An arson attack on a mosque in Israel's north this week escalated into a two-day rioting spree increasing the security services' fears of extreme right-wing violence.
The arsonists set light to the mosque in the village of Tuba Zangaria in the Upper Galilee in the early hours of Monday morning, causing major damage to the building's interior and burning hundreds of Korans and other prayer-books.
Graffiti daubed on the walls outside announced it was a "price tag" attack, "revenge" for the deaths of Asher Palmer and his 11-month-old son in the West Bank two weeks ago, when their car crashed after being stoned by Palestinians.
"Price tag" is the description used by a small group of extreme Jewish settlers for attacks they make on Palestinian property and recently also for reprisals against Israeli military vehicles. The "price tag" attacks are usually carried out following demolitions of illegal settler outposts and also after terror attacks on settlers. While there is no evidence yet that this attack was actually carried out by Jewish activists, the police and Shin Bet believe that to be the case. If so, this is the first time a "price tag" attack has been carried out within the Green Line and not in the West Bank.
Condemnation was automatic from Israel's political leadership, including Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, who said it was "shocking and has no place in the state of Israel". President Shimon Peres, accompanied by the two chief rabbis, visited the mosque to express his "shame and mortification for the terrible deed."
While Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said that the attack was "totally opposed to Judaism", he later in a radio interview said there was a possibility that the arson was committed by Muslims "as a blood libel".
Despite the presidential visit, rioting broke out shortly after the arson was discovered as residents of Tuba Zangariya tried to block the main road leading to Rosh Pinah. The next night they set light to the local council and other public buildings and tried to fire on police and the fire brigade that arrived on the scene.
More rioting took place on Tuesday morning before police managed to restore order.
Many residents are opposed to the council, which is led by a former senior IDF officer, appointed by the Interior Minister against their will, following the elected council's failure to pay its bills. While some local politicians have blamed the village's internal conflict between the fundamentalist Islamic Movement and more moderate elements for at least part of the unrest, this has done little to assuage the fears of the Shin Bet and the IDF, who have been warning over the past few months that groups of settler vigilantes are intent on provoking a new round of violence between Israel and the Palestinians through the "price tag" attacks.
The security services believe that a relatively small hard-core of a few thousand settlers will be happy to spark a new violent Palestinian Intifada in the belief that it will prevent the government from carrying out court orders to demolish settler outposts - and push any idea of a political solution between Israel and the Palestinian off the table.