"The Iranians will uphold the First Stage of the Nuclear Agreement"

A special exclusive interview with the Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information about the surge of Palestinian terrorism, the Iranian nuclear bomb and coping with the threat of the boycott and de-legitimization of Israel

Erdan during a tour in Jerusalem (Photo: Ministry of Public Security)

When Gilad Erdan was appointed as Minister of Public Security while at the same time assuming the responsibilities of Minister of Strategic Affairs and Information, it was difficult to envision that he would find himself facing three 'hot' fronts.

Erdan was appointed to these positions only less than a year ago, and in the time since then the current surge of Palestinian terrorism erupted, placing the Israel Police and public security at the core of Israel's security concerns. In the realm of strategic affairs – Israel should prepare for the day when it is realized that Iran continues to strive for a nuclear bomb, the agreement it signed with the superpowers in July 2015 notwithstanding; In the realm of information, Erdan is heading the recently-announced campaign against the BDS Movement (the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement attempting to de-legitimize the State of Israel).

The conflicts on the various fronts led Erdan to hold an unusual meeting with a senior executive of the social medium Facebook, who travelled to Israel from the company HQ in London. The meeting took place at Erdan's office in the Knesset building, Jerusalem, in February 2016.

"The wild and unrestrained incitement in the social media is associated not just with the BDS Movement but with the surge of terrorist attacks we are currently facing as well," Erdan explained the background for his dialog with the Internet superpower. "We have irrefutable proof of that association, as in the admissions of captured terrorists we interrogated, they told us that they made the final decision to attack Israelis pursuant to things they had read on the web."

So, in your view, there is a direct connection between the incitement on Facebook and the terrorist attacks?

"Absolutely. Plain and simple."

So what are your expectations from the people at Facebook in this regard?

"We are currently in an interim era. I met with the internal security ministers of Australia and Britain, and like myself they are frustrated by the way ISIS (the Islamic State organization) takes advantage of the social media to glorify itself as well as to recruit new volunteers. All of the world's countries are in a conflict between freedom of speech and the need to provide security to the public, but when you know that the web serves as a platform for incitement in favor of murder and terrorism or for empowering terrorist organizations – you must act against it. No red lines have been drawn yet, but it will happen following a dialog (with Facebook) and legislation (that will restrict the contents in the social media).

"In the course of our examinations, I found out that despite the general freedom, Facebook are absolutely willing to restrict the contents," Minister Erdan continues. "In the USA they undertook to deactivate any (Facebook) page that contains an offer to sell firearms, in line with President Obama's policy of combatting firearms sales in that country. Apparently, Israel is not rated high on Facebook's scale of priorities, as over here they do not have even a single executive who's authorized to deactivate a (Facebook) page. In Israel, Facebook only has marketing people and anyone wishing to file a complaint should reach as far as their office in Britain. That is ineffective.

"I would like to remind everyone that Facebook is not a voluntary organization, but a company that earns billions and knows everything about its users. They accept huge advertising budgets, but refuse to assume any responsibility for the contents on their platforms. So, by the end of this interim period, either we consolidate restrictions over the contents in cooperation with them, or states will start supervising the activities of the social media."

Our interview with Gilad Erdan was also held in the Knesset. Erdan, 45, is regarded as one of the senior ministers in the present government. In the last elections, he was nominee number 2 on the Likud Party's list, a close second to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That is why he is naturally regarded as one of Netanyahu's potential successors – one day, naturally.

How do you regard the Palestinian surge of terrorism that erupted in October 2015? How is it similar to the previous intifadas?

"I am a bit too young to make any comparisons, but in my view each one of these periods is different, with regard to the external contexts as well as with regard to what takes place in the Palestinian Authority. Generally, the picture that emerges regarding the current surge of terrorist attacks is so complex that you face it and say 'I'd better concentrate on my work'. I do not think it can be influenced from above.

"It is our duty to see to it that the situation does not deteriorate any further, and focus on tactical measures for stopping the attackers and dealing with the measures they have for executing the attacks. The instability of the Palestinian Authority and the competition over radicalization among the various organizations and the potential successors of Abu Mazen as Chairman influence the situation on the ground. The Hamas movement also influences the discourse and takes it to extremes. The younger generation may be incited 24 hours a day from anywhere. These are no longer the days when we could stop the incitement by bombing a TV station or dropping down the antenna of Ramallah Radio.

"Today's young generation, as it is described by our intelligence, is also influenced by personal and family frustrations, and some of them wish to end their lives in a manner that would take them to heaven, according to their faith."

Understanding the surge of terrorism – is it the responsibility of the Ministry for Public Security or the responsibility of the IDF Intelligence Directorate?

"To the best of my knowledge, it is the responsibility of ISA first and foremost, but everyone shares this effort. The potential of the attackers is substantial. The weapons they use in many cases are knives and screwdrivers and the decisions to stage an attack are often spontaneous. The Israel Police has tightened its cooperation with ISA and the situation calls compels us to show professionalism. It projects significantly on the future of the Police – the organization is becoming technology-oriented more than ever before."

Do you see a similarity between the developments in Europe (in the context of ISIS) and the developments over here, or are these separate phenomena?

"I definitely see no difference between those who go out to stab someone over here, knowing that they are going to die, and those staging terrorist attacks in France or in San Bernardino, California. In my view, in most cases they are motivated by a religious interpretation of Islamic commandments, and I say this with regret."

What is the working assumption of the Police regarding the current surge of terrorist attacks – will it die out on its own or will it intensify?

"I think that none of our security agencies has a well-founded estimate as to how long it will last. We have initiated numerous tactical activities – from changing the rules of engagement (and I have to point out that the Israel Police had used almost no live fire since the Orr commission pursuant to the events of October 2000), through arrests, a revision of the licensing of firearms so that former members of special operations military units and officers of any rank may walk around armed as a force multiplier, to demolition of terrorists' houses. We use every tool democracy and the law allow us to use. We are considering the deportation of terrorists' families, but the legal counsel are strictly against it.

"I also tried to advance the initiative to outlaw organizations that were engaged in agitation and incitement around Temple Mount, like the Islamic Movement, as well as fines to be imposed on the parents of minors participating in terrorist activities, the use of administrative detention and so forth.

"Over the years, new interpretation of the Basic Laws and individual rights develops. Sometimes it is very frustrating. Even the demolition of houses, which is a measure we would like to implement promptly, involves a process that takes time. However, we live in a Western country and there are standards we are committed to."

What about