Sunday, September 06, 2009

Israel`s Fifth Column

P. David Hornik - Sep 03, 2009 (first post)

[For new readers, Israel`s Fifth Column refers to threats to the State of Israel from within Israel`s borders]

Israelis found out this week that on August 10 an Israeli Arab, Rawi Sultani, was arrested on charges of helping Hezbollah try to kill Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.The 23-year-old Sultani was well placed to spy on Ashkenazi: He worked out in the same gym with him in the Tel Aviv-area town of Kfar Saba. That detail is ironic in light of the worldwide campaign by anti-Israeli activists to label Israel an “apartheid state”; the lax security for the chief of staff is only underlined by the fact that Sultani was a member of Balad, a radical Arab-nationalist political party.

Balad calls for Israel’s demise as a Jewish state, favors the “return” of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Its former chairman Azmi Bishara fled Israel after being charged with abetting Hezbollah’s military efforts during the 2006 war in Lebanon. Balad, nonetheless, has three representatives in the current Knesset and is a recipient of state funding; if this is apartheid, it’s a strange way to go about it.

It was under Balad auspices that Sultani made contact with Hezbollah—in Morocco, while participating in one of Balad’s summer camps that aim at strengthening Israeli Arabs’ Palestinian identity and teaching them to relate to Israel’s creation as a catastrophe. It was there that Sultani was recruited by Hezbollah operative Salman Harab and was able to give him quite detailed information about Ashkenazi.

After returning to Israel, the charge sheet says, Sultani kept in touch with Harab through phone, email, and Facebook, and later flew to Poland where he met another Hezbollah operative known as “Sami” and offered him his insights on Ashkenazi as well as ideas on how to assassinate him. It was by tracking Sultani’s email and Facebook correspondence with the Shiite terror organization that the Israeli security services foiled the plot.

The case has geopolitical implications; since the February 2008 assassination of international-terror kingpin and Hezbollah operations chief Imad Mughniyeh, which Hezbollah blames on Israel, the organization has been trying to mount a revenge attack on the Jewish state, and it views Ashkenazi as Mughniyeh’s equivalent. Jerusalem Post military correspondent Yaacov Katz notes that “the ramifications…of an IDF chief of staff’s assassination are almost unimaginable” and would almost certainly have left Israel with no choice but to launch another war against Hezbollah.

As for the Israeli Arab angle, it would be less significant if Rawi Sultani were an isolated phenomenon, but unfortunately he is not. Just last February an Israeli Arab from Galilee was arrested for meeting with a Hezbollah recruiter while on a Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, and in January an Israeli Arab from the town of Qalansuwa was sentenced to four years in prison for contacts with a Hezbollah agent. Other Israeli Arabs have been caught spying for Al Qaeda or have themselves abetted or perpetrated terror attacks.

As for the more general ambience, during the Gaza war last December and January, for instance, Israeli Arabs held a large pro-Hamas demonstration where they called for the top Israeli leaders to be tried as war criminals. Recent polls have found a third of Israeli Arab high school and college graduates denying the Holocaust, and 64% of Israeli Arabs rejecting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with 20% rejecting its right to exist at all.

The revelations about Rawi Sultani, then, give a glimpse both into the extremism of Israeli Arabs and into Israel’s dogged adherence to democratic norms of personal and political freedom even in the face of danger. It is a precarious balance for which Israel, instead of getting much credit, is more often dragged through the mud of “apartheid” slanders. To a considerable extent it is left to Israel’s security services to preserve the balance—as in this case, where they managed both to protect the chief of staff and prevent a wider conflagration.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at He can be reached at

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