It's not the first time Israel has battled extremist violence. Assassins targeted Palestinians in the 1980s and '90s until Israeli security forces cracked down. And it was a right-wing Israeli who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 in the face of peace efforts with the Palestinians.
But the recent flare-up has thrust outposts to the forefront of the Mideast conflict.
To most of the international community, all of Israel's housing settlements on land seized during the 1967 Middle East War are illegal. But Israelis have long distinguished between settlements that have been authorized by the government and the outposts that were built by settlers without permission. Many are on private Palestinian land, Israeli courts have ruled.
Currently there are about 95 outposts, with more than 4,000 residents, mostly religious and ideological families living in temporary shelters, trailers and prefabricated housing. They are a fraction of the nearly 300,000 Israelis living in the West Bank.
Though a succession of Israeli governments have promised to dismantle the outposts, demolitions are rare and the current government gives most of them implicit support by providing electricity, water, roads and security.
Court challenges by Israeli groups and Palestinian landowners have succeeded in winning demolition orders for several outposts, including Givat Assaf, Migron and Amona. But some lawmakers are now searching for ways to retroactively legalize the outposts.
"They're trying to pressure the government and it's working," said Hagit Ofran, a spokeswoman for Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes settlements. "The government is afraid."
Ofran, herself a target of death threats and vandalism attacks, said the government's conservative agenda has only emboldened the settler gangs.
"The fact that we have a right-wing government," she said, "only makes them feel they have the opportunity to behave even more extremely."
News assistant Batsheva Sobelman in The Times' Jerusalem bureau contributed to this report.