JERUSALEM — Israel’s Shin Bet security service, which has saved countless lives with its successful penetration of Palestinian terror units, is applying the same techniques to infiltrate militant settler groups threatening violence over the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Shin Bet officials say they are avoiding the excesses of a similar program that preceded the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, but settler activists are not convinced.
“It isn’t difficult to identify” a government informer, said Aviad Visoly, who has authored a pamphlet being distributed in right-wing settler circles on how to identify an undercover agent.
“They are always the ones who snoop around the most, present extreme opinions and try to incite people to push things to the edge,” said Mr. Visoly, the head of a group fighting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to abandon settlements in the Gaza Strip beginning in July.
Jewish extremists have undertaken a campaign of intimidation against politicians who support the plan, including hate letters and death threats against them and their families.
A Shin Bet official acknowledged last week what everyone had already assumed — that the security agency had placed undercover agents within the ranks of the extremists.
Shin Bet’s success in recruiting informers among the Palestinian population is one of the primary reason for Israel’s success in coping with the intifada in the past four years.
But the agency insists that it learned a lesson from its employment a decade ago of one such agent, Avishai Raviv, who served as a mole among right-wing university students before the assassination of Mr. Rabin.
Mr. Raviv was not just an agent, but a provocateur who seemingly encouraged violence. One of the activists in his group was Yigal Amir, the student who assassinated Mr. Rabin.
Shin Bet officials say that today, their agents simply gather intelligence and take care not to incite others to violence.
But Mr. Visoly and other activists complain that Shin Bet offers to get charges dropped against vulnerable young activists who have been arrested if they will act as informants.
An activist in the extremist Kach movement, which is known for distributing a Monopoly-type board game protesting the Gaza pullout, recently was fingered by other activists as a Shin Bet agent. Although he vigorously denied it, the movement drummed him out of its ranks.
The pending pullout from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank has brought unprecedented warnings from security officials of possible assassination attempts against Mr. Sharon and other officials.
The Justice Ministry has set up a new unit to crack down on extremist incitement, staffed by 15 prosecutors. The unit’s chief, Deputy State Attorney Shai Nitzan, said it will focus on illegal protests, expressions of violence against public figures, and incitement.
“There is a thin line,” he said, “between freedom of expression and crimes of expression,” he said.