As the threat posed by Israeli Arabs supporting ISIS intensifies, Rivlin urged Arab communal leaders and Israeli security forces to crack down on the mounting threat.
While addressing the 9th annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), the president focused on the threat that Salafist-Jihadist elements – in particular ISIS – were gaining popularity among the Israeli Arab population, and the distress felt by the mainstream community.
“The Islamic State is already here; that is no longer a secret. I am not speaking about territories bordering the State of Israel, but within the State itself,” Rivlin cautioned. Research studies, arrests, testimonies, and analyses indicate that there is increasing support for ISIS among Arabs with Israeli citizenship, while some are already operating on ISIS’ behalf.
“Anyone familiar with Arab society knows that in recent years there has been considerable radicalization in some Bedouin settlements in the south, and in Arab towns and villages in the north, on the issue of the implementation of the Sharia law,” Rivlin stated.
He pointed out that venues which were secular in nature in the past have now become religious. “In various villages and at political rallies – some which have included the participation of Members of Knesset – we have seen the waving of the black flag of the Islamic State. On social media, there can be seen an ever-growing sympathy with the Islamic State, while more and more moderate individuals feel threatened, they feel that the ground is being pulled from under their feet.”
While emphasizing that his words were not intended as an accusation toward the Israeli Arab community, Rivlin stressed that he did demand the community and its leaders take responsibility to condemn extremism appropriately as, he noted, had not been done.
“I do not for a moment deny the responsibility of Arab leadership. Their condemnations – which sometimes sound forced, which are too feeble, too hesitant, that are spoken in Hebrew but are then formulated differently in Arabic – indicate, above all else, fear. More serious than this are those voices that blame the ‘occupation’ as the source of all ills, while displaying sympathy and understanding for attacks on innocents. They are a stigma on a society that is more than anything in need of clearly expressed opinions.”
A Long and Difficult Road Ahead
Saying that a power vacuum left room for ISIS to thrive, Rivlin stressed that there was still much to be done, and noted the important role of the security services.
“I know there is a long and difficult road ahead, and the security and intelligence forces have a key role to play in it. The ISA (Israel’s Security Agency) and the Israel Police must intensify their capabilities among the Arab community, while isolating the violent extremists and dealing with them with a firm hand. At the same time, we must not give in to the temptation of thinking that the security forces alone are sufficient to deal with this phenomenon. We must work to return a sense of trust between the Jewish and Arab populations – between the Arab population and the public sector – and confidence demands listening, investment, willingness and commitment. The positive forces within the Arab community must receive backing and must feel a sense of security – both because they deserve it, and also because only then will they be able to carry out a real battle against the Jihadist Salafist threat that harms them even more than it does us.”
The president ended by stating, “In our struggle for Israel’s security we must be just and strong, strong and just. My wish for us all is that through our combined thinking, we shall navigate the State of Israel and Israeli society toward a safer horizon.”
Over the past year, Israeli security forces have exposed several ISIS terror cells operating in Israel, comprised mostly of Arabs with Israeli citizenship. In total, over 40 suspects have been arrested.
Israel estimates that some 50 Israeli Arabs have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq over the past two years. At least ten of them have been arrested upon their return to the country and a few others have been killed in action while fighting with ISIS.
Israel fears that Arabs returning to Israel from fighting with ISIS will use their experience to establish terror networks and launch attacks within Israel, or that Arabs in Israel will be inspired by ISIS, especially via social media, and will operate against the Jewish state and its citizens.