JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an emergency meeting with defense officials following an attack on a West Bank military base by right-wing activists on Tuesday.
In the early morning hours about 100 West Bank settlers and right-wing activists invaded a military base near the Jordanian border and threw rocks, burned tires and vandalized vehicles. The region’s brigade commander was wounded by a rock thrown at his head when the assailants forced his jeep open.
Following the attack the rioters blocked a main West Bank highway, throwing rocks at passing Palestinian vehicles and at Israel Defense Forces soldiers patrolling the area.
"What happened is intolerable. We have to deal with these rioters with a firm hand," Netanyahu said. "We will not tolerate a situation in which IDF officers and soldiers are attacked and distracted from protecting Israeli citizens.”
“Where was security intelligence? Where were the security services?” asked a plainly shocked Yael Dan, a news broadcaster on Israel Army Radio.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni slammed Netanyahu for permitting and possibly fomenting the radicalization of right-wing elements. “Settler violence is another stage in the radicalization that Israel is experiencing, with the full, direct or indirect, approval of the Netanyahu administration,” she said. “Backing radical bills, staying silent in the face of radical rabbis and giving a wink and a nod to coalition partners are breeding ground for poisonous weeds. We cannot allow a radical group to determine our fate.”
Her statement was intended to cause alarm among Israelis, who still recall Netanyahu, in his role as opposition leader 16 years ago, permitting the most radical elements of his party, Likud, to attack then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In a Jerusalem rally weeks before Rabin’s assassination at the hand of a radical right-winger, Netanyahu smiled and waved as activists carried a back coffin with Rabin’s name on it to the stage.
Recent months have seen an upswing of right-wing extremist activity in Israel. For months army spokesmen, speaking without attribution, have cautioned that more and more of the military’s work is centered on volatile Jewish extremists.
Settler leader Danny Dayan condemned last night’s violence. Addressing himself to the wounded brigade commander, Dayan said, “As head of the Yesha [Settelment] Council but no less importantly as a resident of the sector you oversee I know how dedicated you, your commanders and soldiers are for our safety. What happened last night is wrong, shameful and ungrateful. The perpetrators must turn themselves in and failing that must be apprehended and prosecuted.”
By midday Tuesday one man had been arrested in connection with the attack. Speaking to Israel Army Radio, Dayan said, “It is an absolute scandal that only one has been arrested. What we saw yesterday was completely unacceptable, and the lack of arrests allows people to feel immune and also lays fertile ground for conspiracy theories.”