Israel's government is losing control of the Negev desert, which comprises over a half of the country's territory, due to Bedouin lawlessness. This poses a great security threat that has wide-ranging implications.
The Bedouin community numbers some 280,000 people, doubling in size every 15 years, and concentrated in the Negev's north, between the southwestern border of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and the northeastern border of Gaza.
Should Israel fail to stop their violent and illegal expansion, it is not inconceivable that, within a few decades, the Bedouins will spread farther eastward thus blocking the building and/or consolidation of Jewish localities throughout the Negev. They could then demand autonomy or annexation to the PA (or a prospective Palestinian state), creating Palestinian territorial continuity between Judea and the Gaza Strip while bifurcating Israel. If successful, they may also seek to expand southward, deep into the Negev. Should the State of Israel fail to assert its authority over such a substantial part of its territory, it is bound to lose governability and sovereignty in other parts of the country, which will in turn attract greater external aggression.
Notably, this expansionist drive doesn't require the entire Bedouin population, a significant part of which seems to prefer peaceful coexistence with their Jewish compatriots: it only requires a sufficiently large and resolute minority, something that has never been in short supply in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Such a scenario will seem far-fetched only to those who have neither studied the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict nor followed the course of regional events. Anyone claiming that Palestinian terrorism and Bedouin lawlessness are two unrelated factors should take note of the incorporation of Bedouin criminals into Palestinian terrorism. With their lives intermingled with the lives of Palestinians in southern Judea, the Negev Bedouin are exposed to the PA's pervasive anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda and incitement, not to mention that of the Palestinian terror organizations (and international terror organizations such as al-Qaeda and ISIS).
The indecisiveness of successive Israeli governments towards this alarming phenomenon is mind boggling. The Bedouin Development and Settlement Authority was established in 2007 with an official report on the problem submitted to the Olmert government the following year. In 2011, the Netanyahu administration approved a comprehensive plan that sought to resolve the problem of illegal Bedouin settlements once and for all, only to be aborted by Bedouin opposition.
This opposition notwithstanding, the government must act swiftly to curb Bedouin lawlessness and criminality, which has transformed much of the northern Negev into ungovernable no-man's-lands. The problem ranges from possession of vast quantities of illegal weapons and military equipment (mostly stolen from IDF bases), to violent criminal activity way out of proportion to the community's relative size, to illegal occupation of vast tracts of land (some of which are used for mass marijuana cultivation) and massive illegal construction, to widespread tax evasion and polygamy.
Just as the Israeli government had no qualms about vacating thousands of Jewish citizens from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank in 2005 for the sake of the (perceived) greater good, there is no reason not to do so with regard to the illegal Bedouin settlements in the northern Negev, not least since their relocation to the well-planned, state-built new Negev towns would greatly improve Bedouin living standards and quality of life.
Victory against a certain threat deters and demoralizes other threats, and there is no better or easier place to begin than with the Negev.
Brig. Gen. (Res.) Amir Avivi is former director of the IDF Chief of Staff's Office and founder and CEO of the Israel's Defense and Security Forum (Hebrew: "Habithonistim").