for the next six months at least.”
Argaman, presenting his annual report to the committee, said his security service thwarted hundreds of “significant” terror attacks in the past year and warned that the “relative quiet” in the West Bank and Gaza should not mislead people into thinking that all is well in the region.
In the past year, the security service foiled approximately 400 serious terror attacks, he said, including 13 suicide bombings and eight kidnapping attempts, as well as 228 shooting attacks, 50 bombings and 94 car-rammings and stabbings.
The Shin Bet chief said his security service saw half the number of successful “lone wolf” attacks, compared to last year. In 2016, there were 108 such attacks, while so far in 2017 there have been 54, he said.
The security chief said, in total, Israel arrested 1,100 would-be “lone wolf” attackers in 2017, as compared to the 2,200 people that were arrested last year.
He predicted that “lone wolf” attacks would continue to be a central focus of the security service in the years to come, as it has largely learned to counter organized terrorist groups’ activities.
The Shin Bet chief also discussed the ongoing, strained reconciliation efforts between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas terrorist group as a possible source of friction in Palestinian society.
“The Palestinian arena in the past year is highly unstable in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, especially now following Trump’s declaration,” he said.
“The relative quiet we’re experiencing is a misleading quiet,” Argaman said. “Hamas is trying with all its strength to carry out attacks in the West Bank and to disturb the stability of the Palestinian Authority.”
He made no predictions regarding how the reconciliation efforts will turn out, saying only “time will tell.”
In a December 6 address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue. He described his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.
The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
Palestinian groups in response called for a new intifada against Israel and urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers, and each Friday since Trump’s declaration has seen thousands of Palestinians take to the streets to clash with Israeli troops, both in cities in the West Bank and along the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of rioters have been injured and several have been killed.
The past few weeks have also seen a significant increase in the number of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, approximately two dozen in two weeks, though military officials are loath to credit that solely to Trump’s declaration, pointing as well to increased Israeli efforts to demolish terrorist groups’ tunnels and internal Palestinian disputes.