Opinion: Israel Security Agency should tackle organized crime in the Arab sector

Israeli policeLAST MONTH I WROTE an article on Ynet, Israel’s most popular news website, calling on the Israel Security Agency (ISA) to prevent organized crime in the Arab sector in Israel, which has reached a level that the police cannot deal with. The article caused a broad public debate in Israel, as it marked the first time that the ISA was urged to take responsibility outside its security jurisdiction. It elicited public support, as well as opposition against perceived further invasion of privacy and granting additional powers to the ISA.

Crime in the Arab sector in Israel —especially murders— has reached record highs and is rising year after year. In 2020, over 100 people were killed in the Arab sector. There are many allegations that the police are failing to stop this murky wave of crime. The police are at a loss. The opening of more police stations in the Arab sector and increases in the forces allocated to the Arab sector have not made an impact on this gloomy picture.

The most serious crime in the Arab sector, especially organized crime, requires making out-of-the-box, inventive decisions. The Israel Police is not succeeding in this for several reasons: it has no quality intelligence; there is public distrust in the police that prevents citizens from cooperating with it; the police are perceived as an unreliable body that cannot maintain the confidentiality of sources; and mainly because the police is not an intelligence-oriented organization. The issue of crime in this sector, much of which is organized, requires advanced intelligence capabilities and only the ISA knows how to deal with organizations and individuals operating in secret. This is because the ISA has gained vast experience in covering the Arab sector in Israel for counterintelligence reasons.

The Arab sector in Israel has high esteem for the ISA’s professional capabilities, due to its longstanding activity in combating terrorism and political subversion. The ISA has a significant advantage in that it does not start from scratch. It has a deep familiarity with the Arab sector and also a serious deterrent capability —contrary to the police— that it has amassed since Israel’s independence in 1948.

This should be an ad-hoc activity for a period to be determined, at the end of which the responsibility should return to the police. It is proposed to consider the establishment of an intelligence body within the police, with an organizational, operational and technological capability such as exists in the ISA, which will be located separately from the police and staffed by dedicated plainclothes personnel, including training by the ISA.

If a decision is made to immediately involve the ISA in preventing crime in the Arab sector, it will have to be prepared quickly, so that the necessary resources can be mobilized. The ISA has long been known for its ability to quickly adjust to new challenges. In the first phase, it will be able to recruit employees from among his retirees with extensive experience in intelligence, many of whom I believe will meet the challenge of enlisting in a mission of national importance. No problem is expected in the coordination and cooperation between the ISA and the police, which has been working well for many years.

There a possibility that if the situation continues to deter, the problem of serious crime could later evolve into a challenge of terrorism and political subversion. It would be preferable to deal with this growing challenge now, as soon as possible.

Dr. Avner Barnea is research fellow at the National Security Studies Center of the University of Haifa in Israel. He served as a senior officer in the Israel Security Agency (ISA).

Author: Avner Barnea | Date: 11 February 2021 | Permalink

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