A Country on Edge: Israel Worries Deeply About 3 Kidnapped Young Men

Missing since June 12th, three young Israelis — ages 19, 16, and 16, one of them a dual citizen of the United States and Israel — are at the center of the hopes, prayers, and worries of the entire country.

The following is adapted from Yossi Melman’s article in The Jerusalem Post of June 17th.

While the IDF (Israel’s army) continues with house-to-house and cave-to-cave searches, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) keeps collecting pieces of intelligence information and already nearly 200 Hamas activists and political leaders have been arrested. But the security establishment is challenged on a new front: to repel and deny the irresponsible spreading of rumors and hoaxes.

Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Sha'er and Naftali FrankelIt began Friday with the fabricated message, supposedly by an IDF spokesman, claiming that the three kidnapped yeshiva students were rescued in a “heroic operation.” It continued Monday with another false message that the three were murdered within the first minutes of the abduction.

These two rumors, products of sick minds, were denied by the IDF spokesman who called upon the public to “stop spreading rumors.” It is highly doubtful whether such a call will be heard. The internet and social media are already on unstoppable, uncontrollable automated pilot. “When this kidnapping affair hopefully reaches its happy ending,” I was told by security officials, “we will have to deal with this phenomenon.”

The prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff have called upon the public to show restraint and patience, the question on the mind of every Israeli is, “When will it be over?” It could happen at any moment, but it also could take days or longer.

Security officials also told me that “with every day that passes we have better intelligence and a better understanding.” But it can also be said that with every day that passes, worry for the lives of the kidnapped boys increases.

The sources also comment that “this case is not comparable to Gilad Shalit”: the case of the Israeli soldier kidnapped in 2006 by Hamas, held in Gaza, and eventually released in 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians terrorists including murderers sentenced to life imprisonment.

They mean to say that, unlike during the Shalit crisis when Shin Bet had no intelligence regarding his whereabouts, thus precluding a viable military rescue operation, this time the intelligence is much better. Yet the agency — supported by military intelligence — does not seem to have the needed information to determine whether the three students are alive, where they are being held, who their kidnappers are, and who is sheltering them with their captives. It’s not an easy task.

It’s like solving a puzzle by adding one piece to another.

Shin Bet, using both human and technological intelligence, is the single most important element in this affair. Its operation involves three intelligence circles, with the hope that in the end, all of the circles will close.

One of the circles focuses on information obtained from Palestinian agents and collaborators operated by Shin Bet.

The second depends on investigating and interrogating Hamas activists who have been arrested since the kidnapping.  Here one must differentiate between arrests of those in the operational echelon – in which the detainee may be able to supply intelligence information – with arrests of those in Hamas’s political echelon in the West Bank. The purpose of the latter arrests is triple: punishment, deterrence, and to satisfy the Israeli public.

Israel’s security cabinet has voted to harshen the treatment of Hamas Palestinians who are in Israeli custody, in order to put pressure on Hamas. Israel is also using collective punishment against Hebron residents. They are prevented from traveling abroad, and 20,000 Palestinians workers and traders from the region are forbidden to enter Israel.

In conclusion, a word about the unfair jab the media have taken at the police. What would it have helped if the commissioner of the Israel Police had cut short his trip to a conference in New York City to rush home? The police are a marginal element in the investigation of this tragic incident. And as infuriating as it is that initial information about this kidnapping was delayed nearly eight hours due to police negligence — as a cellphone call from one of the kidnapped youngsters was dismissed as a phony phone call — one must remember that the kidnappers had no knowledge of that fact at the time. It had no impact on what they were doing.

They had no idea that they had eight extra hours before an Israeli search would commence.  The attackers acted on the assumption that they must disappear within a few minutes or, at most, a couple of hours.  And they did.

June 18, 2014

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