When the events of the past year are put together, it is difficult to dismiss the evidence as mere chance. On the contrary, a worrying phenomenon emerges: Israel faces governance problems across the map, from Eritrean violence in south Tel Aviv, through murders in the Arab sector, to agricultural crime and loss of governance in the Negev, to the fact that the Israeli government is blocking turbine construction work in the Golan Heights due to Druze residents' threats to public order. Over the years, governments have suppressed, created specific responses and postponed the contest to another day. Thus, small events have swelled to huge proportions that harm the sense of security of the citizens, but there is no strategic plan.
In this article, which concentrates on the main failures as they have surfaced in recent months, two members of the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy lay out their doctrine regarding the need for a change in perception among the country's leaders: from reactivity to planning and a broad response to the governance problems (and not only them) of the State of Israel. "Dealing with the urgent and not the important is a human trait, but we expect the systems, the government, to know how to balance between the urgent and the important," says Prof. Col. (res.) Gabi Siboni. "In Israel's internal security, there has been an ongoing problem for many years, of neglect on the one hand, and on the other – dysfunction of the enforcement systems that has been growing over the years: the Israel Police and its work culture are very limited in dealing with these problems."
Violent riots by foreign nationals from Eritrea (archive) // Police Spokesperson's Office
Without a comprehensive view
His partner in writing a strategic plan for the State of Israel, Prof. Kobi Michael, emphasizes: "The fundamental problem is that in Israel not only was the concept of internal security never written, but it was not even conceived and discussed as the concept of national-military security was discussed. Usually, when we talk about internal security, people think of terrorism within the borders of the state or Jewish-Arab relations, for example in the Guardian of the Walls incidents, and also about policing issues. But homeland security is much broader than that, and includes other components that affect our functioning and strength."
Both Siboni and Michael begin with the example of the violence in south Tel Aviv more than a week ago: "This was not the first time we encountered a problem related to immigration," says Michael. "The whole issue of foreign workers in the State of Israel – implications in the demographic sense, impact on the Israeli labor market – has never been discussed. What are the needs and what are the implications and numbers that Israel can absorb? What does it mean for immigrant communities to stay here? Where should they be geographically dispersed? What implications does this have for Israel's foreign relations? Today the country has a Pavlovian set of responses on this issue, without a comprehensive view."
Siboni mentions the clashes between the government and the High Court of Justice in an attempt to deal with the issue in previous rounds without success: "In the end, agricultural crime, organized crime, the extent of illegal weapons, governance problems – these are all serious problems that have not been dealt with at the root over the years, and this adds up to a serious strategic problem," he says, pointing again to the failure to coordinate between all the authorities, with an emphasis on the role of the judicial system. To provide an effective response to the problem of governance. "We have a very compassionate justice system, which imposes ridiculous sentences for offenses for which you would expect heavier penalties. The problem of governance is a serious strategic problem that has been developing for decades. It wasn't born now. In the Guardian of the Walls events, we saw Arab riots on roads and in mixed communities, and these things will happen again in the future. We are going to be in multi-front fighting, and in the domestic arena the police will not be able to cope."
The two are now turning to the creation of the National Guard — ostensibly a correct plan with incorrect execution, again due to a lack of strategic planning. "Now they're arguing about whether the National Guard will be subordinate to the police or not," Michael says. "Let's learn what his powers are, what he needs to deal with, and what his interfaces with other bodies will be. And only then do we get to questions of the structure of power and what its powers will be, and to the organizational structure and processes of force building and operation. We start from the end, and find ourselves wasting energy on what's less relevant at this time."
It's not a bug, it's a feature
The ability of the police to deal with the Guardian of the Walls incidents has proven to be limited. In the Negev, too, it is unable to cope with large-scale incidents of ex-territory, and the same goes for crime in the Arab sector. "It's not a bug, it's a feature," Siboni says. "There are inherent problems in the police that need to be addressed, and there is an ongoing failure in the police when it comes to fighting organized crime in the Arab region, collecting weapons and in places where the police do not enter at all for fear of clashes. South Tel Aviv, for example. Whoever neglects these problems – in the end they will come to his face."
These are peripheral problems, so perhaps Israeli governments have not rushed to address what is already on the margins.
"If the Eritrean incidents had happened in Dimona, would they have been dealt with?" asks Siboni rhetorically. "What happened with the Eritreans happens in the Negev every day – there are areas there without any governance, the police don't enforce Israel's sovereignty in these areas because it's not convenient for them. The police enforce the law on those who are willing to be enforced, so law-abiding citizens are held accountable and enforced, while others create an unenforceable reality. It can't be that the enforcement agencies will work where it's easy. One option, for example, is the establishment of an additional force to deal with internal security and civil emergency issues. It could be the National Guard, if it is based on 60,20 reservists and <> brigades. We need to create a significant force for civil and national emergencies – to deal with Guardian of the Walls incidents, governance, earthquakes and fires."
Alongside the need for strategy, Michael insists on the need for coordinated work between all entities and ministries in order to produce optimal care. We received an example of how this can work correctly in the previous government, according to him, in the context of dealing with crime in the Arab sector. "The inter-ministerial team headed by Yoav Segalovich is an example of a systemic approach. Bring most of the relevant parties to the matter. They brought in the Tax Authority, the Ministry of Social Affairs and economic entities, and there was an attempt to create a system and a supportive envelope that looks at the problem broadly and creates mechanisms for coordination and synchronization, and they also achieved achievements."
Like a kid in a toy store
"Then a new government came, and a new minister who behaves like a child in a toy store," Michael continues. "First of all, he destroyed this committee, and now we are in a dangerous problem. If someone thinks that the violence in Arab society, which is breaking records every day, will remain in Arab society, I don't understand where he lives. It will explode in our faces big time. This will spill over into the Jewish space and may bring disaster to our heads, lead to a deterioration in Jewish-Arab relations and permeate crime into the Jewish space. We will find ourselves helpless in the face of very severe nationalist crime. Netanyahu appointed a man who didn't run a grocery store to run this at such a difficult and sensitive time – it's obviously a joke, and it exacerbates national security problems even more. Unfortunately, we are not yet at the stage of recognizing the problem and the need."
On the issue of the Bedouins in the Negev, Michael also says: "Over the years there have been plans, not a strategy. Each time, a single person acted against the system. The Bedouin rampage in the Negev requires all systems to mobilize – it's not just police on roads and collecting weapons. Education, employment and the status of women must be addressed. There are bodies and people who are trying to deal with this, but they are not state bodies. We have a very large abscess, and instead of opening it, draining the pus, disinfecting, bandaging properly and administering accompanying medication - we put on a Band-Aid and don't see the abscess. They think it's gone, until it explodes again.
"The state needs hospitalization. Intensive care. Hence my and Prof. Siboni's idea for formulating guidelines for a national strategy in internal security. First of all, we need to recognize the problem, and then allocate national resources to this. One of the things is to significantly expand the National Security Council. In our research, we examine what is happening in the world – for example, the US Department of Homeland Security, which was established after September 11, 2001. You see that this ministry deals with many areas and has been given authority to coordinate the activities of other ministries. But in order to start the process, you first have to recognize the problem and the need."
Siboni sounded a little more optimistic about the possibility of getting out of the mess: "The Jewish people will succeed in this as well, the question is at what price. There is no question here that we will be able to stand up to the threats. This is also a statement from the point of view of Zionism – we came here, and we do not intend to leave here. Israel should allocate resources to establish another internal security organization, as well as strengthen the police. Very heavy punishment is required, and we also need to consider the need for quick punishment tracks (administrative fines), as is often done in the face of widespread phenomena in the IDF."
Riots in um al-Fahm (archive), photo: Michel Dot Com
There are problems that do not yet surface Israel's agenda, and which are also included in the same strategic plan for Israel (the one that has not yet been created): "What capability does the state have to deal with extreme natural events? An earthquake, floods, rising temperatures – there is no preparation," Michael states, and immediately moves on to another topic – Israeli agriculture, Israel's ability to produce its own food. "No one is discussing Israel's food security, but rather a momentary price reduction when there is a shortage. So it may not be worthwhile to cultivate agriculture today, but another solution needs to be cultivated – perhaps emergency warehouses for a situation in which there is a naval blockade on Israel that blocks its import capability. Also, agriculture also has a value in itself - a hold on the land. This thinking does not exist at the state level."
In agriculture, Israel is struggling on a bubbling front – agricultural terrorism, which harms the state's ability to sustain agriculture significantly so that it sustains Israel, but also preserves the land. "This shouldn't just be treated as a criminal problem, it's much more than that," Siboni says. "The State of Israel is helpless in this event, and organizations like Hashomer Hadasha are trying to take its place. Ten years from now, we may find ourselves with far fewer farmers than Israel needs."
Michael concludes: "It's a result of the 'it's going to be okay' concept. The threat is often not perceived as tangible, and another thing - this is the result of a government culture in a country where ministers want immediate achievements, waiting to appear on the 20 p.m. editions. Everyone wants the fruits to be in the term, here and now."
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