As Israel continues to struggle against a seemingly unrelenting wave of Arab terror, frustration and questions about what more the government can or should be doing to end the attacks on innocent Israelis is growing.
Arutz Sheva recently sat down with Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, who has been outspoken in the past about his views on what more Israel can do to defeat Palestinian terrorism.
Bennett and his party have found themselves in a tough position politically. On the one hand, he and other party members – such as Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan – have often called for tougher measures than are currently being implemented against terrorists and their supporters, including family members who encourage or celebrate attacks on Israelis.
On the other hand, he is himself a member of the government and of the security cabinet, and has strongly backed the IDF's leadership – and indeed the government's own measures and policies – as the terror has continued to rage on, often disagreeing with more hardline members of his own party on some issues.
In our interview – the full, edited version of which is posted below – Bennett emphasized the importance of "deterrent" measures such as demolishing terrorists' homes, and while praising the progress made by the government, seemed to indicate that in his view a lot more could be done on both the tactical and strategic levels.
Ultimately, he insisted that Israel can defeat this newest paradigm of terrorism – a decentralized one motivated more by incitement than centralized terrorist infrastructures – but warned the Jewish state is falling behind its enemies strategically.
Bennett, who himself made his millions in Israel's booming hi-tech industry, urged the "startup nation" to apply its innovation and ingenuity to its struggle against its enemies who still seek to wipe it from the map using both military and diplomatic means.
Ironically, however, the State of Israel has allowed itself to fall behind, clinging to old paradigms and doctrines as its foes work feverishly to change the rules of the game.
His central message: Israel can defeat terror in 2016 as it did in 2002 – but only by radically reinventing itself strategically.
The wave of terror Israel has seen in the past several months is still ongoing, but it is also fair to say that more recently it has ebbed somewhat from the period of multiple attacks daily which we saw at the end of last year. What's your assessment of this? Is the "knife intifada" petering out, or could it still resurge?
The truth is, we don't know.
But look, Zionism has faced waves of terror for more than 120 years, and each time they take a different form. This time we're talking about terror incidents that are induced by incitement, as opposed to organized Hamas or Fatah terror – so it's a bit more tricky.
What we need to be doing here is to take care of incitement and to take care of deterrence. That that means closing down (Palestinian) radio stations that incite, arresting imams who incite to murder. It means closing down mosques that we see incitement coming from…
Is the government doing all of these things now?
Obviously I'm not going to outline what happens in the security cabinet, but I will say that this is my position.
In terms of deterrence, the challenge is that these Arab terrorists are willing to die, so how do you deter them? The way you do it is that you hit them and you also hit their supporting communities that are encouraging them to go out and kill Jews. That means destroying illegal houses that have been built, destroying the terrorist's house, it means preventing financial rewards to the terrorists, and so on.
There are a set of actions that Israel needs to take, and we are doing it, but I will certainly back any new creative and powerful plan that the (IDF) Chief of Staff or Minister of Defense raises.
In terms of our achievements, I think that we've seen a drastic reduction in the amount of terror from east Jerusalem, but unfortunately in Judea and Samaria we still see a lot of terror.
But you're saying that this wave of terror can ultimately be decisively defeated?
Yes. Look, things in the past have looked much worse – take the wave of terror in 2001-2002, when we saw nearly 500 Israelis murdered in one year alone. During that time we seemed helpless, but with a concerted effort we brought it down to zero. In fact I participated in Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, and I saw that terror can be defeated – it just needs a concerted effort, it needs creative ideas and it needs determination to make it happen.
In recent weeks we've seen some controversy over the messages and orders from the IDF top brass which some argued may have called that determination into question. IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot for example received a lot of flack for his comments seeming to brush off the Talmudic dictum of "he who rises to kill you, kill him first."
You backed him unequivocally though – why?
I think Gadi Eizenkot is a very good commander. He has good, strong values and he basically repeated the obvious: when there is any danger to an Israeli, either to yourself or someone around you, you open fire to stop the attack. But if there is no danger, you don't. It's that simple. He reiterated the obvious and I believe in that as well.
I think it's vital that every civilian and every soldier knows that when they're out there and they see a terrorist attack they should engage and stop it. I think we should be awfully proud of the conduct of Israelis. It's unprecedented. You see civilians risking their own lives and putting a stop to attacks.
Certainly we praise them and encourage that sort of action.
And then there was Military Intelligence Chief Herzi Halevi, who last week suggested Israel should restart negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, even as it continues inciting violence and attacking Israel on the diplomatic front. Should he even be making political suggestions like that as a military officer?
Look, I don't want to give grades to military commanders.
What I think is that the Islamic desire to wipe out Israel is divorced from the diplomatic process. They want to destroy us when there's peace talks, when there isn't peace talks – they simply don't want us here; neither Hezbollah nor Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front), neither Da'esh (ISIS) or Fatah or Hamas accept our existence. Once we understand that reality we know what to do.
And what is that? As you yourself recent noted, these kinds of comments are coming against the backdrop of a political, strategic and intellectual vacuum here in Israel. No one seems to have any idea how to move forward at all.
Right. My position has always been clear. I believe that Israel needs to begin applying its sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. You need to annex Gush Etzion, Ma'ale Adumim, Ofra, and so on, and ultimately apply Israel's sovereignty over the entire Area C – it's what's been termed "the Bennett Plan," for lack of a better term!
The problem is we've (the Jewish Home party) got (only) eight seats. In order to affect this, for me to make it happen, we need to be the strongest power (in the Knesset).
Fortunately though, I see that in many cases many political parties are following our lead. Even Labor has abandoned the two state solution! Likud has also, mostly. In many ways the Jewish Home party is sort of the trailblazer, and we're going to continue to place our positions very clearly, and ultimately they will be adopted.
The key is, we have to break paradigms, we have to think creatively. I come from the hi-tech world – you don't survive if you don't constantly reinvent yourself every few years.
I look at our enemies – they've made three quantum leaps in strategy: the first is asymmetric warfare, where they shoot missiles from within civilian houses; second is underground warfare, where they neutralize our air force using tunnels; and the third is international diplomatic and legal warfare, where they're trying to neutralize our ability to fight at all.
At the same time we have not made those similar leaps.
In the Cabinet I have placed some very creative ideas; plans as to how we can outmaneuver them, how we can surprise them strategically, and how we can ultimately defeat them. I want to inject the hi-tech thinking into the security and diplomatic arena.
Annexing Area C – the "Bennett Plan" – that's the end-game, or something you're proposing in the more immediate term for lack of a comprehensive solution?
Like I've said before, we need to annex Area C, and give the Palestinians (in Areas A and B) what I call "autonomy on steroids" – let them govern their own lives there.
And then, we wait.
It could be 50 years, or 100 years or 150 years – I don't now how long this Islamic winter will last. But ultimately they will have to accept us.