Beyond the World news headlines
Israel’s “Jewish Division”: Northen Ireland redux?
By Dan Williams
A Reuters investigation into how the Israeli domestic intelligence service Shin Bet is tackling threats from Jewish ultranationalists has raised intriguing parallels with Britain’s handling of the sectarian “troubles” in Northern Ireland.
Radical Jewish settlers who might turn to violence in a bid to wreck Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking are, increasingly, the quarry of the Shin Bet’s shadowy “Jewish Division”, whose operatives draw on a range of spying and interrogation tactics.
But a question remains over whether the Shin Bet, criticised internationally for its treatment of Palestinian suspects whose rights are limited under Israeli martial law, is less likely to get rough with Jews.
Such differential doctrines potentially recall Northern Ireland, where for decades British authorities had to tackle both Catholic republicans seeking a united Ireland and rival Protestants loyal to London.
A former top official with MI5, the British counterpart to Shin Bet, told me recently that when sectarian strife erupted in the province in the late 1960s, republicans were generally seen as the main threat to Britain, with the assumption that it was their violence that provoked loyalist counter-attacks.
Of further concern was the fact that the Provisional Irish Republican Army was targeting British targets abroad, while the loyalist paramilitaries were more localised.
“But when loyalists started, for example, buying weapons on the (British) mainland and abroad, we took that very seriously and certainly didn’t regard them as more ‘friendly’,” the MI5 veteran told me. “They were quite dreadful thugs.”