It was a normal Shabbat afternoon in Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood. Children were outside visiting with their friends and playing in the empty streets. But the tranquility of the scene was destroyed in a moment when a Palestinian terrorist crept up on 17- year-old Yehuda Ne’emad and his friend and began stabbing Ne’emad in the abdomen and shoulder. Ne’emad’s neighbor, a 12-year-old girl, told reporters that there but by the grace of God both she and her six-year-old brother would have also been attacked. After stabbing Ne’emad, the Palestinian terrorist began chasing the two children.
“It was only due to God’s help that I was able to escape,” she said. “I am sure that I couldn’t have escaped alone, because he was much faster than me.” The IDF, which failed to prevent the attack, played no role in saving their lives. One week later, the terrorist was still at large. One could be forgiven for thinking that the IDF would view Ne’emad’s stabbing, along with the steep escalation of terror and sabotage from Ashdod to the Galilee to Gush Etzion over the past several days as a wake-up call. The time has come to ratchet up the IDF’s counter-terror operations in Judea and Samaria to end the current wave of terror before the Palestinians have the opportunity to get their killing machines back in gear. But shockingly, it appears that defeating terrorists is at the bottom of the IDF’s to-do list. Statements emanating from the IDF’s top echelons indicate its commanders are unaware that it is their job to fight and defeat terrorists.
Israel’s release of hundreds of convicted Palestinian mass murderers in exchange for Gilad Schalit was a shot of adrenalin for Hamas and Fatah alike. Hamas views the swap as a vindication of its path of murder in the name of jihad. Fatah sees the swap as a challenge to its power that can be surmounted only by proving it can mount its own renewed terror assault against Israel.
Rather than meet this new challenge with an aggressive counterterror initiative, this week officers on the General Staff told Haaretz that Military Intelligence, the civil administration and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) believe the best way to respond to Hamas’s ascendency is to release Fatah terrorists from jail and to give more land to Fatah’s terror-aligned security forces in Judea and Samaria and those charged with fighting Hamas terrorists recommend empowering Fatah terrorists. They do so at a time when Fatah’s leadership refuses to have anything to do with the Israeli government and as Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas is preparing for his summit with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Rather than recognize and confront the rising dangers from Hamas and Fatah alike, senior IDF commanders made statements this week indicating the army believes that its most important mission in Judea and Samaria today is to fight Jews.
This week, Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon completed his two-year stint as Judea and Samaria Division commander. At his farewell party held two days after the terror attack in Jerusalem, Alon described the central challenge facing the IDF in Judea and Samaria as evicting Israelis from their homes. As he put it, “It’s likely that the IDF will be required to carry out, together with the police and the civil administration, certain missions that are not within the national consensus, and do so in the face of a rising conflict with the extremist but expanding fringes of Israeli society.” During his time as division commander, Alon ordered troops to shoot at Israeli residents of outpost communities slated for destruction with rubber bullets if they tried to oppose forcible expulsion.
Alon went on to speak of the grave threat of “Jewish terrorists.” He said,
“Already today there is an extremist minority, marginal in size but not in influence, that is liable to steeply escalate the acts commonly referred to as ‘price tag,’ but are actually terrorism. These acts must not only be condemned; their prevention, and the arrest of their perpetrators, must be undertaken more effectively than what we have managed to accomplish to date.”
As far as Alon is concerned, “Jewish terrorists,” pose a threat to Israel that is just as dangerous – if not more dangerous – than the threat posed by the real terrorists just freed from prison. And from OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrachi’s supportive statements at Alon’s farewell bash, it appears that Mizrachi agrees with him. But how can this be? No “Jewish terrorists” have stabbed and murdered Palestinian children. No “Jewish terrorists” have sent missiles into Palestinian residential neighborhoods or strapped bombs on their chests to blow up Palestinian cafes and buses. What Jewish terrorism are they talking about?
It is true that earlier this month there was an arson attack at the mosque in Tuba Zanghariya in the Galilee. While the media was quick to blame it on unknown Jewish assailants, it is hard to see why they would be the obvious or even most likely culprits. Residents of Tuba Zanghariya torched their own clinic and community center. They routinely steal and kill livestock belonging to Jewish farmers in neighboring communities and set fire to their fields. Aside from that, the police arrested two Jewish suspects but were compelled to release them this week due to lack of evidence. The police arrested a third suspect this week but failed to convince a judge to remand him to custody for 10 days. The judge scolded the police for even asking, given that they had no evidence of guilt.
Why would Jews from Judea or Samaria go to all the way to the Galilee to attack a mosque anyway? There are plenty closer to home. The truth is that the “price tag” attacks are not acts of terror, they are acts of hooliganism and warrant criminal punishment. But their Jewish perpetrators are not terrorists, they are petty hooligans. The fact of the matter is that there is no Jewish terrorist infrastructure in Judea and Samaria or anywhere else, and there never has been. This was reported this week by Amir Oren in Haaretz. Among other things, Oren’s article dealt with the 1994 Shamgar Commission formed in the aftermath of Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Arab worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Oren revealed that following the massacre, the Shin Bet recommended forming fake Jewish terror groups in order to provide an organizational framework for would-be Jewish terrorists that would enable the Shin Bet to find and arrest them. The commission adopted the recommendation in its final report. Obviously, if there had been a Jewish terror infrastructure, the Shin Bet wouldn’t have needed to build fake ones.
So what has motivated Alon to focus his attention on fighting a nonexistent Jewish terror threat? Throughout his two years in Judea and Samaria, Alon distinguished himself as one of the most politicized IDF commanders. He consistently overstepped his authority, contradicted government policies and advocated positions of the radical Left. For instance, in an interview this month with The New York Times, Alon indicated that unlike the government, he supports a full IDF withdrawal from Judea and Samaria and doesn’t believe that a withdrawal would be dangerous for Israel. In the same interview, Alon reprimanded Congress for threatening to cut off US funding to the Palestinian Authority’s terror-aligned security forces, claiming that they are a stabilizing force in the region. It is hard to think of another example of an IDF officer telling Congress how to spend US taxpayer dollars. But while Alon’s political activism is more pronounced than that of his colleagues, he is far from the only commander who misunderstands the responsibilities of the military.
Take the IDF’s behavior on September 25, the day Abbas was in New York to request Palestinian membership as a state at the UN. A few hours before Abbas’s speech, 300 Palestinians from Kusra in Samaria attacked a platoon of soldiers from the Kfir Brigade commanded by Lt. Maor Asayag. When one of the soldiers reported that his life was threatened, Asayag ordered him to use live fire to protect himself. His soldier’s life was saved and a 34-year-old Palestinian attacker was killed. For his actions, last week, Asayag was removed from his command and barred from further service in combat forces by his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Yoav Tzikrun. Shocked and angry at their commander’s removal, Asayag’s soldiers wrote a letter to Tzikrun defending Asayag’s behavior as exemplary. They also raised concern that he was punished for political reasons and demanded that he be restored to his command. For their efforts, the soldiers received a harsh reprimand from Tzikrun.
Asayag wasn’t the only victim of the IDF’s decision to put politics before duty during the UN General Assembly session. That day the Central Command and the IDF Spokesman’s Office falsely reported that the terrorist murder of Asher Palmer and his infant son Yonatan was a simple car accident. The two were killed by Palestinians who threw stones at the windshield of their car as they drove along the highway. It took two days and a court order to force the IDF to acknowledge that the father and baby had been murdered. Not surprisingly, the politicization of senior IDF officers has demoralized junior officers and line soldiers. Soldiers and officers who for years risked their lives in operations aimed at capturing the same terrorists who were just released for Schalit feel betrayed by their commanders who supported the deal. As one officer told Arutz 7, “It may not be so nice to say it, but we are asking what the point was in taking all those risks? These aren’t some amateur Molotov cocktail-throwers or stone throwers. These are real killers. We know them and their release is frustrating.”
In the aftermath of 2006’s Second Lebanon War, the IDF’s senior officer corps was subjected to well-deserved public attack for its poor performance during the war. Not only did senior commanders fail to produce and implement a plan to defeat Hezbollah, preferring instead to let the politicians put together a “political solution,” they failed to lead their soldiers in battle, opting to stay behind in air-conditioned command posts watching the fighting on television screens. Three division commanders and the OC Northern Command were removed from their posts for their normative and operational failures and then-chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz was eventually forced into early retirement. It was widely believed that the public opprobrium forced the IDF’s senior ranks to recognize that their duty is to defend the country, and to defeat the enemy, not to behave like politicians.
Unfortunately, the IDF’s current behavior indicates that nothing has changed. With the Muslim Brotherhood on the rise throughout the Arab world, and with Hamas coopting Fatah in Judea and Samaria, Israel needs the IDF to defend it. The current situation, where politicized commanders highlight nonexistent threats and punish committed officers for doing their jobs cannot be allowed to continue.