Three intelligence failures that helped fuel unrest

Lack of preparedness for a crisis that seems to appear out of the blue is generally the result of faulty intelligence.

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

The recent upsurge of violence in Jerusalem, which quickly spread to Israel itself, seemingly came as a surprise and found the defense establishment unprepared. It took emergency measures that were quickly taken and the alertness and initiative of Israel’s citizens to begin to adequately deal with the fast-moving situation. Lack of preparedness for a crisis that seems to appear out of the blue is generally the result of faulty intelligence. That experience we have already had in an emergency far greater than the present one.

The northern branch of the Islamic Movement, headed by Ra’ad Salah and Kamal Khatib has been around for many years. That it is a seditious and subversive movement has been well known. Its yearly mass assemblies in Umm al-Fahm under the slogan “Al-Aqsa is in danger” have been covered by the media. But that continuous repetition of the lie that Israel had plans to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque would in time inflame Israel’s Muslim population, the religious and the not so religious, and spread to Muslims around the world, was not brought to the attention of the government by the intelligence community. That it led Israeli Arab politicians to demonstrations walking arm in arm, communists and Islamists, chanting “With spirit and with blood we will redeem Al-Aqsa” should have come as no surprise.

There are, no doubt, many other reasons for unrest among the Arab population in Jerusalem, and for feelings of frustration among Israel’s Arab citizens, but undoubtedly the lie about Israel planning to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque was the trigger.

It was Joseph Goebbels who infamously said “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Those in charge of tracking hostile elements among Israel’s Arab population should have pointed out the danger in time, and the activities of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement should have been proscribed a long time ago.

There is another matter, no less important: the law raising the electoral threshold in the Knesset elections passed in the previous Knesset. The previous government and some members of the Knesset were under the impression that this change would increase the stability of future coalitions. There were no grounds, theoretical or empirical, for this assumption. But the intelligence community should have warned the government that it was most likely to have a very negative effect on the relations between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, by forcing the more moderate Arab politicians into the arms of the most extreme anti-Israel Arab politicians – the Islamists and the Arab nationalists.

Legislation is not the business of the intelligence community, but when it is liable to affect negatively the coexistence between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, it is their duty to bring this to the attention of the government.

And what has the intelligence community to say about what is happening in the Negev? Have they called to the government’s attention that the northern branch of the Islamic Movement has for the past 20 years filled the vacuum left by government negligence by preaching fundamental Islam and hostility to the State of Israel?

Three successive government ministers have been given the job of dealing with the problems of the Negev Bedouin, and all three have been under the impression that the central problem is the disputes over land ownership, when actually the root of the problem is the difficulty the Bedouin have in dealing with the transition from an ancient nomadic tradition to living in a modern industrial society, and that in these trying times the Islamic Movement has succeeded in turning them to religion and against the State of Israel. If this trend continues Israel will be facing a huge problem in the Negev.

During the past few weeks years of progress in the relations between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens may have been reversed. That was the aim of Salah, Jamal Zahalka, Ayman Odeh and company. Sins of omission by the intelligence community have had a part in this development. Hopefully, it is not irreparable.

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