Israel Going Up in Flames
Among the important Israeli news items that went largely underreported this week, was one highlighted in a statement by Fire and Rescue Services spokesman Asaf Abras who told the Jerusalem Post that in the past two weeks there have been more than 200 fires in open areas that firefighters consider arson. And here is the kicker, “in the past month-and-a-half,” he said, “There have been more than 2,000 arson attacks,” an average of approximately 333 attacks a week, and 47 every single day.
On Tuesday, at least 36 firefighting crews worked for two hours to control two separate fires, using six firefighting planes. Following the containing of the fire, FRS Commissioner Lt. Gen. Shahar Ayalon said that authorities suspect that the fires were started intentionally.”Forest fires don’t just happen, and when two fires start simultaneously it is fitting that we will ‘lift our antennas,'” according to a report in Haaretz.
This time, the damage was mostly material although four people were treated for smoke inhalation. However, one only needs to go back eighteen or so months for a taste of the kind of devastation that these fires can cause. The infamous Carmel forest fire that was started on Mount Carmel and began on Dec 2nd 2010 raged for three days, took 44 lives, injured dozens, destroyed 74 buildings and devastated over 50,000 dunams of land.
The cause of the Carmel blaze was never conclusively determined with certainty. Initially it was suggested that Druze youths were responsible as they failed to extinguish a bonfire that they had lit. Subsequently police announced that a 14 year old boy had taken responsibility for the fire which he claimed to have started by throwing a lit nargila coal into an open area.
At the time, a number of Israeli politicians publically voiced the possibility that the fire was an arson attack. Most notably, Deputy Minister for Development of the Negev and the Galilee Ayoob Kara told Israel’s Channel 10 news that, “he has received information that the fire is a terror act.” The fact that the fire spread from three different locations simultaneously, led some to speculate that arson was indeed a likely possibility.
Most troubling, as pointed out by a Jerusalem Post editorial on December 6th of that year, was a “mind-boggling rash of locally concocted arson attempts,” that followed the Carmel fire. “Perpetrated by Arab Israelis, these attacks are a cynical exploitation of Israel’s sorrowfully inadequate firefighting capabilities. These local terrorists are willing to cause further ecological damage and endanger the lives of both Jews and Arabs in the name of hateful and narrow political goals,” the editorial continued.
At the time, the article noted that these arson attacks occur, “at a staggering average of two per day.” Based on the numbers from this week, the prevalence of these attacks has increased by over 2250%. This may be the most staggering statistic of recent memory of profound relevance to Israel’s security.
“There is a disturbing phenomenon of homegrown terrorism” the editorial concluded.
What makes arson so attractive to those seeking to harm the Jewish state is that it is a crime that, by its very nature, destroys the evidence of how it was committed. In the United States, “The National Fire Protection Association estimates that nationwide, only 2 percent of arsons result in conviction,” according to the New Jersey Star Ledger.
For Israel, it serves as a stark reminder that the internal 5th column threat posed by many Israeli Arabs is a real and developing challenge that must be addressed.
Certainly measures aimed at stemming this tide should be accelerated, for example, Israel’s proposed loyalty oath that was delayed weeks before the Carmel fire broke out and other elements of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s “no loyalty – no citizenship” campaign. It is true that many, especially those living in the United States and other liberal democracies have expressed discomfort with some of these suggested polices, but what is Israel to do? The country is faced with internal systematic hostility such as few other countries have ever faced.