The Various Fronts Facing the IDF and the Shin Bet

Amir Rapaport weighs in on this week’s top defense news and developments

The Various Fronts Facing the IDF and the Shin Bet

Photo: IDF Spokesperson

Whether we are now facing a third Intifada or “just” a terror wave (which shows no signs of ending), the situation in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) will not return to what it had been since the decline of the second Intifada in 2005. Certainly not anytime soon. This is a new situation, for the foreseeable future.

The rate of terror attacks is on the rise, starting during the previous government’s tenure. Currently, alongside near-daily attacks (including this week), what characterizes this period is the extensive alerts, reaching levels not seen since 2004 in some of the areas.

Consequently, the number of Israeli casualties has already reached record highs this year, despite the fact that the number of thwarted attacks is also at a nearly 20-year high, with over 500 thwarted attacks since the beginning of the year, as of this week.

While Israeli society is divided, it's important to know that the wave of attacks focused on Judea and Samaria is not coincidental. It's a strategy of Hamas, alongside Iran and Islamic Jihad, who, for the purpose of tackling their common enemy, put aside the Sunni-Shi'a division.

The attacks themselves are not directed from above (which makes them harder to thwart), but Israel’s enemies are flooding the region with resources and weapons and clarifying to their people what is expected of them: carrying out shooting attacks, vehicular attacks, and stabbings.

General instructions are transmitted from commanders in Iran, Gaza, Beirut, and even Istanbul. The objective would be to create a "Lebanonization" of Judea and Samaria, with security forces and civilians facing deadly explosive devices and possibly even missiles originating from the long border with Jordan and from Lebanon. Despite their efforts, we are not "there" yet. At least for now, thanks to the many thwarted attacks and ongoing arrests.

The hottest area is once again northern Samaria, particularly Jenin. Three months after Operation Home and Garden, the number of alerts in this sector has returned to pre-operation levels. In Judea, the Hebron area, which had been relatively quiet until recently, is seeing an increase in vehicular attacks, in contrast to the shooting attacks that characterize Samaria.

In all these areas, Shin Bet and IDF units are conducting daily operations, which in themselves create friction. The burden on the forces is immense, training is canceled or reduced, roadblocks are tightened – every vehicle could be the next attack – and the IDF is trying to avoid mobilizing large numbers of reserve forces for ongoing security missions.

At the same time, the IDF is grappling with a severe drop in reardiness, especially in the Air Force, where the importance of pilots who are not available for training is critical.

And if all of this is not enough, there is another significant concern for the IDF regarding the potential consequences of the exemption from military service for the ultra-Orthodox  – a crisis that is looming on the horizon, alongside the approaching legislative crisis.

Much has been written about the reserve forces crisis, and it will only worsen if the threats (as expressed in the Knesset Speaker's speech this week) to not honor the Supreme Court's decisions are implemented.

Now the concern is the rapid spread of the reserve forces crisis to the mandatory military service, due to the significant exemption granted to the Haredim. With a different public climate in Israel, the continuation of this exemption might have been reevaluated. Not now, and not through legislation.

Against the backdrop of the fear of the collapse of the People's Army model, you can see the unusual step taken by the Chief of Staff, Herzi Halevi, this week: he used what was meant to be just a boring speech, during the ceremony for awarding scholarships for the "Adopt a Soldier" initiative in the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, to drop a bombshell.

"Our position is clear – conscription for everyone," he said, taking a clear public stance on what is allegedly aa political issue. "The People's Army is a model that requires conscription from as many segments of Israeli society as possible," Halevi stated.

"For seventy-five years, this has been the secret to the strength of the IDF, especially during times of division. With proper adjustment, there is room and a way to implement this in the evolving Israeli society."

Most likely, in hindsight, these days will be remembered as a desperate attempt by the Chief of Staff to prevent the collapse of the People's Army model. However, the inevitable outcome is that the IDF will increasingly rely on a regular army (mandatory and career) and less on reservists, not only in the Air Force, where pilots will need to commit to longer terms. Conscripts in all units will receive compensation closer to civilian wages to prevent a large portion of 18-year-olds in Israel from avoiding conscription. Until this process unfolds, the IDF is very concerned about what will happen in the coming weeks, especially in the domestic arena.

The Shin Bet’s troubles

Meanwhile, attacks from within are growing against the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) as well. The harsh statement by Knesset member Tali Gottlieb ("It's good to know that the Shin Bet and the IDF are working for the terrorists and security prisoners," against the backdrop of the security establishment's position in the dispute between the prime minister and minister Ben Gvir over the conditions for security prisoners,) and the bizarre incident where minister Miri Regev lashed out at the Shin Bet, can also be seen as part of a sophisticated move to label defense bodies as "leftists" in preparation for the day they will have to choose sides in the legal crisis (and perhaps it's just a conspiracy, as the Prime Minister's Office defined Gottlieb’s comments as "an outrageous statement").

In any case, the Shin Bet has found itself in an unfamiliar position. For decades, the organization has gotten used to pats on the back from across the political spectrum, as well as the media, but not more. And it does not intend to be a punching bag.

After the Prime Minister's condemnation of Gottlieb’s remarks, the head of the Shin Bet himself did not let Regev off the hook, and issued an unusual statement that refuted all her claims about the incident in which she and the Shin Bet personnel were involved.

Even in the debate over whether the Shin Bet will delve into the depths of the war on crime in the Arab society, the organization will not budge from its position, that this is a matter for law enforcement. The Shin Bet is participating in the investigation of the assassination of a candidate for the head of Nazareth municipality, due to the harm to the democratic process, but it is not actively involved in other investigations.

Shabtai's Insights

As of yet, the Mossad has stayed out of the current storm, relatively speaking at least. This week, one of its prominent leaders unexpectedly passed away. Shabtai Shavit died at the age of 84 during a private trip to Italy.

Books can be written about the operations and initiatives that Shabtai led. However, there is one revelation that he rarely spoke about, which he shared it with me firsthand when I met him a few years ago at the offices of Athena, the company he chaired at the time.

Shabtai revealed that his service as an intelligence officer in Iran during the Shah's era led to the exposure of Iran's secret nuclear program in the early 1990s.

"I understood the Iranian way of thinking and understood their conclusions from the Iran-Iraq War, during which Tehran was barraged by missiles without responding. I estimated that a situation where they heard about Iraq's nuclear program and didn't develop their own would not be possible"

Shabtai was a lone voice in the defense establishment, but as a result of a series of covert actions, Iran's nuclear program was exposed just as he anticipated. His assessment turned out to be correct.

The Eritrean angle

Here's something about the very complicated relationship between Israel and Eritrea, which made headlines this week due to the disturbances in Tel Aviv. Israel's history with the African country began during the British Mandate era when it served as a destination for deporting leaders of the Lehi organization.

In the early 1990s, Israel's relationship with Eritrea started to develop significantly due to a crucial reason: Eritrea's location on the shores of the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, which allowed monitoring the movement of ships entering the Red Sea, including those coming from Iran.

At the height of the burgeoning relations between the two countries, I accompanied a security and economic delegation that visited the capital Asmara. Since then, foreign media outlets have reported that Israel maintains Mossad facilities and submarine stations on Eritrean territory.

On the other hand, diplomatic relations between Israel and Eritrea have deteriorated significantly, and since 2020 our embassy in Asmara is no longer staffed. However, the geographical consideration may still outweigh all disputes. This is related to the Eritrean government's attitude toward its own people and the internal conflict, which has also manifested itself in Israel.

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