Israeli minister compares security chiefs to Wagner Group for criticising settler violence

Calls for Orit Strock's resignation after she says heads of services are like mutineers for speaking out

An Israeli soldier at a checkpoint near the Israeli settlement of Reihan, near Jenin, in the occupied West Bank. AFP
Powered by automated translation

A far-right Israeli minister has condemned the country's security services chiefs, comparing them to mutinous Wagner Group mercenaries who sought to overthrow the Russian government at the weekend.

Minister of National Missions Orit Strock, a prominent settler and MP for the Religious Zionist Party, was responding to a rare joint statement by chiefs of Israel's military, police and Shin Bet intelligence agency.

The security chiefs criticised recent attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, saying these were “contradicting all Jewish values”.

These incidents followed a gun attack by Palestinian militants that killed four Israelis last week. One Palestinian was killed and property destroyed in the subsequent settler violence.

Responding to the security chiefs' intervention in a radio interview on Monday, Ms Strock asked: “Who are you, the Wagner Group?

“Who are you to make such a statement under the government's nose? They will preach to us about morals?”

The leader of Israel's opposition, Yair Lapid, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sack Ms Strock for her comments.

Earlier, the security chiefs had said: “In recent days, violent attacks in [the West Bank] have been carried out by Israeli citizens against innocent Palestinians.”

“These attacks contradict all Jewish values and are nationalist terror in every sense, and we are obligated to stop them.”

Despite intense international criticism, Israel’s government approved plans to build thousands of new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, defying growing criticism from Washington.

Multiple Israeli media outlets said the Defense Ministry planning committee approved over 5,000 new settlement homes on Monday.

It is not clear when construction would begin.

Mr Netanyahu warned Israeli settlers on Sunday against “grabbing land illegally”, but gave the green light to the expansion of government-approved outposts.

“Calls to grab land illegally and actions of grabbing land illegally, are unacceptable to me. They undermine law and order in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and must stop immediately,” Mr Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting.

“Not only will we not back such actions, our government will take strong action against them.

“These calls and actions do not strengthen settlement – on the contrary, they hurt it. I say this as someone who doubled settlement in Judea and Samaria despite great and unprecedented international pressure to carry out withdrawals that I have not carried out and will not carry out.

“These calls hurt the vital interests of the state of Israel and they must stop immediately,” Mr Netanyahu said.

Mr Netanyahu's comments came on the same day that dozens of Palestinians were wounded during a raid by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, Palestinian state news agency Wafa reported.

The Israeli army launched “tear gas and live ammunition” during the operation, causing people to suffocate, it said.

Israel also conducted similar operations near Toulkarem and Bethlehem.

This marks the latest incident in a recent upsurge in violence and deaths in the West Bank.

Last Monday an Israeli army raid in Jenin led to the deaths of at least six Palestinians and wounded 91 others, with Israeli forces using Apache helicopters to launch attacks against armed factions for the first time in 20 years.

International anger

Israel has come under intense international criticism during the past week for not doing enough to stop settler violence and calm the situation in the West Bank.

On Thursday, the US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said Washington “will not stand by and watch settler violence occur”.

“No one should have to worry about a rogue army,” he added.

“We’re pushing the Israelis to take whatever action they need to take to stop those people.”

Last Monday, Francesca Albanese, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied territories said “Palestinians under Israeli occupation do need protection”.

“Brutality, coming either from Israeli settlers or from the army, will not stop simply because the system is not designed to protect the Palestinians. Rather the contrary,” she added.

Updated: June 26, 2023, 2:41 PM