Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon revealed Thursday afternoon that security services have arrested several Jewish suspects over the murder of a Arab family in the Palestinian village of Duma last month.
However, while he did not reveal their identities, Yaalon said the suspects are not at all connected to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria – or even to the so-called "Price Tag" movement.
"We are convinced that the attack was carried out by Jews," Yaalon said, echoing comments he made earlier Thursday. "We are talking about an extremist group who decided to ignite the region, with the intention of taking lives."
"These are people who are not connected to 'price tag' activities," he added. "We have carried out no small number of administrative detentions in order to not reveal intelligence sources. We are not yet issuing indictments."
Administrative detention, a relic from the British mandate period usually reserved for Palestinian terrorists, allows for the detention of individuals considered as dangerous for an unlimited period without pressing charges. In the aftermath of the Duma arson in July, three right-wing activists were placed under administrative detention over suspected "price tag" and other extremist activities. But based on Yaalon's comments, it appears they are unconnected to the terrorist cell in question.
The firebombing attack on the Dawabshe family home in July killed 18-month-old Ali and fatally wounded his parents. In addition to hurling molotov cocktails, the attackers also daubed the words "Revenge" and "Long Live King Messiah" in Hebrew on the wall of the house.
Father Sa'ad Dawabshe succumbed to his wounds on August 8, while hospitalized at Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva with burns on 80 percent of his body. Ali's mother, Riham Dawabshe, suffered burns on 90 percent of her body in the arson, and passed away nearly one month later at Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer. Their four-year-old son Ahmad is still hospitalized at Sheba hospital in serious condition, but has been making a steady recovery.
Yaalon's statements will largely put to rest both criticism of security services for not tracking down the suspects, as well as speculation in some corners that the deadly arson was the result of an internal Palestinian feud.
Securing Israel's borders
Yaalon also related to Israel's annual regional security survey, and praised security forces' determination and success in protecting the State of Israel and its citizens.
"We succeeded in protecting ourselves in spite of the external turmoil" in the region, the defense minister said. "We have maintained a reasonable security situation, and also in all likelihood for the foreseeable future."
He cautioned, however, that regional developments were still unfolding and could impact on Israel's security in the future.
"In Lebanon the situation is very unstable, but we do not see an escalation (happening) in the near-term," he said, looking to Israel's northern borders.
That said, he continued: "We have noted a lot of hostile terrorist activities directed by Iran along the Golan Heights border (with Syria) and we are responding adequately to every such act."
Israel's eastern border with Jordan is Israel's "most stable," Yaalon added, describing the situation there as "quiet."
Nevertheless, Israel has been busily fortifying its borders against any eventuality.
"Despite that, this week we began building a (border) fence along some 400 kilometers, and so within three years we should find ourselves surrounded by fences and security systems along the southern border, from the east and the west, as well as on the northern border."
Earlier this week at the start of construction along the Jordanian border, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu indicated that despite the present quiet, Israel urgently needs to its eastern borders against both potential influxes of refugees – as recently seen in Europe – as well as the possibility of ISIS encroaching into Jordanian territory.
Turning to events in the restive Sinai Peninsula, along Israel's southern border, Yaalon said that Egypt had recently launched a fresh, "intensive" joint land, sea and air campaign against jihadist terrorists there, including the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.
With regards to Gaza, while admitting the situation has not been entirely quiet, Yaalon stressed that since Operation Protective Edge last summer Hamas has not carried out a single terrorist attack against Israel, and that all 12 breaches of the ceasefire were carried out by groups hostile to Hamas.
Israel is also taking measures to speed up reconstruction in Gaza, even as rampant corruption and other factors have largely held it up.
"Recently we increased the pace of materials into Gaza, and if during the period of operation Cast Lead 250 truckloads were entering per day, today 700 truckloads are entering Gaza daily, and this is certainly having an impact."
Yaalon's optimistic assessment notwithstanding, a senior security source warned that in recent months significant numbers of Iranian Revolutionary Guards soldiers had been inserted by Tehran into Syria, together with a growing number of Russian troops, in an effort to prop-up an increasingly desperate Assad regime.
"The Russians and the Iranians have joined together for the first time to protect the Alawite enclave," the source said, referring to Bashar al-Assad's strongholds in western Syria, which are currently under threat from an advancing rebel coalition.
"The Russians have become central players and mediators in the Syrian arena, while at the same time providing constant military and civilian support to the Syrian regime," the source added. But he emphasized that while Iranian forces were certainly a threat to Israel as well, Russia was acting "in accordance with Russian interests, not in order to harm Israel."
Defense Minister Yaalon ended his comments by vowing to track down the Palestinian terrorists who fired at a group of Israeli nurses in Samaria on Wednesday.
Intelligence suggested that attack was carried out by an organized terrorist cell in the area, Yaalon stated, but said he was confident security forces would hunt them down and bring them to justice as well.