Menace of assassination still looms in Israel

Ten years after a Jewish extremist murdered Yitzak Rabin, the threat of another political assassination still haunts Israel as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gets bogged down in a fifth year.

These fears are shared by most of the population. But a smaller, not insignificant, extremist fringe continues to show understanding, even sympathy, towards the former premier’s murderer.

A survey published ahead of the 10th anniversary of Rabin’s death shows that one in three Israelis believes a new political assassination is likely. Among the younger generation, the figure rises to 54%.

The same poll shows that one in five Israelis will be ready “one day” to forgive Rabin’s murderer, compared with three-quarters of the population who rule out mercy towards Yigal Amir.

Today, the Shin Bet internal security service, which came under harsh criticism for failing to prevent the Rabin assassination, takes no risks with regard to the security of Israel’s leaders.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who received a number of death threats over his hotly contested pull-out from the Gaza Strip, is one of the most closely guarded leaders in the world, always surrounded by a phalanx of bodyguards.

The heavy security stems from fears that a dangerous lone individual will appear out of the shadows, clutching a weapon with deadly intent.

Such a scenario was portrayed almost daily by security chiefs in the run-up to the Gaza withdrawal.

However, the threat never materialised and the security forces detained no one in connection with such fears, either before or during the evacuation of Jewish settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip, completed last month.

Today, Sharon, the former darling of the extreme right, is subject to similar expressions of frustration over a Gaza pull-out that plagued Rabin, if not to quite the same intensity.

But the tight cordon of security around Sharon is just as thick: dozens of agents, a multitude of bulletproof cars, short stop-overs and rare public appearances.

“Such precautions are not by chance.
The risk of a new assassination is very real,” said political scientist Yoram Peri, who focuses on ultra-right-wing activity among the Orthodox Jewish community.

It is these fringe elements who attach unquestioning faith to the religious laws of divine inspiration and openly scorn democratic norms, who most worry the authorities.

“This extremist minority believes everything is allowed. They have a foot in the real world and a foot in the spiritual world and think they are always right,” Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said recently. “This minority is a real danger to democracy.”

Amir, the convicted killer of Rabin who is firmly backed by his family and his new wife, has always maintained he would never have pulled the trigger “without the spiritual go-ahead from a rabbi”.

Even more revealing is that shortly after Rabin’s murder, Aharon Barak, president of the Supreme Court—the quintessential symbol of the rule of law in Israel—began to move around accompanied by a bodyguard.

Within a year, he was allocated a second guard.

“The gulf between the religious and the secular societies has deepened over the last 10 years,” says Peri. “Today, nearly 40% of Israelis believe that the rabbinical decrees have more value than a parliamentary law.”

Left-wing deputy Yossi Sarid is no less pessimistic.

“In a sense, a political murder is more probable today because the assassination of Rabin created a dangerous precedent.

“In the end, the political earthquake which [Rabin’s murder] could have caused did not happen, and until today, those who called for this murder have not been satisfied.”—Sapa-AFP

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