Janaury 27, 2023
Ram Ben Barak, Member of the Knesset, Yesh Atid party
Former Chairman of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Knesset, former deputy head of the Mossad, and former Director General of the Strategic Affairs Ministry
“There’s no doubt that we are, for a while now, in a situation of intensifying of violence and a change in the nature of violence in the West Bank. Is started with the ‘Intifada of Knives’, and afterwards, shooting attacks by ‘lone wolf’ attackers. The terror changes its true face, and if in the past we were used [to the fact] that all the terrorists were part of an organization and sent by it in an organized fashion, today we face the ‘TikTok’ terror attacks. People are visiting the social media [outlets], are inspired by them, and they go to conduct terror attacks – all of this which makes thwarting them much harder, although Israel stops approximate 400 terror attacks each month.
“In my view the right way is that of the former government, and I do hope this government continues this way. It includes two things: The first is that on one hand we need to be decisive and determined, to get to each terrorist no matter where he hides – it doesn’t matter if he is in the Balata Refugee Camp or in the Jenin Refugee Camp. We are obligated to the Israeli citizens wherever they are, and we need to stop every terror attack, even while taking major risks.
“On the other hand we understand that what might make a difference is a case of a large population joins this wave [of terror]. We need to prevent this, and while we are having an uncompromising war against terror, we know how to reach out to those who are uninvolved – if it’s by work permits, border passage permits, expanding the [Palestinian] economy and also strengthening the Palestinian Authority, that was weakened very much.
“This was the former government’s policy, and I think this is the correct policy. I can’t assume what might this government do, but I do see that from the perspective of getting wherever needed they continue [to do the same], as was the major operation in Jenin. I hope that the government won’t be dragged by extremists from extreme parties, and won’t choose steps of collective punishment of large populations, because this almost for sure will drag Israel to a Third Intifada – and this is something that we would like to avoid.”
Security coordination with Israel
“I don’t think we can attribute the terror attacks during the weekend to this decision [Palestinian Authority’s decision to halt security coordination with Israel], but there’s no doubt – and I think it’s a shame not everyone understands it – that if the Palestinian security authorities are strong, it helps Israel and doesn’t harm its security. The intentional weakening by previous Netanyahu’s governments [of these authorities] also intentionally weakened the Palestinian Authority itself.
“The decisions by this new government, which also weakens it, are, in my opinion, a mistake. Everywhere the Palestinian Authority doesn’t exist we need to have IDF troops, and it’s better that the Palestinian Authority will know to work in these places and that these troops will be also preoccupied with drills and other things. It’s a shame this is the direction [of the new government], but it seems as if the current government is going to try to weaken the Palestinian Authority again, after a year and a half that we tried to strengthen it. I think this is a mistake.”
Escalation from Gaza?
“During the year and a half we held the government, we managed to create deterrence towards Gaza but also, in parallel, an improvement of the economy. We stopped bombarding insignificant facilities, and each time Hamas violated [the understandings of ceasefire] – if it was by firing rockets or if it was other stuff – we reacted very harshly to very sensitive points, and it did a lot of harm to Hamas. On the other hand, we want to differentiate between Hamas and the general population. We reauthorized twenty thousand work permits for Gazans, and I hope this will also become larger, we encouraged foreign companies to invest in the Strip. We think its for the best that the financial situation there will be as good as possible.
“I think that this policy of differentiation forces Hamas to think twice and thrice before it fires or escalates the situation. We didn’t hesitate to target members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, and we also never surrendered to their threats, when they said, ‘if you will do this and that in Temple Mount, we will react.’
“So on the one hand we want to calm things down and we don’t want to change the status-quo in Temple Mount, and this is a correct policy, but on the other hand we will not agree living under any threats. I think this policy proved to be correct, this was the most quiet year and a half from Gaza since operation ‘Guardian of the Walls’, and it wasn’t like this on its own.”
“The international community always has a role [in quieting the situation], and this is of course more true in the case of the Americans. I would expect the international community to see the situation objectively, and that it won’t always favor automatically just one side.
“I have no doubt that if the leaders of Gaza weren’t a terror organization, and the PLO was the government there, [and] that [Hamas] wouldn’t constantly strive for a conflict, [and] that all its purpose is the destruction of Israel and weaponizing itself – Gaza could have been today like Singapore. We have no interest in Gaza’s territory, to the contrary: We are interested that Gaza’s population will enjoy a high standard of living, and that Gaza will flourish. But this can’t happen under the leadership of a terror organization.
“We don’t need to look far away, we can see Lebanon, that was a normal country and was conquered – not physically, but from the inside – by a terror organization, by Hezbollah and Iran, who dismantled this country to tiny shreds. Today, the situation in Beirut is worse than in Gaza. Therefore, once there will be any kind of revolt [in Gaza], Hamas will leave the arena, and instead will a government that wants to live side by side with Israel will arise. I have no doubt that Gaza will flourish.
“This is what the international community must also understand. When a terror organization controls a territory – be it Lebanon, Gaza or in the future the West Bank – nothing good can come out of it, and we should do everything that a terror organization won’t be there. The international community should boycott them and encourage steps towards kicking out those organizations faster.”
“It saddens me to see a government that from the day it was born is dealing with judicial reform, that is surrendering to all kinds of extremists [who want] to add more ministers to the Defense Ministry. Instead of dealing with the security issues and uniting [the Israeli people], it deals with what we all know: I think all of this judicial reform is not meant to improve things but is meant to save one person from his trial. The reform is just the means, and is not meant to improve things.
“Therefore, we will continue fighting against this reform with all our might. We want to be part of the Western, democratic and liberal world, that safeguards rights of minorities, women and LGBTs, and we will continue fighting this reform. I can just hope this won’t be during a major security event, but we will fight this with all our might.”