Why Was the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel Outlawed?

While the world is battling terror in every corner, Israel could not allow an organization of Israeli Arabs — an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood — to operate openly within its borders. The question is whether everyone is aware of the consequences that will ensue and the clashes that are expected on the Israeli Arab street.

Let there be no mistake: The step that Israel took to outlaw the northern branch of the Islamic Movement was a necessary one and there was no choice but to do it. But it is also worthwhile for us all to be aware of the risks that this step entails, and which have already brought various entities, including the defense establishment, to question the wisdom of such a move.

The discussions regarding outlawing the northern branch have been ongoing in Israel for years, but until today, it was not actually done. But something significant has changed in recent months, primarily since the clashes began on Har Habayis and the libelous “al-Aqsa is in danger” campaign was launched. Both of these were initiated and funded by the northern branch of the Islamic Movement. All its members are Muslims with Israeli citizenship who consider themselves part of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and whose views are very similar to the most radical organizations in the Muslim world, such as al-Qaida, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS.

There is a close bond of cooperation between the northern branch and Hamas, both overtly and covertly. While most of Israel’s Arabs — despite all they have against the state — generally cooperate, go to elections and send representatives to the Knesset, the Islamic Movement does not recognize Israel and openly negates its right to exist. All their official documents declare that every Muslim must work to destroy the State of Israel and replace it with an Islamic alternative.

At a time when the entire world is battling terror across the globe, the Israelis could no longer allow an Arab Israeli organization, an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, to openly operate within its borders. The question is only whether, and to what extent, all the decision makers are aware of the consequences that can develop around the clashes that will inevitably break out very soon on the Arab street in response to this step.

The government already decided to outlaw the group several weeks ago, but did not announce it publicly, waiting for a timely moment. At first, the government thought of doing it right after the murderous attack in which the father and son were killed on Friday. It was an attack like any other, but evoked emotions among the public because the family was on the way to a ­simchah when two of its members were cut down and the rest injured. But ultimately, this, too, did not bring about an official declaration. Then came the weekend’s events in Paris, with hundreds of people killed and wounded. Israel hurried to take advantage of the international sentiment against terrorists wherever they are, and gave the green light for dozens of raids on operating centers of the northern branch of the movement in Israel, the closure of its offices, removal of computers and other resources, and more.

The organization, headed by Sheikh Raed Salah, is the one that hired dozens of activists to take up positions on Har Habayis and make a commotion and clash with all those who come up there, tourists and Jews alike. This was a product of their public relations people, who advised that this was a good way to ignite the spark of conflict on the mount at the very cheap price of paying these mercenaries by the hour. At the same time, they announced the dangers to the al-Aqsa Mosque, raging that it was even under threat of dismantlement, to be replaced by the Beis Hamikdash.

This was a calculated provocation, with lots of incitement and propaganda, which succeeded in fanning the flames on Har Habayis, resulting in clashes with security forces and civilians. This played a significant role in triggering the wave of terror Israel is now experiencing with all the murderous attacks of the past few weeks.

The leader of the group has been arrested numerous times and released. It has been warned to desist from its actions, but all to no avail. The incitement and anti-Israel activity continued, and intelligence reveals that the organization’s members have even been armed in preparation for a head-to-head clash with Israeli security forces.

It was clear that at one point — which has now arrived — Israel would have no choice but to take action against its in-house terrorists. The government, by making this decision, did it relatively gently, with a public declaration that the step is not against all the Muslims in Israel who are not part of this group, but rather only against the members of the group and the incitement fomented by the northern branch, which was heading toward civil war in Israel.

And if this is all so threatening and scary, then why are there some — including in the defense establishment — who questioned the step?

The response is two-pronged. Practically, there is the question of whether the incitement will now spike since the group has been outlawed. On the security front, there is the question of what this step can bring about. It’s a very radical group with many young members who have been brainwashed over the years and who are fired up with radical views. Among them are liable to be numerous ones who will take the law into their own hands and launch an armed conflict against the security establishment.

The north has burned before, certain people say, and it can definitely return to the state it was in then, with masses taking to the streets, putting up roadblocks, throwing stones, burning tires and even shooting and forcing the Israeli police to crack down harshly. The escalation is liable to be fast and furious.

Within Israel, the members of leftist organizations will hurry to object to the move on grounds that the state is “restricting democracy.”

But all these considerations and worries were clear to the decision-makers before they made their decision, and yet, they decided this way — even with the knowledge that the incitement will likely continue after the movement is outlawed. But now the defense establishment will have an easier time tracking the leaders of the group, and it will be harder for them to operate, compared to the freedom they worked under until now. The arrest of the members will be rapid, and it will be hard for the group to smuggle in money from outside entities because their bank accounts will be closed and the money confiscated. Any activity will become much more difficult for them.

War is war, and when Israel is dragged into a war on the terror front, it has no choice but to act the way it acts against terrorists, even if there are risks inherent in the process.