Israel fears of a new political assassination

Adnan Abu Amer 

Middle East Monitor  /  May 7, 2022

Israeli security authorities opened an investigation into Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his family’s receiving two death threats. The threats were sent in an envelope, also containing a bullet. Security officials are trying to find out who sent those letters to Bennett’s house in Ra’nana, and are not allowing media to publish details.

Investigators of the “Lahav 433” Major Crimes Unit and the General Security Service – the Shin Bet – opened an investigation into death threats against Bennett and his family and, in the wake of the threats, security officials in the Prime Minister’s Office decided to reinforce security in the unit that protects his family.

Israeli security officials believe that, despite the seriousness of the threats, there is no real danger to the life of the Prime Minister or his family. However, the fact that ongoing disputes have reached the level of death threats means that things are very serious. Whoever sent the two messages with live bullets was gathering information about Bennett’s family and, perhaps, he knows them closely, which has added more tension to the situation.

At this point, it is not clear if the two letters have passed through the tight security chain of the Public Security Department to reach the family, or not. Moreover, it is not known whether any of the family members have been exposed to the contents of the letters, or whether the letters were stopped at one of the security departments.

This threat has left its direct effects on the partisan and political arena in the occupying State, which is closely watching political tension and partisan polarization reach their peak in recent days, following the loss of the current government’s parliamentary majority. In response to these threats, Bennett wrote on his Facebook account saying: “I am Prime Minister and a politician, and I call on everyone from all sides of the political spectrum, especially activists on social networks, to act for calm and reconciliation, not incitement.” Interior Minister, Ayelet Shaked, who has been threatened in the past, also posted saying that “the threat against the Prime Minister and his family is very serious”.

One of Bennett’s coalition partners, MK Bezalel Smotrich, Head of the Religious Zionism party, was skeptical about security reports of the threats, claiming that it might be aimed at improving Bennett’s public standing and delegitimizing the opposition’s right to organize protests.

The security chaos in Israel did not stop at the two threats made against Bennett’s family by right-wing circles. The matter extended to the actions of extremist Zionist Knesset member, Itamar Ben Gvir of the Religious Zionism party, against the Head of the Shin Bet, Ronen Bar. Bar considered such actions to constitute a threat to Israel and a significant damage to its security and that they may lead to a security escalation that harms settlers, army soldiers and the police.

These events go back to Ben Gvir’s incitement against the Shin Bet and its leader, accusing them of failing to prevent Palestinians’ protests in Al-Aqsa Mosque, not allowing settlers to organize the march of flags or to slaughter sacrifices, and failing to stop the operations of Beersheba/ Bir al-Saba, Bnei Brak and Hadera/Khdeira. In return, the Shin Bet accused him of causing harm to State security. This has prompted Bennett to personally warn against getting into a state of fanaticism and security chaos.

Israeli reports are bringing back to attention the statements by the Head of the Shin Bet against Ben Gvir’s actions, who called for a flags march in occupied Jerusalem and established a parliamentary office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. This could lead to a major escalation with the Palestinians during a sensitive security situation, amid tensions that were witnessed during the month of Ramadan.

For his part, Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, launched an attack on Ben Gvir for attacking the Head of the General Security Service, Ronen Bar, and claiming that he had failed to prevent armed operations. All of this would deepen the political conflict, and could lead to more violence, bullying and death threats, which calls for mitigating the fires of political discourse.

Lapid described Ben Gvir as a “convicted criminal”, who Netanyahu wants to appoint as Minister of Internal Security in his next government. Ben Gvir has set a new goal for his attacks, and that goal is the Head of the Public Security Agency and its members, demanding the opposition leader condemns him. Meanwhile, the police raised the level of personal security for several government ministers to the fifth level, which is one level below the maximum.

Ben Gvir launched a campaign against the Head of the Shin Bet, which prompted Prime Minister Bennett to describe his behaviour as a “cowardly act against Israel, and that he is leading a dangerous political campaign aimed at setting fire to Israel with fanaticism and chaos.” Bennett believes that Ronen Bar has devoted his life to securing the lives of Israelis.

Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of Ben Gvir’s Religious Zionism party, accused Naftali Bennett of being a compulsive liar. He did not hesitate to leak cabinet discussions in the past and attacked the leaders of the army and security services from both right and left wings.

Ben Gvir published what he claimed to be threats he had received involving pictures of bullets and a burned Israeli flag, after several Israeli politicians incited against him. He accused what he described as “the choir of leftist Knesset members of being behind the threats. These members are the same ones who accused the right-wing camp of threatening Bennett recently.”

Israeli political officers are worried that internal incitement would lead to a new political assassination, like what happened with the late Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995. This means that, nearly 27 years after that assassination, it has not been forgotten and many of those inciting against Bennett these days were an important part of incitement against Rabin and are considered responsible for the unprecedented political upheaval that took place in the Israeli arena.

Current data confirms that the Israelis have not yet learned their lesson from Rabin’s assassination, as evidenced by the spread of the same inciting atmosphere that preceded that huge event. Continuous accusations of right-wing members against their opposing counterparts in the government, and calling them “traitors” means that they have not learned their lessons, and that the situation may further deteriorate.

Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza