REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Throwing rocks, burning tires and carrying out other assaults on the Israeli military are not unheard of in the West Bank. But the incident Monday night registered loudly with Israeli authorities: The attackers were Jewish extremists.
Dozens of right-wing militants who support the settlement movement infiltrated an army regional division headquarters in the West Bank, set tires on fire, vandalized vehicles and scattered nails on the road. Senior officers also were attacked with rocks.
The incident caused public outrage and provoked tough talk across Israel's political board. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack and ordered security forces to act aggressively against those assaulting the army. "No one may raise a hand to strike a soldier or policeman. This is the basis of democracy and of the law," he said, warning such lawlessness will not be tolerated.
Netanyahu called an emergency meeting with security and legal officials. The defense authorities have vowed to capture and try those involved in the "nefarious actions."
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Kadima party said in a statement that the only emergency discussion the country needs should take place at the ballot box and that nothing would change so long as Netanyahu was "a willing hostage" of the extreme right wing. Livni blamed Netanyahu's administration for fostering such radicalization.
Increasingly, Israeli authorities are challenged by radicals from the Jewish settlements in the West Bank who reject the settlers' umbrella group Yesha Council as too moderate.
Veteran settler leader Pinhas Wallerstein condemned the attacks and called on law-abiding citizens to turn in the perpetrators. Danny Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council, called the attacks "disgraceful."
Trouble instigated by Jewish extremists in the West Bank has been on the rise for months, with attacks on Palestinian property and people. Inside Israel, they have inspired the targeting of Muslim sites and left-wing officials with nongovernmental organizations. Jewish extremists have dubbed such attacks "price-tag operations," meaning they are carried out in retaliation for government attempts to curb or remove settlements.
If attacks against Palestinians don't always appear to get vigorously investigated, targeting the army -- in what appeared to be the worst though not first incident of its kind -- got the attention of the authorities.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak used unequivocally harsh language Tuesday, calling the perpetrators "criminal groups of extremists" whose activities have the markings of "homegrown terror."
Moshe Yaalon, a former army chief of staff currently on Netanyahu's cabinet, called the attack "Jewish terrorism" that could no longer be dismissed as the work of a "renegade group." He told Israeli radio that anyone who thinks such actions help the settlements was seriously mistaken.
Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi told local media that in 30 years of service he'd "never seen such hatred of our soldiers by Jews."
A group of right-wing activists held a small demonstration Tuesday evening to show their support for the army and disapproval of the extremists among them.
-- Batsheva Sobelman
Photo: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shown at a business conference in Tel Aviv on Monday, condemned an attack by Jewish militants on an Israeli military post in the West Bank. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni in turn criticized Netanyahu as "a willing hostage" of the extreme right. Credit: Uriel Sinai / Pool / Reuters