Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday reiterated his call to involve the Shin Bet domestic security agency in addressing the deadly crime spike in Arab communities, as the weekend saw several more killings.
Netanyahu said last week he wanted to have the security service aid the police in the crime fight, shortly after five people were gunned down at a carwash in the north of the country in the deadliest non-terror mass killing since 2009. A massive wave of deadly violence has claimed the lives of 102 Arabs in Israel this year, far ahead of the 35 slayings at the same point in 2022.
Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who is facing increasing calls to resign as the body count mounts, has been pressing to enlist the Shin Bet against gangs and said last week he’d demand a cabinet vote on the matter.
Opening the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu called the killings “a national calamity” and blamed most of them on “criminal organizations that are embittering the lives of Arab citizens of Israel.”
“We are determined to combat this criminal trend, first and foremost the head of the snake — criminal organizations,” he said.
The premier said he’d convene a meeting with government ministers and legal advisers later in the day “to integrate the Shin Bet into a targeted effort” against these groups.
Netanyahu then touted measures to increase the number of police stations in Arab areas and allocate more funding to hire officers, but “all this this takes time and we have no time.”
“Therefore I’m insisting on immediately bringing the Shin Bet into the campaign,” he said. He dismissed criticism of the proposal and claimed, “this is the only way we can swiftly reverse the trend.”
Ben Gvir also repeated his call to have the Shin Bet assist as the cabinet meeting began.
“There’s no time, we can’t wait,” Ben Gvir said, describing the Shin Bet as an “immediate solution” until others measures he has proposed can be readied.
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.
Senior officials in the Shin Bet are reportedly also strongly opposed to the agency’s involvement in the fight against criminal organizations, worrying that it might not even be legal to employ against citizens the same tools it uses in the fight against Palestinian terror.
Netanyahu’s comments Sunday were mocked by MK Benny Gantz, who along with members of his opposition National Unity party visited the central city of Qalansawe after a man was shot dead there Saturday evening.
“Netanyahu said he’s ‘determined’ to bring in the Shin Bet. After 15 years in power [and not solving the problem], the last thing you can say about Netanyahu is that he’s determined” to fight crime, Gantz, a former defense minister, was quoted saying in a statement. “I have news for him: The Shin Bet has already been helping the Israel Police for a while and is involved in some issues such as theft of weapons, which can also reach terror groups.”
“In any case, give the tools to the police first,” he added.
Gantz, who said there are “no magic solutions,” also called for Ben Gvir to be fired and for establishment of a ministerial committee on crime fighting to be established.
Police, politicians and community leaders have struggled over the past several years to rein in criminal activity driving the 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.
The head of a police unit tasked with fighting crime in the Arab community, Deputy Commissioner Natan Bozna, resigned last week.
Experts say powerful Arab gangs have amassed large quantities of illegal weapons over the past two decades and are involved in drugs, arms and human trafficking, prostitution, extortion and money laundering.