Senior Israeli security officials are warning of a drastic increase in the number of right-wing extremists prepared to use violent means to stop any attempt to dismantle settlements.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office confirmed this week that, in recent months, he has received “dozens” of death threats. The most recent letter, which arrived at his office on Tuesday, said: “If you are thinking of destroying the settlements in Judea and Samaria, you are wrong. I will murder you before that and if I don’t succeed, then after you are no longer a minister and you won’t have bodyguards. Be careful, I will harm you or your children.”
The letter was passed on to the General Security Service (Shin Bet).
The threats to Barak have increased over the last month, since the government’s decision to freeze building in West Bank settlements. Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen, whose officers have been enforcing the freeze, received threats as well.
A number of right-wing politicians responded to the reports with derision, accusing Mr Barak of trying to use the threats to deflect attention from a scandal over the Labour leader’s misuse of public funds and his employment of an illegal foreign worker as a cleaner.
“The next stage will be that Barak’s Philippine cleaner will get a threat letter. This is a joke,” said MK Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union.
Still, senior members of the security establishment are convinced that the threat from a violent minority among the settlers has intensified over recent months and will continue to increase if the government persists in freezing and even dismantling settlements.
A very senior security official said last month, in a closed briefing, that the Shin Bet assesses that “dozens of settlers and supporters from within the Green Line are prepared right now to use various levels of violence, including live fire against Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and even the Israeli security forces.
“A number of individuals are also prepared to act against the political level to prevent dismantlement of settlements. It might not be an immediate threat right now to the politicians themselves but it will become one. The numbers prepared to act will grow if the issue of dismantlement becomes relevant.”
An IDF general similarly warned that “over the last year the extremists’ margins have grown wider.”
The arson attack on a mosque in Kfar Yassuf on the West Bank three weeks ago is seen as a first sign of escalation in this direction.
Meanwhile, the government’s continued support of the settlement freeze, which included the demolition of three illegally constructed buildings in Negohot this week, is being balanced by more planning permits issued for building in east Jerusalem, where the freeze order does not apply. The latest permit was granted by the Jerusalem Planning Commission on Monday for four new buildings on Mount Scopus. The move drew criticism from the American administration, as have similar recent permits.
While the commission’s decision is a local municipal affair, government sources confirmed that PM Binyamin Netanyahu is not planning for now to block such permits. The building, however, will not begin immediately.